Laverne Cox Speaks to Penn State Students on Gender Issues

photo.PNG-2“I’m so honored to be here, and I stand before you this evening a proud African American transgender women. From working-class background raised by a single mother, I stand before you an artist, an actress, a sister and a daughter and I believe that it is important to name the various intersecting components of my various identities because I am not just one thing, and neither are you,” says the beautiful Laverne Cox as she takes the stage at the Alumni Hall in the HUB Robeson Center on October 8th.

Over 1,000 eager fans stood in line for hours on Pollock road to attend the LGBTA SRC sponsored event and hear Cox talk about gender issues and her own story about growing up while struggling with her sexuality.

Cox is best known for her role as Sophia Burset on the hit television show “Orange is the New Black” where she plays a transgender inmate at Litchfield Penitentiary who works as the prison’s hair dresser. Cox recently made history by becoming the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy in an acting category. Cox sees herself as an artist and an actress, but most importantly as an activist for the LGBT community.

Cox brings us back to her childhood in Mobile, Alabama where she was born to a single mother exactly seven minutes before her identical twin brother. Many major events in her childhood led her on the path to become a non-conforming individual.

Cox was bullied every day by students who would call her names and use homophobic slurs against her. She was ashamed of who she was and felt that something must be wrong with her. At one point, she attempted suicide by taking a bottle full of pills. “I tried to push down all this feminine tendency but they couldn’t help but bubble up,” says Cox.

Cox attended the Alabama School of Fine Arts where she focused on dance and was able to experiment with her true self, rocking female clothes and her “Salvation ArMANI” Style. She then moved to New York to attend Marymount Manhattan College and live in a place where people finally accepted her for who she was.

The New York club life is where Cox met the people who inspired her to go through a gender transformation. Cox had doubts at first about transgender people until she really got to know them. “All the misconceptions melted away and I was able to accept them, and then accept myself,” says Cox.

Society claims if you have a penis you should be masculine and if you have a vagina you should be feminine, but Cox knows based on experience that this can’t be true for everyone. “The realities of so many of our lives defy that binary model,” says Cox. “What would it mean if we all decided to stop being the gender police? If we all just decided for a day, or a week or a month to not be the gender police and just let people be who they are, I think we would be so much happier,” says Cox.

Cox says that it is her belief that the biggest obstacle facing the transgender community are points of view that suggest that no matter what they do they are  only the gender they were assigned at birth. “And no matter what I do I will never be a women, yet ain’t I a woman,” says Cox.

Cox lists off horrifying statistics throughout her speech about the incarceration, homicide, harassment, and suicide rates of all transgender and colored transgender people. “It is a state of emergency for far too many transgender people across this nation,” says Cox.

Cox and other transgender people struggle with people using incorrect pronouns and “spooking” them on the streets. (Being called out that they are transgender). For a while she felt like a failure because people could tell she wasn’t born a female, but now it doesn’t stop her from being fierce and fabulous. “Because transgender is beautiful,” says Cox.

Her speech was full of inspiration, humor, and knowledge about a community that is so often degraded. Cox is a an artist, actress and a beam of hope for other people in the LGBT community that struggle with their own self- identification.

“I encourage each and every one of you in your college lives and your lives beyond school to go and take a risk and have those difficult conversations across differences and do it with love and empathy and vulnerability,” says Cox.

Photo by Jenny Meyers

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