Transgender icon Laverne Cox encourages students to be resilient

Laverne Cox

Photo by: Provided by Laverne Cox Laverne Cox

April 16, 2021

By Tatiana Olivera

The Otter Cross Cultural Center and Otter Student Union hosted a virtual evening chat with actress and LGBTQ+ advocate Laverne Cox on Thursday, April 8. Cox shared her experience being a transgender actress, and she imparted a message about self-love and resilience for CSUMB students.

Known for her role as Sophia Burset in the Netflix show Orange is the New Black, Cox is also an Emmy award winner who has celebrated many trans firsts in the entertainment industry. Cox serves as an inspiration for many who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, especially those who are interested in the arts.

Discussing her childhood, Cox said that she was “really bullied and stigmatized and shamed” for being feminine but that art saved her from depression and deep trauma.

“I had this creative outlet that saved my life,” Cox said. “It gave me a sense of purpose, something to dream of, and a reason to get out of Alabama. I’m just so grateful for that.”

But she is also grateful for her struggles. Cox and her twin brother were raised by a single mom who worked as a teacher, as well as their grandmother. While the family experienced financial hardships, their community chipped in, providing things like tap shoes for Cox’s dance lessons.

The combination of resilience through hardship, community efforts, and self-expression through the arts is what gave Cox a sense of purpose.

To anyone in the CSUMB community who is struggling, Cox shares a piece of advice.

“Without a test, there is no testimony,” she said. “Everything you’re going through is for a reason you don’t understand right now.”

A large part of that test is dealing with feelings of shame. Cox said she had residual internalized transphobia, racism, and classism. But after familiarizing herself with the work of Brené Brown — who she’s been a fan of for over a decade and has collaborated with creatively — Cox has learned how to heal.

“[Brown] says that empathy is the antidote to shame,” Cox said. “And when you speak your shame story to someone who’s earned the right to hear that story, shame dissipates 85 percent when it is greeted with empathy.”

It is for that reason that Cox encourages everyone to start telling their story.

Her message to those who are transitioning is: “Your feelings are absolutely valid. You’re not crazy. And one day you’ll get to fulfill the destiny of who you were meant to be. It’s going to take a lot longer than you’d like it to, but hang in there. Survive. Keep working really hard to get better at what you do, and it will all become clear to you while you’re going through all this.”