You may recognize Laverne Cox as the breakout trans star from VH1′s I Want to Work for Diddy, but she’s found mainstream success more recently as Sophia, a transgender hairdresser in Jenji Kohan’s hit Netflix series, Orange Is the New Black.
She’s been hailed as a role model for trans actresses, a hero for the LGBT community, and “groundbreaking” among her peers in the industry. But the heavy responsibility was cast upon her by the media—in an exclusive interview with Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak this week, Cox opened up about her role in pop culture, her insecurities, her dating life, and how she never imagined fame to look quite like this:
Gawker: What are you insecure about now? In terms of presentation?
Laverne Cox: Everything. I was looking at some stills from the show that are up online. [In the past] I was like, “When I am successful, I’m going to look differently. I will have had more surgery, I will be thinner. And that will equal me being successful.” And then I was looking at myself with all the imperfections that I see, and still people are relating to this character, people are connecting to her.
G: How does your internalized transphobia manifest itself?
LC: A lot of it is just about me wanting to beat myself up because I’m not pretty enough. I’ve had this thing where people are writing all sort of articles, “Laverne Cox has broken the trans glass ceiling.” People are writing all this crazy stuff that I’m this groundbreaking whatever. I have moments where I’m like, I’m not pretty enough or passable enough to be that girl. I’m not pretty enough to really represent the community in this way. Sometimes I sound like a man and all that kind of stuff where I feel like I’m not feminine enough, I’m not enough authentically. Also, I’ve noticed the biggest way that internalized homophobia, racism, or transphobia manifests itself is in how we treat each other.
G: This show also explores the difference between gender identity and sexuality — after her transition, Sophia stays with her wife. That distinction is rarely drawn in pop culture.
LC: I’ve been saying this for years, that gender identity and sexual orientation are different but so many people don’t know. I think that the reason for that is that we are in the LGBT community and we get lumped with gay and lesbian folks and bisexual folks, but [for us] it’s not about sexual orientation, but gender identity. I also think that a lot of the issues that folks seem to have with gays and lesbians, particularly when kids are bullied, are about gender. It’s about someone assigned male at birth not acting the way a boy should act. So much of it comes down to gender and this fear of femininity in our culture.
You can read the full interview on Gawker.
[Photo: Victor Jeffreys II for Dodge & Burn]