In a new interview, actress and transgender activist Laverne Cox opened up about the idea of “passing,” transgender identity and why trans people shouldn’t be expected to “blend in.”
Speaking to Elle, Cox discussed how, historically, the goal of transitioning for many trans people “was to blend in, to never let anybody know that you were transgender.” She told the publication, however, that blending in was not something she ever achieved.
“I had finally accepted myself,” she said. “I’d taken the medical steps to live more authentically, and yet I was laughed at, misgendered, and harassed everywhere I went. I never felt safe leaving my home... [but] I knew that living my truth was way, way better than living a lie.”
“Passing” is a term that’s used to describe trans people who appear to be or present as cisgender (non-trans), rather than visibly transgender. While the idea can be rooted in safety and protection, “passing” is not the objective for all trans people. Many people actually consider it harmful because, as Mandi Camille Hauwert wrote last year in a blog for HuffPost, “it normalizes the cis-looking trans person, while simultaneously diminishing the validity and worth of those unable or unwilling to pass. It erases non-binary, gender queer, and gender fluid people entirely.”
Cox told Elle that when someone looks at her and recognizes that she is trans, she considers it something to be celebrated.
“It took me many years to accept, to fully internalize that if someone can look at me and tell I’m trans, that’s not only okay—that’s beautiful, because trans is beautiful,” Cox said. “I am not beautiful despite my big hands, my big feet, my wide shoulders, my height, my deep voice and all the things that make me beautifully and noticeably trans. I am beautiful because of those things.”
Cox returns for the fifth season of “Orange Is The New Black” on June 9.