She Thought They Would Kill Her If They Knew Who She Was. Turns Out Shame Is What Kills You.

Laverne Cox is such a talented actress. But more than that, she is a strong individual who knows who she is. And that's what I love most about her.

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Laverne Cox: I'm Laverne Cox and this is how it got better.

I was born and raised in a city called Mobile, Ala. and I was born to a single mother; I was born seven minutes before my identical twin brother. Growing up in Ala. was challenging for me I think partly because our family, we were really poor. My mom had to work two, sometimes three, jobs to take my brother and me and she was doing it by herself.

It was also difficult because I was bullied, like big time, as a kid. I was very feminine from like my whole life. From my very first interactions with kids, I was called sissy, I was called the F word, I was called names. The kids who beat me up were often boys but everyone made fun of me, everyone called me names. From early on, I learned how to put on a brave face even though things weren't always that good. I also think what was great for me, as a kid, was that I danced a lot. So, I would be in the grocery store with the shopping cart and I would be doing a full on movie musical in my head. I was kicking and just doing all kinds of stuff with the carts. I danced everywhere.

I was not really aware of any big picture LGBT anything when I was growing up in Ala. and I had no way of really understanding that I could be the girl that I believe that I was and everyone was telling me that I was a boy. In third grade, Ms Ridgeway, [SP] my third grade teacher called my mom and said "Your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress if we don't get him into therapy right away." My mom said "You shouldn't act like this." She didn't want people to think she was a bad mother, I think.

I was a good student and I wasn't a trouble maker but I was really feminine and this was a thing that needed to be policed. Basically, my teachers were policing my gender, the other kids who bullied me were attempting to police my gender, my mother was policing my gender. So, there was all these different forces, growing up, that were telling me that who I was, authentically, was a problem. That I shouldn't act a certain way, that I shouldn't hold my hands a certain away, that I shouldn't walk the way that ... all these things that felt very natural to me, I was told that I should not do them and that it was a problem and that ... I think the biggest thing for me, as a kid, is I thought that my mother would not love me because I acted this way.

Oh gosh, I don't want to cry ... I thought, shit. I thought that she wouldn't love me because of who I was authentically and I began to feel at a very early age that I had to change who I was to get love.

So, in sixth grade, my grandmother passed away and my grandmother, we were super close to her. In sixth grade, I started to go through puberty and I was having all these feelings for other ... boys. So, in addition to being gender nonconforming, I was attracted to boys and I learned in church that this was a sin. I imagined that my grandmother was looking down on me and that she was deeply disappointed in the thoughts that I was having and I went to our medicine cabinet and took a bottle of pills and swallowed the entire bottle and went to sleep.

After I woke up, I was really upset that I was still alive. I was really devastated that I had to go on being who I was. I thought that every single thing about me was awful and shameful and I believed that being attracted to other boys was a sin, and disgusting, and awful and the only good thing was what I could do. The only good thing was what I could achieve, right. So, what I did ... I have to make all A's and then I'll be worthy; then I'll be good enough. The thing about it is that, making all A's didn't make the pain go away. It didn't make me believe that I was worthy, becoming Vice President of Student Council, National Junior Honor Society, Public Speaking champion, getting a scholarship to ... School of Fine Arts; none of that, I could never achieve enough.

I initially came out as gay in college when I was at IU ... evolved into me really accepting my womanhood. I think the only way that I was able to accept my womanhood was when I finally moved to New York and actually met the first transgendered women I would meet and those women changed my life because all of the misconceptions I had about who transgendered people were melted away when I got to know real transgendered people. Meeting these women and accepting them as who they were, allowed me to accept myself. I remember the first time I just went full on fem. I just felt so liberated. It was liberating because I wasn't fighting anymore. I was like this is who I am and I just like, OK.

As an actor, I have to deal with my own feelings and be truthful so that I can give that to character and a lot of my life and what has gotten better for me is ... been about me letting go and just ... breathing. For me, it was really important to be on my own and away from my mother, to be able to say "This is who I am, take it or leave it" and I'm really lucky that my mother took me. My mother took me as who I am. It hard. It was really hard for her to accept me as her daughter.

I was just cleaning my apartment and she gave me, for Christmas, this ... a plate with the qualities of her good daughter and I just found that the other day and it's ... so cool. My mom has accepted me as her daughter and [it took] a lot of difficult conversations over many years. I think that reality is that she just didn't know how to deal. There was just no template for dealing with a gender nonconforming child when I was growing up. There was just no guide book. I don't know if there is now.

I've struggled with ... confidence throughout my life and I've struggled with shame and internalized trans-phobia, internalized racism, internalized class-ism. So, I have all of that stuff but ... something in me believed I had something special. Telling the truth to myself about myself is awesome because it's just a relief ... I don't have to try to be something I'm not. I can just be. Who you are authentically is alright. The shame is what kills you. Believing that you are unworthy of love and ... that who you are authentically is a sin or is wrong is deadly. Who you are is beautiful and amazing. It's important, with all of the messages that might tell you otherwise, that you have that in yourself to say that "I am beautiful and smart and amazing."

Earlier this year, I spoke at Tulane University which happens to be in New Orleans and it took over 20 years for Ms. Ridgeway's [SP] prediction to come true but I finally ended up in New Orleans wearing a dress.

I like glamor and I like feeling pretty but whats been great, in terms of my evolution, is that I feel pretty without all of this stuff. But, when I found out that I was going to be on the same red carpet as Jennifer Lopez, I was like, OK, I should step up my game a little bit. So, hopefully, we're getting there.

There may be small errors in this transcript.
Posted By:
Joseph Lamour

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