Laverne Cox is more than just an actress or reality TV star. She’s a trans woman, a black woman, an activist, advocate, fashion icon, writer, and more.
This is why each time she speaks, people listen.
Born in Mobile, Alabama, on May 29, 1984, to a single black mother, Cox consistently encountered a playing field tipped steeply against her. As a trans woman who didn’t conform to certain societal expectations, this also meant social marginalization, bullying, and even physical violence against her.
Her story is one of persistence and persecution despite the odds, but also of talent, beauty, and extraordinary success. Cox has appeared on “Law & Order,” “TRANSform Me,” and “Orange Is the New Black,” which propelled her into the mainstream.
She has used her position as a high-profile actress to consistently speak for the most marginalized segments of American society — be it the African-American community, trans people of color, or single mothers.
In honor of her her 33rd birthday, these quotes show her immense wisdom, but also her humility and self-awareness.
1. “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. I am smart and I'm amazing.'”
2. “I am a person of color, working-class, born to a single mother, but I stand before you tonight an artist, an actress and a sister and a daughter, and I believe that it is important to name the multiple parts of my identity because I am not just one thing, and neither are you”
3. “At the end of the day, we have to remember that bathroom access really is not about bathrooms.”
4. “When trans people can’t access public bathrooms we can’t go to school effectively, go to work effectively, access health-care facilities — it’s about us existing in public space,” she said. “And those who oppose trans people having access to the facilities consistent with how we identify know that all the things they claim don’t actually happen. It’s really about us not existing — about erasing trans people.”
It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.
6. "Everything about the prison-industrial complex is designed to dehumanize the women who are incarcerated. So, it means so much to me that our show is about doing the exact opposite."
7. “If someone needs to express their gender in a way that is different, that is okay, and they should not be denied healthcare. They should not be bullied. They don’t deserve to be victims of violence.
8. “When I was perceived as a black man I became a threat to public safety. When I was dressed as myself, it was my safety that was threatened.”
9. “Each and every one of us has the capacity to be an oppressor. I want to encourage each and everyone of us to interrogate how we might be an oppressor and how we might be able to become liberators for ourselves and for each other.”
10. “I think transwomen, and transpeople in general, show everyone that you can define what it means to be a man or woman on your own terms. A lot of what feminism is about is moving outside of roles and moving outside of expectations of who and what you’re supposed to be to live a more authentic life.”
11. “Healthcare for trans women is a necessity. It is not elective. It is not cosmetic. It is life saving.”
12. “As long as we are living in a culture where one has to prove their womanhood or manhood, we are not living in a free culture.”
13. “Whether it’s the restrictions on people’s voting or lack of access to reproductive care, they hurt low-income women of color the most in this country. That’s not by chance.”
14. “I think what the internet has done is given everyone a space to have a voice. Young people understand that better than anybody else. If we lift everyone's voice, then we can change the world.”
15. “Your lives matter. Your voices matter. Your stories matter.”
Whether you’re transgender or not, most of us get to a point in our lives where we can no longer lie to ourselves.
17. “Black women are not often told that we're beautiful unless we align with certain standards. Trans women certainly are not told we're beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about herself might be inspiring to some other folks. There's beauty in the things we think are imperfect.”
18. “For me, being in the media has been a powerful tool and a huge responsibility.”
19. “The therapist asked me if I knew the difference between a boy and a girl. And in my infinite wisdom as a third-grader, because third-graders are so wise, I said, ‘There is no difference.’”
20. “I am slowly replacing the voices in my head, those voices of the bullies and harassers, with voices that celebrate what makes me unique, different and, well, me.”
21. “What I like to say to the world is that men are just as hurt by patriarchy as women are.”
22. “When you transition in the public eye, the transition becomes the story. I’m always disturbed when I see conversations about trans people that focus on surgery.”
23. “We must lift up the stories of those most at risk, statistically trans people of color who are poor and working class. I have hoped over the past few years that the incredible love I have received from the public can translate to the lives of all trans folks. Trans folks of all races, gender expressions, ability, sexual orientations, classes, immigration status, employment status, transition status, genital status etc.”
24. “In reality, yes, trans women do sex work, but the problem is that we don't all do sex work. There are trans women who are doctors, and lawyers, and nurses, and mothers, and sisters, and convicts.”
25. “It's really about having more writers, and directors, and producers having the courage to tell trans stories.”
26. “We are not what other people say we are. We are who we know ourselves to be, and we are what we love. That’s okay.”
27. “So there is this fear of feminine that we see in a lot of different aspects of culture that is punished. That's a part of patriarchy. In a lot of ways we can't talk about homophobia and transphobia, without talking about patriarchy.”
28. “Policies like Stop-and-Frisk and condoms-as-evidence affect how girls like us get to navigate the public space.”
29. “Dear 19-Year-Old Laverne, I want you to know you are beautiful and you are not what all those people who don’t understand you say about you.”
30. “I just have to be myself. I'm not perfect and I'm going to make mistakes.”
When you put love out in the world it travels, and it can touch people and reach people in ways that we never even expected.
32. “Systemic racism not only encourages the state and non-black individuals to police and monitor black bodies, white supremacy encourages other black folks to do so as well.”
33. “By truly embracing transgender equality, I believe we can all begin to define what it means to be a man or a woman on our own terms and liberate ourselves from the gender oppression we impose on ourselves and each other.”