“I stand before you this evening as an African American, transgender woman,” Laverne Cox said Monday night before a sold-out Camp Concert Hall. “I stand before you as an artist. I stand before you as an actress — an Emmy-nominated actress — I stand before you as a daughter and a sister.”
“I am not just one thing.”
In front of University of Richmond students, faculty, staff and members of the Richmond community, Cox spoke about her life as a transgender woman and shared stories of other transgender people.
Cox grew up in Mobile, Alabama, with an identical twin brother and was born to a single mother. From preschool to high school she was bullied every day, she said.
In third grade, by the request of her teacher, Cox’s mother brought her to a therapist. Her therapist asked her if she knew the difference between a girl and a boy.
“In all of my infinite wisdom as a third grader, I replied, ‘There is no difference,’” Cox said.
In sixth grade she began to go through puberty, a time she described as “traumatizing.” That year, like 41 percent of transgender people, she attempted to commit suicide, she said. “I swallowed an entire bottle of pills and went to sleep, hoping to not wake up.”
She used anecdotes to convey her message.
“She was able to share such personal stories with us,” freshman Daniela Amador said. “That’s when people can relate most.”
She spoke not just about being transgender, but also about the intersections of oppression in her life, some of which were racism and misogyny.
“She is such a multidimensional person,” sophomore Ivana Marshall said. “She spoke about intersectionality, which I understand as a woman of color.”
Cox also spoke about the binary model of gender that is the norm in society. “The flaw of the binary model is that if you’re born with a penis, you must act like a man and be attracted to women,” she said. “If you’re born with a vagina, you must act like a woman and be attracted to men. Lived experiences defy that binary model.”
The flaws of this model are not confined to those who identify as transgender, she said. “Everyone’s gender is being policed. Gender policing causes us to prove that we’re woman or man enough,” she said.
After Cox delivered her speech, Juliette Landphair, dean of Westhampton College, conducted a question-and-answer segment where she asked Cox questions that were submitted by students via social media.
In this session, Cox described herself not as a role model, but as a possibility model. “I never want to suggest that someone should live their life the way that I have,” she said. “I think everyone has their own path. I do like the idea of possibility … A trans person has now been nominated for an Emmy, that’s never happened before, that’s possible. It’s really about creating space for people who have not had space before.”
“She knows who she is, and she wants to help people find their own voice,” senior Melissa Munoz said.
Landphair said: “She is someone who commands the stage with her personal vulnerability, really hard stories and intellectualism. This could not have been a better talk for college students who are going through their own changes and development.”
When Landphair asked Cox about how to be a good ally to transgender people, Cox said, “It’s about listening.”
Before Cox’s talk at 6 p.m., students from WILL, Spider Board, Common Ground and SCOPE — the co-sponsors of the event — were invited to a more intimate question-and-answer session with Cox. She spoke about “Orange is the New Black,” the New York City Pride Parade, Beyonce and problems that transgender people encounter.
In her speech, she quoted philosopher Cornel West: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
She then said, “Transgender people can use some justice, some love today.”
Contact staff writer Katie Mogul at firstname.lastname@example.org