Laverne Cox Speaks of a situation she encountered when she was walking the streets of New York and the sexual harassment that erupted from simply trying to arrive at her destination. She recounts an exchange between two men and herself, in which the men were exchanging derogatory terms with regard to her race. Following this exchange the men realize she is transgender and the harassment changes focus from one of race to one of gender expression and identity. She then goes on to further explain the vehement hostility that transgender people face in living their everyday lives, more specifically transgender people of colour and how the intersecting oppression creates and even larger realm of risk. Laverne Cox presents an intersectional analysis with regard to the struggle LGBTQ individuals face. Through this analysis she posits that if acceptance cannot be learned no progress can ever be made.
Writer, and activist Audre Lorde once said, “There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives” (138). The ideas of Lorde conquer greatly with the message Cox conveyed throughout her speech, as well as the methodology of intersectionality in general. Intersectionality is a concept that illustrates the individual characteristics we posses such as our race, gender, class etc. result in varying forms of oppression that cannot be dealt with independently, but rather must be examined synchronously. With the notion in mind that we are not one-dimensional people it only seems logical that an intersectional intervention would present great strides towards equality. However, we live in a society in which we greatly value instantaneous results and quick fixes. Problems such as racism, and transphobia (prejudice against transgender people), or homophobia (prejudice against homosexual people) don’t have a Band-Aid solution; there is no “quick fix.” With complex problems come complex solutions and it is the apathetic nature of society that promotes this cycle of oppression. People such as Laverne Cox understand that nothing will ever be accomplished in the face of hatred. However, it is naïve to believe that love alone is the answer, nonetheless, it is a start, and no great act has ever occurred without the strongest of foundations.
Throughout Laverne’s speech it also became apparent that white privilege was an underlying theme. She describes that among transgender people, transgender people of colour are those who make up the largest percentage of victims of violence (Cox, “Explains and What to do About it”). As Peggy McIntosh mentions in her essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, white people often do not even realize the extent to which they are privileged and in fact are taught not to recognize this (278). McIntosh explains that white people are taught to see themselves and their lives as the standard of normalcy and all comparisons are to be made based off this standard (278). If a white cis gendered male posses the most privilege, then a female transgender person of colour would be experiencing three intersecting forms of oppression. It is the way in which society deals with these intersections that Laverne speaks of that perpetuate the androcentric and misogynistic views that have been so predominant many years.
Laverne Cox presents an exceptional analysis of the injustice faced by the LGBTQ community. If it was not already glaringly obvious we live in a world where people fear what is different. This fear, more often than not manifests into something far more poisonous. It will always be exponentially easier to see things the way they have always been and to understand things the way they have always been taught. However, this can only breed more fear. If we as a society are willingly to accept the differences, open our minds to the possibility of change then we can be released from the chains of blind conformity that have been holding us back for generations. We need not accept this fear any longer. Speakers such as Laverne depict to society the steps that need to be taken, as well as what has already been accomplished. As a transgender woman of colour starring in an extremely successful television show, she proves that we can tackle these issues. She serves as a beacon of hope for the LGBTQ youth that the struggle they may be facing is something that can be overcome. Using intersectionality as a lens in which to view these pressing issues allows for a far more comprehensive analysis, and I believe that is exactly what Laverne did in her presentation.
Cox, Laverne. “ Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About it).” Everyday Feminism. n.p. 7 Dec. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2015 <http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/>
Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing, 1984. Print
McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Gender through the Prism of Difference. Oxford University Press, 2005. Web. 10 Mar. 2015