Laverne Cox covers the latest issue of Time Magazine. The Orange Is the New Black star has become a prominent figure in the trans movement and in the mag she opens up about her experiences as a trans woman in America.
Check out a few excerpts:
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 your thinking change after that moment in third grade?
Going to a therapist and the fear of God being placed in me about ending up in New Orleans wearing a dress, that was a profoundly shaming moment for me. I associated it with being some sort of degenerate, with not being successful. My mother was a teacher. She was grooming my brother and me to be successful, accomplished people. I didn’t associate being trans, or wearing a dress, with that, or wanting to be a girl with being successful. So it’s something I just started to push down. I wanted to be famous, I wanted to perform. Those things I really, really wanted more than anything else.
Another part of your story you’ve talked about is your grandmother passing away, how you felt like she was looking down on you and disapproving. What happened in that moment?
I was in sixth grade and I was going through puberty. During puberty, the attraction for other boys got really strong. And I learned in church that was a sin. I imagined that my grandmother was looking down on me and that she knew what I was thinking, because she’s in heaven. I just imagined that I was disappointing her and it just was devastating for me. So I went to the medicine cabinet and got a bottle of pills. And took them. And swallowed them. And went to sleep, hoping not to wake up. And I did wake up, with a really bad stomachache. I don’t remember what the pills were. Whatever it was, I thought that they would kill me but they didn’t.
Did you talk to anybody else that night?
Nope. I was very isolated. I didn’t have anyone that I felt close to or that I could talk to. My brother and I were close-ish. But he was dealing with his own stuff. I didn’t really have friends until my junior year of high school. And my mother just had an inability to fully emotionally connect. I think a lot of it was just the stress of trying to take care of two kids by herself. My mom, a lot of her memories of those times, is just that she was really stressed out, trying to figure out how to put food on the table and clothes on our backs … What was the saving grace for me is that I had this great imagination and I was a good student and I loved to perform. The imagination that I used for that creative work was very life-sustaining for me and it continues to be.
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.
Get into this behind the scenes video of Laverne’s cover shoot below!