How Laverne Cox Refused to Let P. Diddy Exploit Her

Buzzfeed has a profile of Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox. Not surprisingly, the article is a super insightful look into Cox's rise as one of the only famous transgender woman entertainers in America.

The article summarizes Cox's trajectory as a pretty normal for a famous entertainer, except for her gender identity:

"The system isn't really set up to have these conversations about intersectionality and social justice when you're an actress. I always feel like someone is going to come along and say, 'OK, this has gone on for too long. We need to get rid of this girl.'" Laverne laughs at herself then, but it's not false humility I hear so much as a woman very aware of just how high the stakes are for her.

This means that Cox has had to negotiate a fine line between getting ahead in her career and being bullied or exploited by other people. This involved moving from Alabama where she constantly bullied, because, "...for me and my journey. I needed to be away to figure out who I was," and realizing the gatekeepers of New York's 90s club scene didn't necessarily have her best interests at heart:

Advertisement

Cox says it's not a coincidence that trans women become underground "muses." "There's this freak factor where you become this thing for people to gawk at. And I feel like it started with Andy Warhol and Candy Darling. There's this interview where Warhol is talking with her and he says 'Candy is a man.' And I'm like — I didn't know Candy Darling, obviously — but I'm pretty sure she didn't think of herself as a man." Cox observes. "Andy Warhol was very much exploiting her trans identity and you see that in the New York clubs still. And I've been a part of that."

When Cox was one of the contestants for Vh1's 2008 show, I Want to Work for P. Diddy, she was conscious of never fighting another black woman on screen:

I did an interview and the producers were like, "Well, this [other black woman on the show] said this about you. What do you have to say about that?" And I said I'm not fighting with another black woman on TV.

In 2010, Cox helmed her own Vh1 reality show, TRANSform Me, about giving cisgender women makeovers. The show was designed to finally bringing trans women into the mainstream, but premiered to low ratings and a ton of criticism from Cox's community, who claimed that the show into the "magical queer makeover" category.

So after all the scrutiny and negotiation, OITNB's Sophia Burset has given Cox space to portray a trans woman and her experience with transitioning and prison in a dignified and meaningful manner:

"What's interesting about Sophia's storyline," Cox says, "is that, usually when we see trans people on screen their stories are all about their transition, but this is a health care issue. And just because you're in prison doesn't mean you shouldn't have health care." Cox says Sophia's relationship with her wife and son is what she finds most fascinating, and that the topic will be explored more in the show's second season, which airs this June.

I for one can't wait to see Sophia's expanded storyline next season, and to see and hear more of what Laverne Cox has to do and say in the coming years.

Image via Getty.