Laverne Cox is an actress, producer, and transgender advocate who has become one of the most influential and inspirational figures in the LGBT community. She represents not only transgender women, but trans individuals of color, and constantly emphasizes the social significance of that intersection.
Cox has been in the entertainment industry for a while, but really broke ground in her 2013 role as transgender inmate Sophia Burset on the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black. On the show, which provides visibility for a range of female identities, Cox is able to portray a character that is still deeply underrepresented in the mainstream. Viewers immediately fell in love with the complex, courageous Sophia, and with Cox, who has used her star power to advocate for issues impacting trans people.
The role of Sophia Burset is groundbreaking for myriad reasons, but mostly for the way it refuses to submit to the stereotype of transgender women only being employed as sex workers. Instead, Sophia Burset is a wife and mother who is just as uncomfortable being incarcerated as her fellow inmates. Explains Cox, “When folks want to write a trans character, the first thing they think of sex work. And part of the reason is that the most visibility, really, that trans folk get is through sex work. […] Obviously there are lots of trans women who don’t do sex work, who have all kinds of professions,” of the ways in which transgender women’s roles in society are frequently reduced to bodily objectification and stereotypes.
By creating a new kind of transgender identity in the media through Sophia Burset, Cox has sparked conversations, encouraged LGBT education, and has deeply influenced visibility and public opinion regarding trans identities, simply by being true to herself. She has become what many consider the face of the transgender community, but continues to advocate for those without access to the media, like Islan Nettles, the young trans woman who became the victim of a hate crime last year. She isn’t afraid to talk about violence, pain, and intolerance, things that face transgender individuals every single day.
Cox is committed to helping the voices and stories of transgender people be heard. She says, “It is my dream that by highlighting the deep humanity of trans people’s lives in the media, elevating actual trans voices to speak the truth of our lived experiences in ways that don’t sensationalize and objectify us, those human voices and stories can be a part of the disruption needed to end the disproportionate injustices that threaten so many trans people’s lives, particularly the lives of trans women of color.” Cox understands first hand how critical it is to create a dialogue about the different gender and sexual identities that exist; doing so is the only way that equality can eventually be achieved.
Though Laverne Cox much prefers the term “possibility model” to “role model,” it’s safe to assume that she has become one of the most inspirational transgender figures of our time. She really is a model for the possibilities that arise when one is true to their self. She says, “Through all the things – the difficulties of what it means to be who I am, I love myself. And I am so grateful that I get to live authentically now.”