When we talk about the growing visibility of trans folks we often reference names like Chaz Bono or perhaps the most famous trans person on the planet the infamous Caitlyn Jenner, we also hear names like Isis King and Janet Mock and Laverne Cox who are often the faces of the black trans community.
For so many young brown trans folks these faces are important and arguably the faces of Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are crucial to the ideas, possibilities and self actualizations of young black and brown trans folks. (I will talk about self actualization and the problems modernization presents in another post).
The Background: Laverne Cox a 40 something black trans woman raised in Mobile Alabama relocated to Indiana for college then to the land of possibility in New York City where she majored in dance. Working as a waitress who happens to be a black trans woman I can imagine actually I know the struggle, from one black trans woman to another both living in New York City I get it. Eventually cast as the long loved Sophia in Orange is the New Black the stardom of Laverne Cox quickly began to rise as one of the only trans folks in media and from my memory one of very very few black trans women identified folks in media at the time she gained a following like no other, much of her fan base credited to other trans and queer folk many of them young and excited to see a queer person thriving and presenting the rest of us with possibility with the history making moves Laverne was able to accomplish.
The Problem: The question is what has Laverne done for trans folks? My answer is very little. She creates visibility, she educates some folks from time to time, she made a documentary (in my opinion a joke), she gives her hand me down gifts from Beyonce, other celebs and her free swag to a few “fortunate” (not sure if fortunae is the appropriate word) trans women and she has created possibility. BUT Laverne Cox is dangerously referred to as an activist or advocate. An advocate possibly with many faults, but an activist absolutely not. She is not active in anything she does for trans community. She often bandwagons her political stances and views based on what other people are saying and doing. Take a look at the things she stands for and if you do your research you’ll realized almost every single time she was not the first person to pilot the idea.
In June of this year I attended an annual LGBTQ celebration at the New York City Mayor’s Mansion where she was also in attendance again referred to by the mayor as an activist. And went on to talk about policies and policing saying something to the effect of I was lucky to have great interactions with the New York City police and they are great people and when I needed them they helped me, but I know sometimes trans people and trans women don’t feel that same support. They don’t feel like they will be helped. The issue with this statement is that she makes it seem like the negative connotation trans women have with police is all in our heads. That somehow trans people simply misunderstand or misinterpret police trying to help us……really Laverne? What about Monica Jones who was the trans woman famous for being arrested for walking while trans? When I was treated aggressively and threatened by a white male police officer at NYC pride for being in the way until a white man came to my rescue and vouched for me? What about Cece McDonald who was incarcerated for killing a man in self defense (mind you he could’ve legally killed her and claimed trans panic and possibly gotten no jail time)? What about black people in general? Eric Garner killed by NYC police? Earlier this month I was arrested and held for 24 hours before the charges were dropped for failure to remove my high heels before walking through a metal detector in Washington D.C……….did I misinterpret the police? Would I have been arrested if I was a cis white woman in the exact same position?
Laverne says she doesn’t choose her roles as an actress politically after the media swirl around her role In the Rocky Horror Picture Show where she sang “sweet transvestite”, so she’ll bend herself to do anything if she’s getting a check for it? It would be easy for all of us to be activists in that case, if there was no sacrifice for what’s right. And mind you the creator of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Richard O’Brien, said he agreed with second wave feminist, Germaine Greer, that trans women cannot be real women. The only role I even found worth watching that Laverne was casted in was Doubt. In this role Her gender identity wasn’t a mockery or sideshow as it had been in her previous roles. Her gender identity as a trans woman was secondary, but normalized educational and necessary. Unfortunately Doubt was cancelled after just one season.
Another strike against Laverne for me is as an activist when asked about Caitlyn Jenner she continues to curb addressing the reality of the impact Caitlyn Jenner has on the trans community. She instead says I think she’s doing the best she can”, which is arguable and she also says “it’s not about positive or negative it’s about diverse representation”. I give her points for finding a way to spin a difficult question, but this is exactly why Laverne isn’t an activist because she’s afraid to take a stance. While I do agree diverse representation is important it’s also important to at least note the trans community is extremely rarely as diverse as Caitlyn’s bank account and Caitlyn Jenner is easily the richest trans woman in the world even after we combine the wealth of every notable trans woman we can name and multiply their networths by two. She doesn’t have to bash Caitlyn but she can address some of the difficulties Caitlyn’s visibility has on the trans community. Laverne could address that people may get the misconception many have about the ease of transitioning, it was easier for Caitlyn because she has the capital and access. She could say while she respects Caitlyn as a person and trans woman she doesn’t agree with or stand for Caitlyn’s political views, and it’s easier for Caitlyn to hold those political views because though she is a trans woman the money and access she has greatly protects her from the realities that lots of marginalized black and brown, queer and lower income folks experience and will experience under republican rule. Laverne stays away from anything controversial and continues time after time to choose money and fame over politic which is exactly why she is not an activist.
I also want to be clear that the intent is not to bash Caitlyn Jenner or for that matter Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, because I am not interested in bashing any woman, black person and or trans person, but I am however attempting to drive home a reality. Caitlyn’s experiences and day to day is far removed from the life of the average transgender person. And that should be noted and we should continue to remind cis people of that without tearing her down.
In recent times I’d reference Laverne as Lacoon Cox because I feel that’s what she’s become (or perhaps always been). And perhaps those feels are based on the way she lives and navigates being from a different generation where I feel she and folks of her generation often subscribe to the idea of respectability politics and in addition to being [the right kind of] trans it could definitely make you come off as a coon. To be honest I even considered naming this post “Lacoon Cox and Janet Mock”, which in my opinion is slightly clever and cheeky, and ultimately while I score points for shade which is all the rave in our queer community it distracts from the purpose of this writing. And in addition it tears down and oppresses another trans women, and for what purpose? Oppressive behavior to other trans women is exactly the foul action I’m accusing Laverne of committing
Capitalism and maintaining her economic class seems to be what’s important her. The things she does and the her failure to truly take a political stance is to reenforce her position and security is a white supremacist capitalist world. In my opinion she has proven she will sell out in order to stay who she is, that’s the tough reality. This is where the name Lacoon derived from, the coonish, foolish and harmful behavior that perpetuates transmisognoir; the intersections of transphobia, sexism, and racism. She’s a transwoman whose behavior is by default oppressive to other transwomen.