After having recently watched the beautiful black trans actress Laverne Cox (famous for her debut on the hit Netflix series, Orange Is The New Black) describe her own experiences with street harassment, my understanding of the term intersectionality has greatly expanded. She is the first person who I have seen effectively and personally connect with her audience to address the intersecting identities and oppressions that she, among many other black trans women, has faced. Cox first explains a certain instance in which she had to silence herself at a crosswalk. Two men on the street approached her and began arguing about her racial and gender identity. Her black trans body became an object of their game. They could not agree on a label that suited their comfort level, so instead of quitting there, one of the men (appearing to be Latino) approached her and said, “You’re not an ‘n-word’ are you?” while the other man (appearing to be black) assured his friend that she is, while refusing his suggestion of her being a ‘b-word’.
On the surface, most educated people would understand that such a conversation is riddled with oppression. To begin with, these men believed they were entitled to have an opinion on Laverne’s gender identity and expression. Their chosen derogatory words made them out to appear gender normative and heterosexual. Because of this, their interaction with Laverne came from a place of cisgender privilege, wherein they believed they had a place to pass judgment about her sexual and gender identities. Moreover, they scrutinized her black body with the use of extremely inappropriate language. Cox goes on to explain that most of the oppression she faces on the street, comes from black male bodies. At first, many would be offended by her apparent lack of solidarity for her fellow black people. Yet, she explains, ” I believe that a lot of black folks feel that there is this historic emasculation that has been happening in white supremacy of black male bodies. I think a lot of black folks dealing with a lot of post-traumatic stress see trans, my trans women’s body, and feel that I’m the embodiment of this historic emasculation come to life,” (Cox, 2014).
Through this explanation, I began to grasp the roots of not only the oppression that Laverne faces every day, but oppressive systems in general. She goes on to explain her belief that people who oppress, are suffering from their own forms of pain therefore, try to release it by passing it on to others. She addresses Cornell West’s quote that reads, “Justice is what love looks like in public”. This shows her strength, as she has chosen to address the privileged and oppressed forces acting against her in an extremely inclusive way. Her message remains powerful for everyone; rather than trying to approach this topic from a stop oppression standpoint, she approaches it from a place that urges people everywhere to start justice. She does not exclude others from her conversation, just because of her unique positionality. She should be highly commended for her way with words and the power behind her messages as they leave her lips to be released into a society that is overwhelmed with white supremacy, heteronormativity, patriarchy and the limitations of the gender binary model.
From a critical point of view, her speaking from a personal place makes it difficult for her to directly address her privilege as an able-bodied member of the upper class. So she has not covered all of the bases. Her media and film/television exposure in itself is a huge privilege for a body like hers in this day and age. She has been pedestalled by the racialized members of the LGBTQ+ community. So, some may argue that she did not take advantage of her exposure for bigger picture issues and perspectives. However, with an opportunity like this, I believe she made the necessary decisions in order for her message to reach as many people as possible. She kept it inclusive enough to remain personal, rather than speaking on behalf of groups she with which she cannot identify. As the existence of trans people becomes more widely recognized in North America, I believe that speeches like this will address the intersecting nature of oppressions from a more complex and challenging angle. As a figurehead of bodies like her own, she ensures to mention the stories of Islan Nettles and Amanda Milan. And for this, I recognize her efforts to remain objective. Her words do not suggest she is looking for pity. She is speaking from her heart, in order to promote love and inclusion.
– The Funky Phoenix
Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. N.p., 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2015. <http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/>.