Laverne Cox discusses identity acceptance for Coming Out Month

The Orange Is the New Black actress spoke on Wednesday evening in Goldstein Auditorium.

As a woman who has overcome many obstacles to accept herself and who is currently more aware than ever of who she is, Laverne Cox made sure to share with the Syracuse community her own identity.

“I am a strong, transgender African American woman, and I believe it’s very important to name the many intersecting components of my identity, because I am not just one thing and neither are you,” the Orange Is the New Black actress said, after joyfully greeting the audience on Wednesday evening in Goldstein Auditorium.  

Cox spoke emphatically about the damaging effects of shame that transgender individuals can be prone to.

The Emmy-nominated actress came to campus to close out SU’s Coming Out Month,  a series of events hosted by the LGBT Resource Center. The event titled “Ain’t I a Woman,” was organized to bring awareness to issues among trans people in the Syracuse community.

Cox began her talk with several statistics. She shared that in 2013, more than 72 percent of all LGBTQ homicides were trans women and more than 67 percent were trans women of color.  She also said that 16 percent of the trans population has been incarcerated, compared to 1 percent of the entire population.

“It is a state of emergency for far too many trans people across the nation,” Cox said.

She also touched on the important role that society’s views and preconceptions play in identity crisis. “It is my belief that one of the biggest obstacles facing the transgender community are our points of view which disavow our identities; points of view that suggest no matter what we do we are always and only the gender assigned at birth; points of view that suggest no matter what I do I’ll never be a woman. Yet ain’t I a woman?” Cox said.

 She continued to mention the names of great women in history who have inspired her. This included Sojourner Truth, who gave a speech in 1851 titled “Ain’t I a Woman”, in which she said her gender identity was denied because she was black. Cox also mentioned other iconic figures such as her feminist idol, bell hooks, whose work Cox discovered while in college.

“Her words were like oxygen to me,” Cox said. “I came to critical consciousness reading her work.”

Growing up in Mobile, Ala., in a single-parent household, Cox ‘s mother made sure she and her twin brother knew about racial oppression and their history. As a child, Cox struggled with gender identity and was bullied throughout most of grade school.

She recalled a time when as a child she tried to commit suicide after her grandmother’s death. “I remember thinking she was up in heaven looking down at me disappointed. And I was having sinful thoughts,” Cox said.

It was not until high school that the actress felt comfortable enough to begin expressing her femininity, and it was not until her move to New York as an adult in the early ‘90s that Cox felt her gender was celebrated for the first time.

“All the ideas and misconceptions I had about transgender people melted away when I got to know them as people, and I believe if we just get to know people who are different from us, these misconceptions will melt away,” Cox said.

If there was anything the actress wanted people to take away from this besides knowledge, she said, it was the importance of “creating spaces of healing.” ‘We are so afraid of saying the wrong things. I challenge each and every one of you to go out there and take the risk and be vulnerable and have those difficult conversations, but do it with a lot of love and empathy and as a understanding of who you are and who the other person is,” Cox said.

Following her speech, Cox opened the floor to questions from the audience. She spoke about her time transitioning and her struggle with self-acceptance, which was the hardest part of her transition.

Some students said the actress’s speech left the audience feeling educated, aware and empowered. “As a trans person, I was very interested in seeing Laverne speak.” said Alex Kuhn, conservation biology senior at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry . “I think the points she made between shame and guilt and learning to become the person you want to be your whole life were important. And some of the statistics she shared were very surprising.”

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.