Laverne Cox is best known for her role in Orange is the New Black, playing the groundbreaking role of “Sophia Burset,” an African American transgender woman. Laverne is the first transgender woman of color to have a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show, and her character, Sophia Burset, was named by Time Magazine as the 4th most influential fictional character of 2013. This successful woman has gracefully come to Ball State to share her inspirational story.
Gender usually has the wrong connotation within a society. It is easily confused with sex, and it is not uncommon to hear individuals use these terms interchangeably. The difference between sex and gender is that sex is what you are born as, and gender is what you identify yourself as. In Laverne’s case, her sex is male (born as) and her gender is female (what she identifies as).
Throughout Laverne’s life, she knew that she didn’t fit in with many of the other children and was missing that sense of acceptance. In elementary school, one of Laverne’s teachers called home and informed her mother that she was caught fanning herself and singing like a girl on a school field trip. Her mother confronted her and told her it was not acceptable for a young boy to be fanning himself. This was Laverne’s first time experiencing shame in terms of sex and gender, but it wouldn’t be her last. As she grew older, she knew she had a passion for dance. This passion eventually gave her the opportunity to attend The Alabama School of Fine Arts. Entering this next stage brought on more opportunities and struggles. This new phase generated a whole new definition of shame in terms of race and class. Although this was a difficult time in her life, because she was still confused about whom she was, she persevered and moved to New York City after she graduated.
New York City was the first time Laverne felt as though she really belonged. While there, she met another transgender woman name Tina Sparkle. Tina was the definition of who Laverne wanted to be. She met Tina when she was an awkward, pimply-faced woman, and then saw her flourish throughout the years into a beautiful confident woman. It is there that Laverne decided to live by the inspiring words of Simone de Beauvoir, “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.” According to gender theorist Judith Butler, it is not necessarily guaranteed that this woman is female.
Laverne Cox is an inspiration for the transgender community. Although she lived a life of struggles, she realized who she is and now does something she loves with people who accept her. She is the symbol for the whole LGBT community and her ability to spread awareness is one step towards equality.