In an interview with New York magazine for their ‘Women and Power’ edition, Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox opened up about her experience as a trans woman in the spotlight – and how she still fears the threat of violence.
She talks about being on the cover of Time magazine back in May 2014, a month where it was reported that five trans women had been killed. She says she felt “survivor’s guilt“, at a time when she was being looked to as “a representative of all trans people“: “I never purported to be that, and so I just had to be really careful about what I said and what I did.”
Cox says it became difficult to speak about the murders of trans people, because she was doing it all the time, and that’s “a really dark place to live in“.
She tells the story of being in the middle of prepping an interview with CeCe McDonald, and doing loads of research into gender-based violence against trans women.
I was at a bar and met a group of guys. One of them bought me a drink and was flirting with me. I have no tolerance; one and a half cosmos in, I’m drunk. His friends went outside and we started making out, and I hadn’t gotten a chance to disclose that I’m trans. It all happened really quickly, and I freaked out and just ran out of the bar and down the street. I kept imagining his friends coming in and murdering me. I don’t know if that would have happened, but I had been doing all this reading about trans women being murdered, so I was just like, “Oh my God, I’m going to get killed at Churchill Tavern on 28th Street in Manhattan by this group of white men.” This is what trans folks are walking around with.
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Were you ever ambivalent about your power? "Oh yeah. The month I was on the cover of Time magazine, five trans women were killed. So I felt a lot of survivor’s guilt. A feeling like, Why me? I felt an obligation, so that year I said yes to a lot of things. But there were a lot of folks who wanted to invalidate me, scapegoat me, and make me a representative of all trans people. I never purported to be that, and so I just had to be really careful about what I said and what I did." @lavernecox has become aware that her visibility couldn’t erase the suffering of other trans women — or the trauma of her own past. Tap the link in bio for more from her #WowenAndPower interview. ????: @amandademme
Cox thinks that people need to see a black trans woman “living her best life in the face of all the violence and all the disenfranchisement“. In fact, she knows she deserves it, but that her life is still marked by trauma: “I still have the memory of being kicked on the street a block away from here and being catcalled and misgendered.“
In the interview, Cox also spoke about being the first trans person Caitlyn Jenner spoke to after she came out.
I don’t know if a lot of people know that I’m the first transgender person that Caitlyn Jenner ever talked to. A friend of mine called me and said, “The tabloid rumours are true. Caitlyn is trans and she’s never talked to a trans person before. Can you talk to her?” And one of the first things I asked her when she called, because I didn’t feel comfortable calling her by her old name – I don’t want to dead-name her – was, “Have you picked a name yet?” So I started her calling her Caitlyn then. We talked for a couple of hours and it was lovely.
After she came out, people were constantly asking me about her. Initially I was like, “I’m not going to say anything about her until she speaks for herself.” After her Diane Sawyer interview, I did talk about her, and what I remember saying at the time was that it is so important that we have diverse representation for trans people – that we’re not all the same and that some people might not connect to my story, but they might connect to hers. And then it became difficult to support her, because of some of her politics. I’ve been very intentional about not talking about her, mainly because she’s become so divisive. But I have love for her. She’s still a human being.
She’s deeply candid about her ability to cope with fame, admitting she “can barely handle it“. Cox says that if she had become successful earlier in her career when she first moved to New York in 1993, “I probably wouldn’t be alive.”
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