Laverne Cox spoke in Eisenhower Auditorium Thursday night as part of the SPA Spring 2017 Distinguished Speaker Series, focusing on her journey as a transgender woman of color while keeping the presentation light-hearted with humor and sass.
Most well-known for her role as Sophia Burset in “Orange is The New Black,” Cox is an Emmy-nominated actress and producer. She’s also the first transgender woman of color to land a leading role in a mainstream scripted television show. Her resume does not stop there, as she is also a powerful advocate for the LGTBQA community and was named one of Glamour magazine’s 2014 Women of the Year.
Cox grew up with her mother and twin brother in Mobile, Alabama. She experienced bullying from a young age, as she always enjoyed activities her peers considered feminine. In fact, she said she has clear memories of groups of children chasing her around the schoolyard. Her mother used to ask her what she was doing wrong, but Cox knew she was simply following who she was.
Cox was always intrigued by what she saw on television and specifically loved to copy dances. After years of begging her mother, she enrolled in her first dance class in fourth grade. Her teachers eventually advised her mother to place Cox in therapy so she could address her femininity. Though her time therapy was short-lived, it left a lasting rift between Cox and her mother.
When she first heard of performing arts high school Alabama School of Fine Arts, Cox knew she had to attend. She applied as a creative writing student and enrolled with her twin brother, who applied for the visual arts program. The siblings attended ASFA for their entire high school career — for the first time in her life, Cox was away from her mother and felt comfortable enough to start expressing herself. Her journey began with shopping for women’s clothing, and she eventually wore makeup around school. Cox finally started to feel like she had found herself.
When Cox decided to attend Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, she was fully able to express her values to her peers. The nightclub scene was a major part of the milestone, as Cox was admitted to clubs free of charge and she received free drinks for her status as a woman. This was the first time her gender expression was considered valuable.
Since beginning a career in acting and producing, she has enjoyed having a wide variety of work on her plate. She believes she chose the perfect industry to be able to express her interests, as well as help others reach their own goals.
“I am not just one thing,” Cox said of her dynamic role in the media industry.
Cox has used her acting education to land roles in shows like “Law and Order” and “Bored to Death,” as well as independent films “Carla” and “The Exhibitionists.” She has also produced her own television show on VH1 called “TRANSForm Me” and earned numerous awards, including The Stephen F. Kolzak Award at the 2014 GLAAD Media Awards and a spot in Huffington Post’s Top 50 Trans Icons.
Cox integrated stories from her own childhood with powerful take-home messages and humor. Ultimately, she encourages people to allow themselves to have even the most difficult of conversations and to create safe spaces for those around them.