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Black LGBTQ Stories: Actress Laverne Cox Talks Growing Up Transgender (VIDEO)

Posted: 02/ 8/2012 12:00 pm

I'm From Driftwood is a 501(c)(3) non-profit forum for true lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer stories. Earlier this year, founder and Executive Director Nathan Manske and two companions successfully completed a four-month, 50-state Story Tour collecting LGBTQ stories from towns and cities across the country. They're pulling some of the most relevant, important and sometimes just enjoyable stories from their archives and sharing them with HuffPost Gay Voices.

Laverne Cox is from Mobile, Ala. Until recently she carried a tremendous amount of shame about the bullying and hardships that she faced growing up as a young transgender woman:

Whenever something would happen and my mother would find out, she would yell at me and say, "Well, why didn't you fight back? Why aren't you fighting back?" She would also say, "What are you doing to make them treat you like this?" So I felt like it was my fault.

Laverne told me one of the main stories of bullying in her childhood, one example of the fear and humiliation that she constantly faced. This story involves the steps she and her twin brother had to take to avoid excessive abuse:

We would take the bus to school every day. The kids couldn't beat us up on the bus, because the bus driver was watching in the rearview mirror. But we knew that as soon as we got off the bus, we had to take off running or we'd get beaten up. For years I joked that I was a very fast runner as a child, and it was sort of my way of deflecting how painful it was to feel like I was always in danger.

Up until she was 8 years old, people kept telling Laverne that she was a boy. However, she was convinced that she was a girl. Her therapist told her mother, which led to more yelling and transphobic words:

"Boys are this way, and girls are this way!" And it was just this big thing. I internalized a lot of shame about the way I was thinking about myself, and about who I was.

One of Laverne's coping mechanisms, as a child, was to dance. She loved to dance at any given opportunity:

I begged, from 5 years old to 8 years old to be in dance classes. My mom finally found a program for me. I believe that that saved my life.

Laverne did try to commit suicide, unsuccessfully, when she was 11 years old:

I didn't have school -- my mom's a teacher -- education and reading, and if I didn't have something that I loved, that I was good at, I don't think I would have survived.

Laverne did not feel safe at all as a child and has even had moments like that as an adult:

The difference with me, as an adult, is I have support now. I have people in my life who support and validate me as who I am. As a kid, when kids were saying all these awful things about me, I thought that that was the truth of who I was.

She often finds herself wishing that she could go back in time and console her past self, to reassure her that she has people around her who love and support her, that what these people were saying about her was not who she was.

This past Christmas, Laverne and her mother were having a conversation. They hadn't talked about the bullying, but her mother was very aware of all of the bullying stories in the media. The topic came up, and out of nowhere, she said, "I'm sorry. I didn't know what to do. I'm sorry that I didn't know how to deal with it."

She had her way, and she thought that was the way, and it didn't work. She loves me, you know, she supports me, and she's proud of me...

At this point within her storytelling, Laverne couldn't help but get choked up:

That was all I really wanted, as a kid, was to have my mom be proud of me. And she is. That's kind of amazing.

WATCH:

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