Friday, November 7, 2014

Reclaiming Womanhood: Laverne Cox Speaks at Case Western Reserve University

Orange is the New Black actress Laverne Cox spoke about gender issues at CWRU. Photo Credit: Ryan Zymler

From the moment Case Western Reserve University president Barbara Snyder  introduced Laverne Cox to the time the actress stepped off stage, she commanded attention. Cox delivered a speech at the campus last night. Her role as prisoner Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black has thrust her into the national spotlight and helped her break barriers from being the first transgender person to get nominated for an Emmy to being the first transgender person to grace the cover of Time Magazine. And on Monday, she will accept a Woman of the Year award from Glamour Magazine — a publication that celebrates women of beauty and power — alongside Lupita Nyong'o, Chelsea Clinton, and Samantha Power.

"I stand before you this evening a proud African-American transgender woman," she said upon approaching the podium. "I stand before you tonight an artist, an actress, a sister and a daughter, and I believe it is important to name the various intersecting components of my multiple identities because I'm not just one thing, and neither are you."

Cox then highlighted alarming statistics to set the stage for discussing transgender issues. For example, the homicide rate in the LGBT community is highest among trans women, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects. In 2013, over 72 percent of all LGBT homicides were trans women, 67 percent of which were trans women of color.

"It is my belief that one of the biggest obstacles facing the transgender community are points of view which disavow our identities," she said, "points of view that suggest that no matter what we do, we are always and only the gender that we are assigned at birth, points of view that suggest no matter what I do, I'll never be a woman yet. Ain't I a woman?"

She went on to talk about how she was bullied growing up, often beaten by her peers while she ran home from school, and how she attempted suicide in sixth grade. She also talked about how she persevered, devoting herself to dancing and acting classes, clinging to her twin brother for emotional support, and ultimately undergoing hormone therapy and starting her transition into womanhood 16 years ago.

"As long as we live in a culture where people have to prove their womanhood or their manhood, we are not living in a culture where we are all truly free in terms of gender," she said. "We have to begin to create spaces of gender self-determination for all of our youth and all of our society."

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