Trans Lives Matter

By Marissa Luna

I had the pleasure of hearing Laverne Cox speak at Saginaw Valley State University on Tuesday. She was visiting Michigan, one of many stops across the country, to give an hour-long lecture called “Ain’t I a Woman: My Journey to Womanhood.” You don’t know the meaning of fabulousness until you’ve felt her presence in a room.

Laverne Cox is best known for her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. She became the first openly transgender person nominated for an Emmy in 2014 for that role and the first openly transgender person to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine that same year. Those are just some of her many accomplishments.

Laverne is also a prominent transgender rights advocate. Her talk at SVSU was about moving beyond gender expectations and living more authentically. That can be a hard concept to grasp, particularly in a world where conforming to gender “norms” is the norm, but it’s an incredibly important discussion that we all need to have.

In her talk, Laverne called on all of us to question what we know and believe about gender expression, asking us, for just the short hour that we were all in the same room, to consider ourselves all to be transgender. For a brief hour, we stepped into her shoes.

We learned about her life growing up in a working-class family in Alabama. We learned about the immense shame that she felt for years because she didn’t feel worthy of love due to the fact that the gender she identified as was not the gender perceived by others. We heard about her experiences being bullied and physically attacked because of her gender expression. And we learned about how she overcame those struggles and achieved success.

Unfortunately, many trans people are still not treated equally as human beings in our society. One in five transgender people in America have been refused a home because of their gender identity. Forty-one percent of trans people have attempted suicide, compared to just 1.6 percent of all other Americans. And as Laverne informed us, “Just this year, there have already been eight trans homicides.”

By sharing her story, Laverne Cox is doing what we all must strive to do — creating space for trans people to live their lives as equals, free from discrimination, violence, and oppression that is so disproportionately inflicted on the trans community and especially on trans people of color.

Laverne referenced several renowned writers during her talk, including bell hooks and Brené Brown, but one quote from Simone de Beauvoir really struck a chord with me, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

Biology does not define what it means to be a man or a woman — we do. And trans issues are men and women’s issues, too. Because, whether you identify as trans or not, many of us often put ourselves in “gender boxes.”

We all must fight for transgender equality. Because like Laverne said, “As long as we live in a culture where we have to prove our womanhood or manhood, we’ll never live in a free society.” And, most importantly, because trans lives matter.