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On Monday, Laverne Cox appeared on "The Wendy Williams Show" to promote Season 2 of “Orange Is The New Black” and found herself faced with yet another heap of problematic questions about her gender identity. In the wake of the offensive queries asked of Cox during her appearance on "Katie," a lesser woman might have bristled at the repetition of such an invasive interview. Instead, Cox maintained her composure. She provided answers that furthered trans awareness while also maintaining compassion for those who do not fully understand the movement. Imagine a world in which everyone embraced ignorance with such poise and grace.
Williams’ questions included: “What is transgender?” “You got breast implants?” and “You made history as the first transgender on the cover of TIME magazine! What was your reaction to seeing that shot?" Cox (who has since returned to "Katie" to modify the "teachable" moment from that first appearance) has specifically spoken about being unwilling to allow a preoccupation with body parts to objectify the trans experience, and there’s an entire dissertation to be written about never using “transgender” as a noun. Cox could have easily rained down a preachy lesson of political correctness. She opted to concisely debunk each chunk of ignorance with a smile on her face, and a profound understanding of the uselessness of alienating not just Williams but anyone who might be clueless about the trans community.
On the topic of breasts implants, Cox set Williams straight with a diplomatic sleight of hand: “I've chosen not to talk about any of the stuff I've gotten done,” she said. “Because I think so often when trans people's experiences are talked about, we far too often focus on surgery and transition ... but I’m very happy with the situation [Laughs].”
Now, this is not about shaming Wendy Williams. Although, if you’re confused about where the error in her interview prep lies, you can read up here and here. Rather, the emphasis should be on the way Cox handled herself in that situation, and how she consistently handles herself in the face of a movement so muddled by cultural ignorance that it frequently requires Cox to explain “what” she is to talk-show audiences.
In the age of hashtags and backlash, is becoming increasingly difficult to have a full-fledged conversation about even plot points on "OITNB," never mind something as important as the trans movement. We need look only two weeks back to the controversy over RuPaul’s use of what some consider trans slurs to see how easy it is to get lost amid infighting and lose track of all of the real, actual hatred (of which there is also plenty).
It’s a long march to change, and along the way, ignorance will be sure to pop up with the frequency of animatronic rodents in a game of Whac-A-Mole. Instead of allowing these moments of rightful frustration to refute the message, it is much more effective to tackle them, as Cox has done, with compassion. If we learn just one thing from this emerging role model -- and there is plenty to learn -- we should take note of this: Her greatest strength is in acknowledging that she is not only advocating for the trans community, but also seeking peace for all of those marginalized individuals who are considered different or lesser. The moment we lose sight of that basic motivation in battling our personalized heaps of ignorance, it becomes all too easy to forget what we're really fighting for.
Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca
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