It Was Fourth Of July, So She Wore A Tight Red, White, And Blue Dress. Then Came The Comments.

Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”) tells a personal story that touches upon tough questions of race and gender identity and expression. Her courage to be who she is, and to remain compassionate in the face of open taunts and public shaming, is truly inspiring.

Every moment of her talk is compelling, but if you’ve only got a few minutes, jump ahead to 4:37 to hear why she does not descend to the level of her attackers. The answer—and the question she poses—puts so much of bullying into simple, elegant perspective. Bravo to her for speaking up and speaking out.

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Laverne Cox: There was a moment about 10 years ago when I was walking to the sub-way on the Upper West Side. It was the 4th of July and I was wearing a red, white, and blue dress, so feeling very patriotic, and it was really tight. And I passed these two men, one appeared to be Latino and the other appeared to be black. And the Latin guy says, "Yo mama, can I holler at you?" And the black guy said, "Yo dude, that's an N-word." And then, the Latin guy says, "No man, that's a bitch." And the black guy said, "No, that's an N-word." And they began to argue. They began to argue about whether I was the B-word or the N-word. What lovely options! And I was just standing there at the light like waiting for it to change, "Please, light change so I can cross the street," because they just needed to cross the street. And at one point, the Latin guy turns to me and says, "You ain't an N-word, are you?" And that moment is sort of indicative of a lot of the street harassment that I've had to endure.

And that street harassment started first because these men were... Found me attractive because I'm a woman. And then, they realized that I was trans and it became something else. It turned into something else. So many trans women have to experience this. Just last month in New York City, a young girl named Elan Neddles was walking down the street in Harlem with her friend and she was cat-called by a few guys. They realized that she was trans and then they beat her to death. In 2001, a trans woman named Amanda Malan, who I knew but not very well, something similar happened to her in the Times Square area, and she was stabbed to death.

It is often... Our lives are often in danger simply for being who we are. Well, we're trans women. And there are a lot of intersecting identities and intersecting oppressions that make that happen. That moment when I was called the B- or the N-word, it was the moment where misogyny is intersecting with trans-phobia is intersecting with some racist stuff. And the racial piece is actually really important because I've taught to a lot of white trans who haven't experienced quite the level of street harassment that I have.

And I've gotten in trouble by saying this publicly that most of the street harassment I've experienced has been from other black folks. And that's not to suggest that black folks are more homophobic or trans-phobic than everybody else because I don't believe that. But there are some homophobic and trans-phobic black folks. And I think the reason for that is that there is a collective trauma that a lot of black folks are dealing within this country that dates back to slavery and to the Jim Crow's laws. That it's... Most of us know that during slavery and during Jim Crow, black bodies, usually black male bodies were often lynched, and in these lynchings, the men's genitals were cut off. Sometimes, they were pickled and sometimes, they were sold. There's this sort of historic fear and fascination with black male sexuality. And I believe that a lot of black folks feel that there's this historic emasculation that has been happening in white supremacy of black male bodies. And I think a lot of black folks dealing with a lot of post-traumatic stress see trans, my trans woman's body, and feel that I'm the embodiment of this historic emasculation come to life so often when I'm called out on the street. It's as if I'm a disgrace to the race because I'm trans. And I understand that as trauma. I have love. I have so much love for my black brothers and sisters, who might call me out on the street because I get it. I understand. They're in pain. And I feel so often our oppressors are in a lot of, lot of pain. I think whenever someone needs to call out someone else for who they are and make fin of them, it's because they don't feel comfortable with who they are. And so, anyone ever has a problem with someone else, I ask you to look at yourselves first. What is it about you that you have a problem with? What is it about you that you have a problem with?

And I also think it's important that when we talk about bullying, we understand that when kids, LGBTQI kids are bullied, often times it's because of their gender expression. We hear the gay slurs, the anti-gay slurs, and it's really about these kids not conforming to the sex that they were assigned at birth. Their gender expression is not meeting the expectations of society. So, we have to begin to create spaces where we can express our gender in ways that are true to ourselves. The gender binary model, most of us don't fit that, and that's okay.

And I think too the violence that so many trans women experience, trans women of color are disproportionately victims of violence. Our homicide rate is the highest in the LGBT community. It went from 43% in 2011 to almost 54% of all LGBTQ homicides for trans women and mostly trans women of color. There is a link between the bullying that we inflict on an LGBTQ youth and the violence that so many trans women experience. What are we going to do about that? I think love is the answer. Cornel West reminds us that justice is what love looks like in public. And I love that because I feel that love... If we can love transgender people, that will be a revolutionary act.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

This ever-so-fab verbal smackdown was posted by Keppler Speakers. To keep up with more of Laverne Cox’s positive speeches, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Aug 13, 2014
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