Laverne Cox speaks at SU about hardships, experiences as a trans* woman

Frankie Prijatel | Asst. Photo Editor

Laverne cox, an actress and star of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” speaks at Goldstein Auditorium on Wednesday night as part of the LGBT Resource Center’s series of events for Coming Out Month.

With a rhythmic, poetic cadence, trans* advocate and actress Laverne Cox began her speech to a full auditorium at Syracuse University by singing the phrase, “Ain’t I a woman?”

“I stand here this evening claiming my womanhood in a social context which would often deny it,” Cox said in her speech.

The question was not only the title of Cox’s speech given in Goldstein Auditorium on Wednesday night, but is also a reference to a central theme in Cox’s life, which encompasses her intersectional identities as a trans* woman of color.

Cox, who stars in Netflix’s original TV series, “Orange is the New Black,” spoke as part of Coming Out Month in an event sponsored by the LGBT Resource Center. Cox focused her speech on her own personal narrative, starting in Mobile, Alabama, where she was born. Cox began to experience bullying for her gender expression in pre-school, where she was called anti-gay slurs like “sissy,” Cox said.

“From pre-school up until high school, pretty much every single day, I was bullied, I was taunted, I was called names and routinely chased home from school by groups of kids who wanted to beat me up,” Cox added.

Cox used this life experience to talk about the bullying of LGBT youth.

A crucial life moment for Cox occurred in third grade. Cox’s mother received a worried phone call from her teacher saying, “Your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress if we don’t get him to therapy right away.”

The incident that led to this call involved a very concerned third-grade teacher witnessing Cox wave a fan like Scarlett O’Hara from “Gone with the Wind.”

“This fan, it had peacocks on it. It was fabulous,” Cox said.

In therapy, after this incident occurred, Cox’s therapist asked her if there was a difference between a boy and girl. Cox, a confident third-grader, replied, “There is no difference.”

The tone of Cox’s speech became somber and serious when she recounted her suicide attempt in sixth grade. At that point in her life, Cox had became more ashamed of her sexuality and gender expression as she went through puberty.

“I went to my medicine cabinet and took out an entire bottle of pills and took them to my room and swallowed the entire bottle and went to sleep, hoping not to wake up,” Cox said.

But while bullying was a problem for Cox in her childhood, violence against her persists as she lives as a trans* woman of color in New York City.

Cox talked about two instances of street harassment where she had been “clocked” or identified as a trans* woman. Both of these cases highlighted the intersectional nature of oppression for Cox. She was called racial, anti-gay and misogynistic slurs.

“Calling a transgender woman a man is an act of violence,” added Cox. The crowd cheered.

In one of these instances Cox was kicked to the ground. She said she still does not feel safe in public spaces, and even sometimes in her own apartment because of the trauma associated with that incident.

Using these stories, Cox discussed the importance of getting to know people, despite their gender identity.

“I actually met real trans* people, and all of the ideas and misconceptions about trans* folks melt away when I got to know them as people,” Cox said. “And I believe this can be the journey for each and every one of us if we just get to know people who are different from us as people.”


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