Laverne Cox: Fighting Transmisogyny

According to GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, 54% of transgender characters on television were negative portrayals, and an additional 35% were categorized as problematic (GLAAD 2012). In a time where transgender individuals are wrongfully portrayed on television as villains or psychopaths, Orange is the New Black has brought a refreshing and respectful depiction of transgender individuals. Laverne Cox plays Sophia Burset, a Black trans woman who has recently undergone gender-reassignment surgery. What is unique about her character is that her wife supported her before and after the surgery, and Burset was imprisoned for credit card fraud rather than a sex-related offence. Not only does Laverne Cox contribute to the positive depiction of transgender individuals on-screen, but she also advocates for transgender rights as well.

In her Keppler speech, Cox shares her insight on her experiences as a trans woman of colour. Her Black, transgender, and female identities fall within marginalized categories. Her positionality is produced through an intersection of these identities and their networks of oppression. This unique positionality allows her to have different experiences than those who share some of her identities. For example, Cox comments that a white trans woman will have different lived experiences than black trans woman. She also notes that trans women of colour face higher levels of street harassment, and are even disproportionately victims of violence (Cox 2013). 

Laverne Cox’s speech raises many important questions about the behaviour towards transgender individuals, and specifically about the hate and mistreatment of trans women of colour. However, this simply scratches the surface of the underlying systemic transmisogyny that is exists in our society. Transmisogyny can be defined as the negativity, violence, and cultural hate towards trans women or gender non-conforming individuals who identify with the feminine end of the gender spectrum (GLAAD 2012). Rather than acknowledging moments or examples where transmisogyny is apparent, it is perhaps more important to question the roots of this cultural hate. Trans women experience sexist marginalization based on overlapping oppressions that arise from their identification as being trans and feminine. Therefore, transmisogyny can be analyzed based on these overlapping oppressions.

The hatred towards trans women is indeed a hatred for those who do not conform to the categories of the gender binary. We live in a world of definite opposites; individuals are to be either male or female. Any ambiguity is seen as unnatural and is perhaps almost feared. From the moment we are born, we are assigned our sex. It is expected that we lead the rest of our lives in accordance with the gender that supposedly corresponds to this assigned-sex. The unwavering faith in in the gender binary is supplemented with a firm disbelief of gender variance. These rigid beliefs and the compulsion to police bodies to enforce conformity plays a large role in creating the hatred and negativity that trans women (and trans individuals in general) face.

Transmisogyny falls under the broader category of misogyny, or the dislike and prejudice towards women. There is an ingrained mentality that femininity is inferior to masculinity. This is clearly demonstrated by considering what a stereotypical girl and boy is considered to be. A boy is supposed to be strong and aggressive, thus displaying a form of hegemonic masculinity. Girls, however, are supposed to be fragile, nurturing, and subordinate, thus displaying an emphasized femininity. Trans women, specifically, are seen as giving up the superior role as a man in exchange for the devalued position of a female. This threatens the concept of male superiority, therefore forming the basis of transmisogyny.

Laverne Cox presents a third identity that is subject to oppression: being a person of colour. In her speech, she mentions that there is this “historical emasculation that has been happening in white supremacy of black male bodies” (Cox 2013). She understands that the trauma Black people face due to this is further amplified when they see a trans woman; they feel as though she is the embodiment of this historic emasculation and is a disgrace to the race. This is quite problematic, as this racialized hatred tends to alienate Black trans women. This form of oppression adds a third layer on top of the already-problematic treatment towards trans women.

Upon an analysis of transmisogyny, it can often be difficult to see how such ingrained hatred can be overturned. Apart from legal and political approaches, Cox has a simple idea: to learn to love trans women. Trans identities need to become part of our normal social fabric. In doing so, we will be able to systematically dismantle these systems of gender-based oppressions.

References

Cox, Laverne. “Bullying and Being a Trans Woman of Colour.” Keppler Speakers, 2013. Online Video.

“Victims or Villains: Examining Ten Years of Transgender Images on Television.” GLAAD. 20 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <http://www.glaad.org/publications/victims-or-villains-examining-ten-years-transgender-images-television&gt;.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Laverne Cox: Fighting Transmisogyny

  1. Laverne Cox’s character on the show “Orange is the New Black” is one step closer to the acceptance and love of trans women in the world. However it is still a large issue that trans women are being oppressed. I find it interesting that black trans women receive more harassment than white trans women because of their intersectional identities. Transmisogyny occurs too often in society but is left unacknowledged by the public. There is an ingrained idea of gender binary that puts a barrier on understanding the gender spectrum and the acceptance of it. I agree with Cox’s idea to simply learn to love and understand rather than oppressing. With this in mind, perhaps there can be a shift to more open acceptance.

    Like

  2. Recently I viewed a conversation with Janet Mock and Laverne Cox in which they discussed the attraction of men who identify as straight to transexual and transgender women. They identified the lack of language that exists for these men, and the negative feelings that they (the men) experience when they ‘mistaken’ trans women as simply that, women. Many issues were brought up from this conversation, but the point that hit me most was the harassment that trans women, specifically trans women of colour, experience and the backlash those men who find them attractive experience.

    When I saw the talk by Laverne Cox, it brought this conversation to a whole new light. The abuse experienced by this specific community of individuals encompasses both misogyny and transphobia. Although this form of prejudice and discrimination is difficult to overcome, as it does not even yet have a language to respectfully discuss it with, both Cox and Mock emphasize the loving of trans women. This is done in hopes of overcoming the gender binary that trans women are seen to ‘have’ to conform to, as it would allow for the conversations to become more respectful and open. The trans discussion must include female trans discussions, bringing to light not only the abuse experienced but also the stigmatization of the men who are attracted to and date trans women.

    Like

  3. To begin with, I am shocked upon hearing the statistics you opened your blog with. Shocked may not be the right word, because when I think about it I do realize the representation of transgendered people in the media is extremely lacking; but I hadn’t realized how much of it is negative portrayals. Watching Laverne’s talk, and then reading about your opinions on it have really illustrated the intersectionality that is present in this situation. Laverne isn’t identified as JUST transgendered, black, or a woman. She is a combination of all of these labels and identifiers, and society really doesn’t accommodate for that. Like you identified, the things society defines Lavern as are all amplified and made more ostracized because the overlap of minorities. It makes you realize how common this situation must be, and how difficult it is to deal with every day.

    Like

  4. As an avid fan of Orange Is The New Black I had no clue the role that Laverne Cox played outside of the show and she is quite inspiring. It is interesting to get a better more inclusive look inside a gender that is misunderstood and misrepresented in society and she seems to be a great role model for this gender that does get pushed outside the gender binary. The only thing I would have liked to have seen a bit more of and will probably research a bit more is the history that transgender people have come from because you mention a step forward in the right direction but what direction had they come form and how much worse was it? Great review though!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s