In a speech given by Laverne Cox, the beautiful American actress and passionate LGBTQ advocate, she shares some personal experiences of her own that truly confirm the present intersecting forms of oppression and privilege when speaking of transmisogyny, racism, and misogyny. Cox begins by recalling an encounter she had with two men when they saw her on the street and began to bicker about her sexuality. This situation was one in which Cox found herself personally facing these intersecting oppressions. She was dealing with the oppression of being transgender and the treatment from others that results from this identity. She was also facing the racialization and mysogynistic discrimination of the men using highly distasteful language. Cox’s speech continues on and she begins to recount on several occurrences of violence towards trans people. Cox, speaking about the transgender community, reveals “our lives are often in danger, simply for being who we are, when we are trans women. There are a lot of interesting identities and intersecting oppressions that make that happen.” Recalling back from slavery and lynching in US history, to the recent, local stories of transphobic violence, Cox proves why this statement and the presence of this intersectionality came to be: an unresolved continuation of America’s history of racialized violence and today’s still prominent sexist and transphobic alienation.
What struck me most when listening to Cox’s speech was her story of being catcalled on the street by the two men. From what she recounts, after the men argued about whether she was male or female, they proceeded to ask her which was correct. I found it very interesting that these men expected her to specify her gender to them and it made me wonder how they could think that asking for her identification was appropriate or relevant. This issue stems from the presence of transphobia. Since one of the men initially found Cox to be attractive, the fact that she is trans would be seen as humorous and embarrassing for him. This, in itself, is a reflection on the lack of acceptance from the general society of transgender people. This could also be analyzed as an issue with homophobia, since the humour would stem from a male thinking another male was attractive and would think this was incorrect and funny. A transgendered person’s sexuality is seen as confusing, since the majority of people have learned to reject or ignore its existence without trying to understand it first, and also as deceitful, as it goes against the common societal ‘norms.’ Because this certain sexuality is seen as confusing and deceitful, people who identify with it are not often taken seriously, and so are mocked or alienated.
The problem with today’s society is that with the presence of the media, there has become a famously understood social construction of masculinity versus femininity that people are expected to conform to. Since very few people, such as the men in Cox’s story, are not able to understand the idea of being transgender, the identities within the LGBTQ are often ignored and become excluded from the normative social constructions in a society. This lack of knowledge and understanding are then seen as alien and unnatural. From Cox’s many examples, it can be inferred that systems in society like these assumed gender roles and sexual orientations cause transgender individuals to be looked down upon.
Cox touches on a quote by Cornell West about love and refers to its absence within society, “Cornell West reminds us that justice is what love looks like in public”. To me, it seems apparent that the reason for these intersecting oppressions stems from the confusion and hatred that people feel towards those who are trans, black, and/or women. A very captivating part of Cox’s speech was when she gave her own personal theory as to why women who are trans, as well as black, deal with more of this hatred. She referred to several historical events involving racism in which the genitals of black males were cut off and either sold or pickled. Cox analyzed, “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” and I completely agree with this theory. For the black men and some women, who are not transgender nor have any real understanding of it, they would see a transgender person, and immediately view them as a person giving into or agreeing with the punishment of this white supremacy by choosing or wanting to be without their male genitalia. It could be seen as an insult to those who endured this torture of genital mutilation, having people choose to make the seemingly emasculating change voluntarily, and this causes a separation between those people with the rest of society.
What is interesting about Cox delving into this history of racial violence is that she later connects and compares this information to the violence that trans women of colour experience today. This history of discrimination against black males, when listening to the stories Cox recounts, sounds outrageous and as if it would be acceptable never to today’s society. However, what people are not aware of is that there is still a prominent continuation of violence against trans women of colour. Cox further stresses, “Trans women of color are the most targeted victims of violence in the LGBTQIA+ community. Trans women make up 72% of anti-LGBTQIA+ homicide victims, and 89% of these victims were people of color.” (Cox, 2014). Since society tends to alienate those within the LGBTQ, media rarely covers the horrific events that occur to or within its community, and other people stay ignorant to them. Because of this, people are completely unaware of the levels of violence that trans women experience, and are kept in the dark about the still ever-present racial issues that trans women of colour face.
Referring to the intersection of racism and transmisogyny, Cox states, “The racial piece is actually really important, because I’ve talked to a lot of white trans women who haven’t experienced quite the level of street harassment that I have.” Facing two oppressions results in a completely different experience than facing one or the other. The fear and hatred for transgendered women of colour refers back to the absence of love and the presence of confusion. As the media continues to portray the two specific social constructions, society becomes less accepting of gender identities that fail to conform to them. The fact that Laverne Cox speaks out about this issue from a personal perspective makes it all the more inspiring and motivational. People need to understand that differences between race, gender, and sexuality should not define the way in which a person is treated or how a person treats another.
Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.