Laverne Cox Covers TIME: ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Star Talks Transgender Rights

May 29, 2014

Laverne Cox opens up about her experiences growing up and coming out as transgender in a deeply personal interview for TIME Magazine’s ‘The Transgender Tipping Point’ cover story. ‘The Orange Is the New Black’ star and LGBT activist also speaks passionately on transgender rights.

Laverne Cox who has risen to fame with her portrayal of Sophia Burset in the Netflix drama ‘Orange Is the New Black.’ graces the cover of TIME and has made history as the first transgender person to do so. As lesbian, gay and bisexual rights have been widely discussed, and society has advanced tremendously, it is time now for the next societal transition, of which the magazine is telescoping with its cover story.

Laverne Cox spoke of her early days growing up in Mobile, Alabama and what it was like growing up and coming to realize she did not fit societal norms. She said she was “really creative” began dancing at a young age, convinced her mother to allow her to take jazz and tap dancing lessons. But, she went on to say her mother didn’t allow her to study ballet because she thought it was “too gay.”

She added, “Throughout all of that, I was very feminine and I was really bullied, majorly bullied. There was this side of me that was this over-achiever that loved learning. But then I was also taunted at school. I was called names. I was made fun of.”

She opened up about a particular incident in junior high. Right after she got off the bus she said she “was chased by a group of kids, which was, you know, pretty normal.” She went on to say, “So that day I was running for my life, basically, and four or five kids caught me. They were in the band. And I remember being held down and hit with drumsticks by these kids.”

As for when she first began to realize she was transgender, she said, “I tell this story about third grade. My third grade teacher called my mom and said ‘Your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress.’ Up until that point I just thought that I was a girl and that there was no difference between girls and boys. I think in my imagination I thought that I would hit puberty and I would start turning into a girl.”

She went on to say, “Going to a therapist and the fear of God being placed in me about ending up in New Orleans wearing a dress, that was a profoundly shaming moment for me. I associated it with being some sort of degenerate, with not being successful. My mother was a teacher. She was grooming my brother and me to be successful, accomplished people. I didn’t associate being trans, or wearing a dress, with that, or wanting to be a girl with being successful. So it’s something I just started to push down. I wanted to be famous, I wanted to perform. Those things I really, really wanted more than anything else.”

She also spoke about the continuing process she is undergoing to embrace her identify without the stigma that society and those around her were attempting to impose, saying, “I absolutely have a lot of work that I have to do around shame, lingering shame from childhood, and childhood trauma. It’s a struggle every day, to stay present, not to become that, you know, eight year old who was bullied and chased home from school. Some days I wake up and it’s like I’m eight years old again. And I’m scared for my life and I don’t know if I’m going to be beaten up that day. I don’t what mood my mom’s going to be in. That’s intense. But luckily I have tools. I have amazing therapy. And I have support now. I can reach out and talk to people.”

Asked what she wanted people to know about being transgender, she said, “There’s not just one trans story. There’s not just one trans experience. And I think what they need to understand is that not everybody who is born feels that their gender identity is in alignment with what they’re assigned at birth, based on their genitalia. If someone needs to express their gender in a way that is different, that is okay, and they should not be denied healthcare. They should not be bullied. They don’t deserve to be victims of violence. … That’s what people need to understand, that it’s okay and that if you are uncomfortable with it, then you need to look at yourself.”

As for those who have opposed laws that would protect transgender people, she said, “Some folks, they just don’t understand. And they need to get to know us as human beings. Others are just going to be opposed to us forever. But I do believe in the humanity of people and in people’s capacity to love and to change. God help me for that.”

Laverne Cox has given a lengthy and absorbing interview and there is much, much more to it than these few highlights. And it’s TIME Magazine no less and as such a landmark discussion, and one that is long overdue.

The TIME cover can be seen here along with the complete interview.

Pictures: PR Photos

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