Last year we fell in love with the cast of Orange Is The New Black! One character, Sophia Burset, moved us with her story line of credit card fraud where she steals money in order to become a woman and transgender actress Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia, has become an overnight sensation due to her acting skills and spirited activism for LGBTQ people. This week, TIME Magazine placed Cox on its cover, making her the first transgender woman to accomplish this feat, and published a riveting interview with her on race, gender and bullying. Here are the highlights from Cox’s interview and below, a behind the scenes video of Cox as she prepares for her historic cover.
Are there any particular instances of bullying that stand out in your memory?
There was this one instance in junior high when I had gotten off the bus and I was chased by a group of kids, which was, you know, pretty normal. They couldn’t really bully me on the bus because the bus driver could see in the rearview mirror, and that wasn’t allowed. But the second we got off the bus, they would try to beat me up. So I’d have to start running, immediately. 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. And a parent saw it, the parent of some other student, and called the principal and the principal called my mother and my mother found out about it.
Is there a moment or time you remember first feeling like you might be transgender?
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.
How did things change as you got older?
I started trying to find a compromise in terms of gender in high school. I started embracing androgyny. I was just really scared and in a lot of denial. And I wanted to make everybody proud and happy and find a place for myself in the world. The funny thing is being in this androgynous space really wasn’t any better, in terms of perception or reception from people. It was part of my journey that got me to where I am now.
How do you think life might be different for trans kids who are in middle school or high school right now?
There’s a way to connect through the Internet that I didn’t have. So you can connect with people who are like you, who may be in another part of the country. That didn’t exist when I was a kid. I think there are more media representations that young trans people can look to and say, that’s me, in an affirming way. There’s just so many resources out there now that it makes you feel like you’re less alone and gives some sort of sense of, okay, this is who I am and this is what I’m going through, as opposed to being ‘What the f*** is wrong with me?’ That was what I grew up with.
The people out there in America who have no idea what being transgender means, what do they need to understand?
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.