You may know the talented Laverne Cox from her role as Sofia Burset in Netflix’s original series “Orange is the New Black.” However, Cox’s influence spans far beyond her work as an actress. As a transgender woman, Cox is a leading advocate for the LGBTQ community, the first transgender individual to be nominated for an Emmy award in acting, and the first transgender individual to be featured on the cover of Time magazine. We were extremely lucky to have Cox give her talk “Ain’t I a Woman: My Journey to Womanhood” at Bucknell University on January 22 as part of the University’s speaker series “Revolution Redefined.”
Cox’s talk covered her own journey to womanhood as she defied all expectations of what she was “supposed” to be. Cox explained that she was faced with obstacles early on in her life, enduring violent bullying and harassment for “acting like a girl” as an elementary school student living in Alabama. As her family, teachers, church, and peers told her that she was not allowed to be who she wanted, Cox began to internalize shame for her own identity. Her shame built up so much that she attempted suicide at the age of 11, not unlike the 41 percent of transgender people who do so in their lifetimes (compared to less than 1 percent of the entire population). When she was admitted to the Alabama School of Fine Arts on a dance scholarship, she began to feel like she could express her femininity. Then, attending Marymount College in New York City, Cox met other transgender individuals and felt empowered to go ahead with her own transition. However, Cox still continued to experience oppression as a transgender woman even in the liberal city of New York. Despite the challenges that Cox faced throughout her life, she stated proudly, “I could not help but to be myself.”
The difficult challenges that Cox faced in order to become who she truly is are not unlike the experiences of many transgender individuals. What Cox referred to as the “gender binary model,” is the flawed system that tells us that we have to follow the gender expectations of the anatomy that we are born with. We are all guilty of gender policing, in which we enforce gender roles by disapproving of any deviating behavior from what is considered acceptable behavior for males and females. Cox stressed that we all must accept each other and end this system of judgment and oppression. If we allow ourselves and everyone else around us to be who they want to be, without any judgment or contempt, the world would be a much safer space for people to express themselves. Laverne Cox’s courage to become the person she wanted to be in a world that told her she should not shows that the most defiant act against oppression one can perform is being unapologetically themselves.