Transgender Advocate Appears on Time Magazine Cover: 'This Is Who I Am'

May 29th, 2014 9:57 PM

As the circulation of weekly newsmagazines continues to decline, their editors and staffs hope to draw in new readers -- as well as the people they've lost over the past few decades -- with covers that focus on controversial topics.

The latest example of this ploy is the new issue of Time magazine, which depicts transgender African-American actress and “sexual diversity advocate” Laverne Cox on its cover next to the title “The Transgender Tipping Point: America's Next Civil Rights Frontier.”

Laverne Cox, a member of the cast of Orange Is the New Black – a comedy-drama series available through the Netflix website -- stated in the cover story: “We are in a place now where more and more trans people want to come forward and say ‘This is who I am.'”

She added:

And more trans people are willing to tell their stories. More of us are living visibly and pursuing our dreams visibly, so people can say, “Oh yeah, I know someone who is trans.”

When people have points of reference that are humanizing, that demystifies difference.

But Cox is a man. Cox also described growing up in Mobile, Ala., with her mother and twin brother.

"I just thought that I was a girl, and that there was no difference between girls and boys," she said after admitting she was often bullied for appearing effeminate. "I think in my imagination I thought that I would hit puberty, and I would start turning into a girl.

“Going to a therapist and having the fear of God being placed in me about ending up in New Orleans wearing a dress, that was a profoundly shaming moment for me,” Cox noted to Time writer Katy Steinmetz. “I associated it with being some sort of degenerate."

However, Cox eventually came out as transgender -- which is defined as “a person appearing or attempting to be a member of the opposite sex, as a transsexual or habitual cross-dresser” -- while living in New York City and starting her career as an actor.

“There’s not just one trans story,” she explained. “There’s not just one trans experience. The reality is that I don't represent the entirety of the trans community.

“I think what [people] need to understand is that not everybody who is born feels that their gender identity is in alignment with what they’re assigned at birth, based on their genitalia,” she continued. “If someone needs to express their gender in a way that is different, that is okay, and they should not be denied health care. They should not be bullied. They don’t deserve to be victims of violence.

“When we look at the discrimination that transgender people face, there tends to be intersections of race and class,” Cox added regarding violence. “The homicide rate, for example, in the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community is highest amongst trans women,” especially among “trans women of color.”

As a result, “there's something about race intersecting with the gender issues that we have to look at if we're really interested in ending violence against trans women, for example, and trans people in general,” she asserted.

“If you want to improve the employment rate in the trans community, if you want to stop the bullying of LGBT youth, we also have to look at race, and I think the trans movement and the LGBT movement in general really has to be a social justice movement.”

A significant step in ending discrimination, she stated, would be “just listening to transgender people ... in terms of how they define themselves and describe themselves and taking people at their word.”

Be willing to let go of what preconceptions you might have about people who are different,” Cox said before asserting that transgender children now have resources they can turn to that she never had.

"It makes you feel like you're less alone and gives some sort of sense of, 'Okay, this is who I am and this is what I'm going through,' as opposed to 'What the f*** is wrong with me?' That was what I grew up with.”

Despite her confusion about her sexual identity, Cox said she said that “the saving grace for me is that I had this great imagination, and I was a good student, and I loved to perform. The imagination that I used for that creative work was very life-sustaining for me, and it continues to be."

So Cox is taking yet another step in the process of “normalizing sexual variety.” While I'm glad she's happy, I can only dread the next controversial topic that will be addressed on a future cover of Time magazine.