Last week was National Coming Out Week, and to commemorate this, Laverne Cox came to speak on my campus. For those who may not follow Orange Is The New Black obsessively like I do, Cox identifies as a transwoman of color and is an actress and activist whose voice has revolutionized the image of transwomen of color both within and outside of the LGBTQI community. Cox’s speech on coming out and the role that intersectionality played in her life was the ultimate lesson in freedom. Life can be trying (to say the least) for trans* people, but within safe spaces, trans* individuals can experience the true freedom that comes from livingly honestly. Ciswomen (and everyone else for that matter) can learn 5 important lessons from transwomen. The following are ideas from Laverne Cox sharing her story and experiences.
1. “Mistakes happen, and you work through them.”
This was Laverne’s reply when someone asked her about dealing with negative reactions from those close to her when she came out. Letting go of past transgressions, whether they be a bad reaction to coming out as LGBT or a long held grudge against a family member, allows us to move beyond reacting to the past and move on to acting for the future.
2. Independence and freedom are key to the full realization of one’s identity and discovering the safety of being able to live out one’s identity.
When asked about her coming out story, Laverne emphasized the role that financial independence played in living authentically and openly. The control that financial dependency can play in influencing personal or outward decisions was a key takeaway from Cox’s story. Free of the fear of destitution should her family disown her, Laverne was able to share her true self with them. Depending on oneself and avoiding the influence of those with interests other than your own allows people (or organizations) to make the best decisions for themselves.
3. “My value comes from who I am, not how I look.”
The ball and chain of beauty is heavy for ciswomen. For transwomen, it is even moreso. Cox emphasizes that identity–who you are–not appearance, is the measure of self. Trans and ciswomen alike often judge themselves on appearance, overlooking all their amazing qualities that extend well beneath skin.
4. “Dating is hard. You have to know who you are to date Laverne Cox!”
Dating for transwomen is difficult because society attaches stigma to their male partners, labelling them pejoratively as “gay” or “queer”. Partners should love each other regardless of the potential stigma that comes from any aspect of their lives be it dating a same sex partner, wanting a different type of sex life, or pursuing a specific type of career. A partner worthy of your time is one that ignores chitter chatter and focuses on the most important things-such as having a healthy relationship between two independent adults.
5. Be who you are because “what other people say about you is none of your business.”
We are taught from a young age to place value in how others perceive us. Transwomen fall prey to this in particular, both in LGBT circles and society at large. However, their visibility through amazing figures, such as Ms. Cox, advances the beauty that their identities and lives contribute. Cox acknowledged in her speech that coming out and living out does have its perils, particularly for those whose communities do not embrace alternative identities, but that it was worth the affirmation and the inner peace that comes from loving yourself.
Freedom, true freedom, is not something that comes from a document, a theory, or a government. True freedom is self-actualization. It is the connection and love for one’s inner self, regardless of the shaming that others may bring, because you know that you are right according the person that matters most: you. Not everyone has the space to find this self-actualization, for those individuals I pray and meditate that they will be able to find that place one day. Because the true freedom that comes from loving yourself is the ultimate personal expression of liberty.