Laverne Cox, breakout star of the blockbuster Netflix series “Orange Is The New Black,” is woman with a mission. The Mobile, Alabama native is an actress, writer, artist, and activist. She is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside and has quickly become an icon across cultures and a change agent. We sat down for a heart-to-heart dialogue at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan where Laverne was set to receive a prestigious Creative Change Award from the Opportunity Agenda. We discussed what it is to truly be free. As it says on Laverne’s site, “you can define what it means to be a man or woman on your own terms.” That’s exactly what Mommy Noire is about, being an accomplished woman on your own terms. Laverne is the first trans woman of color to have a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show.
Congratulations, Laverne! The Creative Change Award has been won by luminaries from Melissa Harris Perry to Anita Hill. And tonight we are proudly gathered to honor you and your work.
Thank you for that lovely introduction. I’m still not used to being honored and being spoken of in the same sentence as MHP and Anita Hill. I’m really honored to be here to talk about the film that I am producing called “Free CeCe.”
“Free CeCe” is a really courageous and important project. On June 5th 2011, CeCe McDonald’s life was changed irrevocably. Can you please give the background on her life and what happened for those who may be unfamiliar?
CeCe McDonald is an African-American transgender woman who defended herself against a racist and transphobic attack. Many trans women who find themselves in these situations where they experience violence don’t often survive. CeCe did survive and her gift for survival was prison sentence. She served 19 months of a 41-month prison sentence in a men’s prison in St. Cloud, Minnesota. “Free CeCe” is a film about Cece’s story. It’s about criminal justice system, mass incarceration, and the cultural violence against trans women.
CeCe is an amazingly courageous and strong woman who’s been through a lot and through all of that and just to have an amazing sense of hope, love and possibility in the face of unimaginable injustice.
Thank you. Time Magazine called your “Orange is the New Black” character Sophia Burset one of the most influential fictional characters of 2013. What does knowing CeCe and her story mean to you in playing Sophia?
Before I even heard about “Orange Is the New Black,” I was planning to do a segment for a show called “In the Life.” It was a PBS show for 25 years about LGBT issues. We were planning to do segment about CeCe and about the culture of violence against transgender people.
“In the Life” lost its funding so that segment never happened. But the second I booked “Orange” I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to talk about CeCe’s story since I was playing this incarcerated transgender woman and CeCe McDonald was a transgender woman at the time who was still incarcerated.
So it’s really kind of wonderful that we’re here and that CeCe’s out of prison now and we get to talk about her story and raise awareness about the issues that affect far too many trans women, particularly trans women of color and the justice system and the criminal justice system and being incarcerated.
Well, thank you for portraying Sophia as a noble and human character. How did you, Laverne, learned how to love yourself? Because so many people from any background are struggling with basic self–love.
It is an ongoing process, the process of self-love, and it is something that I have to practice. I used to think that one day I would wake up and if I read enough, if I prayed enough, if I put on enough makeup, that I would wake up and I would have the answer and I would love myself. Self-love is something I have to practice.
It is something I have to do every day. It is something I have to be really cognizant in terms of the messages I tell myself about myself. Self-love for me is really about how I take care of myself, really being careful of negative self-talk, who I surround myself with, what situations I put myself in. It’s about everything I do, really. It’s about action.
Wonderful advice. My new book is named “The Sacred Bombshell Handbook of Self-Love” and I’m reclaiming the word ‘bombshell’ to mean a woman who has agency, who believes in herself, mind, body, spirit. What makes you a bombshell, Laverne?
I love that. You know, I think it’s really about me learning to be lovingly self-critical. Being critical of myself allows me space to grow. It’s really about me giving myself space to grow but by doing that with love so that I’m not beating myself up or tearing myself apart. I’m doing it with love that Laverne is okay, [as in] “You are exhausted now. You might do this not imperfectly.” And really giving myself permission to proceed imperfectly in life but know that my imperfections are what make me beautiful and make me a bombshell! —
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Passionate Living Coach Abiola Abrams gives extraordinary women inspiring advice on healthy relationships, self-esteem and getting the love we deserve. You’ve seen her love interventions in magazines from Essence to JET and on shows from MTV’s “Made” to the CW Network’s “Bill Cunningham Show.” Her new advice guide is named “The Sacred Bombshell Handbook of Self-Love.” Abiola is also the creator of the African Goddess Affirmation Cards. Tweet @abiolaTV.