Actress Laverne Cox says this, reflecting on her formidable career success.
As the first openly transgender person to receive an Emmy nomination or to grace the cover of Time magazine, Cox has broken countless barriers by giving a face to a community that for decades has been told “they do not exist.”
After surviving a childhood rife with bullying and stigma around her gender-nonconformity, Cox moved to New York as a teen to pursue her acting career. Her rise to fame came in 2013 when she landed the breakout role of trans prison inmate Sophia Burset in the hit Netflix NFLX +0.42% drama Orange is the New Black, quickly gaining the attention of critics, fans and the LGBT community.
Cox is now channelling her notoriety and her indomitable drive to shift the cultural narrative around what it means to be transgender in America today. “Being able to have a career as an actress, being a black woman and being trans, I have stuff to prove,” says Cox who, despite her success, feels enormous pressure in being one of the only transgender actresses on television. While she shies away from the term role model (“I prefer “possibility model,’” she says), Cox takes every opportunity she gets to speak up for the minorities who need a platform and to bring attention to the issues that cloud perceptions, fuel violence, and keep tragic statistics the norm.
Find Power In Purpose
While Cox never envisioned herself as an iconic voice of the transgender movement, she’s taken inspiration from the African American singer Leontyne Price, who broke racial barriers during the 1960’s in some of the world’s great opera houses. “I imagined that maybe my life could be something similar [to Price’s], where through my work as an artist, I could make things better for people after me. The drive that I have is not just about me.”
Cox recognizes that her celebrity affords her a powerful platform for her activism, yet she encourages others to harness their own unique influence. “I believe everyone has a voice…each and every one of us has a purpose in this world that is endowed upon us from a power greater than ourselves. I believe in a power greater than myself and that I was put here on this planet for something bigger than me. So when I can align with that, it becomes a driving force.”
Start With Passion
When identifying issues where one can drive the greatest change, “passion is always important,” says Cox. “When you’re passionate about something and speak from that place, that’s the best place to start. It’s authentic and you believe in what you’re saying.” Building community around a shared mission is also critical. “If you believe what you’re advocating for and connecting with other like-minded people, you don’t have to do it alone and you have support,” says Cox. “I’m beginning to understand that I have power, that I actually have more power than I even could have imagined.”
Own Your Story
Sharing her personal journey is at the heart of what motivates Cox; it’s the transforming experience that has turned her struggle into art and her art into social awareness and change. “There is power in accepting and owning my story. For years, I was trying to have an acting career and I thought I needed to not talk about being trans. I needed to try everything I could not to seem trans.”
Cox says that her career really began to change when she got to the point of complete self acceptance, “I fully embraced and accepted being trans and stopped looking at it as a deficit and started looking at it as something that made me special and unique…. All of those things that might be flaws, that we think are flaws, I believe our power is there.”
Success Is About Perseverance
When asked what advice she would give a younger version of herself, Cox recommends simply to “hang in there.” “I don’t believe in regrets,” she says. “I believe every mistake I’ve made, every hardship that I’ve gone through gives me testimony. You cannot have testimony if you’ve not been tested. And, boy, have I been tested. Just hang in there and persevere. And you will be shown the way.”