In an in depth interview with Buzz Feed, our girl, Laverne Cox from one of our favorite shows, “Orange Is The New Black,” sat down and explained the bullying she experienced growing up, how she broke into the industry and being the first black trans woman to appear on reality television.
Check out some of the highlights from the interview.
About growing up in the South
“I just knew I had to get out of Alabama. And this isn’t to disparage the South, but for me and my journey. I needed to be away to figure out who I was.”
Cox says that after years of bullying, including an attempt at suicide when she was 11, Cox begged her mother to put her in a performing arts school. Her mother agreed and Cox says it changed her life.
“If you have something you love, that will get you through.”
Once Cox left the south she moved to New York, hoping to make it big. She noted that while it may seem like trans people are accepted into the artistic circles, she noted that there’s a “freak factor” that comes along with that “acceptance.”
“There’s this freak factor where you become this thing for people to gawk at. And I feel like it started with Andy Warhol and Candy Darling. There’s this interview where Warhol is talking with her and he says ‘Candy is a man.’ And I’m like — I didn’t know Candy Darling, obviously — but I’m pretty sure she didn’t think of herself as a man.” Cox observes. “Andy Warhol was very much exploiting her trans identity and you see that in the New York clubs still. And I’ve been a part of that.”
Cox said her goal was to challenge those notions in the roles she decided to take.
In 2008, she was a contestant on the “I Want To Work For Diddy” show. She says, “I never wanted to do a reality television show. But at the same time, for years I wondered what it would be like for a trans person to be on a show like MTV’s ‘The Real World.’ I just never imagined I’d be that person.”
She says she went through great pains to make sure she didn’t allow herself to become a stereotype.
“I remember being really conscious of not wanting to fight with another black woman on camera. I did an interview and the producers were like, “Well, this [other black woman on the show] said this about you. What do you have to say about that?” And I said I’m not fighting with another black woman on TV. Even during my elimination episode, when it came down to myself and another black woman, my mother — after watching — said, “Why didn’t you defend yourself?” And I just didn’t want to give television the satisfaction of seeing two black women going at it. We see that so much.”
Maneuvering to avoid those stereotypical pitfalls is the reason Cox is so excited about her current role as Sophia on “Orange Is The New Black.” And though she’s excited about her character’s story line, she wonders how long it will last.
“The system isn’t really set up to have these conversations about intersectionality and social justice when you’re an actress. I always feel like someone is going to come along and say, ‘OK, this has gone on for too long. We need to get rid of this girl.’”
But while she’s on this ride, she’s enjoying it and the issues she’s able to explore through her character.
“Everything about the prison-industrial complex is designed to dehumanize the women who are incarcerated. So, it means so much to me that our show is about doing the exact opposite.”
“What’s interesting about Sophia’s storyline,” Cox says, “is that, usually when we see trans people on screen their stories are all about their transition, but this is a health care issue. And just because you’re in prison doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have health care.”
You can read the entire interview at BuzzFeed.com.