Rebels: Laverne Cox Nominated by Natasha Lyonne

Rebels: Laverne Cox Nominated by Natasha Lyonne

ACTRESS, DANCER, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, ACTIVIST, AND WRITER LAVERNE COX IS ELEVATING THE TOPIC OF TRANSGENDERISM THROUGH EVERY POSSIBLE MEDIUM. BOW DOWN TO THIS GLAMOROUS TOUR DE FORCE

ACTRESS, DANCER, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, ACTIVIST, AND WRITER LAVERNE COX IS ELEVATING THE TOPIC OF TRANSGENDERISM THROUGH EVERY POSSIBLE MEDIUM. BOW DOWN TO THIS GLAMOROUS TOUR DE FORCE

Photography: Casey Spooner

Styling: Akeem Smith

Text: William Defebaugh

“A lot of my life has been about me charting my own space for myself, creating a space for myself to survive,” says Laverne Cox. “Now I’m trying to reframe my experiences. I’m not just in survival mode anymore. I’m in a space where I can thrive.”

For Cox, this is what thriving looks like: filming the third season of the Netflix hit Orange Is the New Black, writing a memoir, touring the country to speak to transgendered teens (she visited nearly 50 cities in the last year), and producing two documentaries. The first, TransTeen, airs this fall on Logo and MTV and delves into the issues of teens who are going through their own questions about sexuality and identity. The other—entitled Free CeCe—explores similar themes to OITNB, telling the story of CeCe McDonald, a 24-year-old African-American trans woman who served 19 months of a 41-month sentence in a men’s prison in Minnesota for defending herself against a violent attacker.

McDonald’s story resonates deeply with Cox, who certainly endured her own difficulties while growing up fatherless in New Orleans. “I am a black transgendered woman from a working-class background, raised by a single mother,” says Cox. “There’s not any kind of template for me to have this mainstream acting career or platform to promote myself and the things I care about. It’s scary, but we’re at the forefront of a lot of new things in terms of this kind of career and having complicated discussions about gender and what it means to be a man or a woman. I think it’s about time that despite all of these systemic structures against us, someone like me is living my dreams anyway. ”

Her humility, juxtaposed with her brazen self-confidence and wicked sense of humor, has made Cox an industry favorite. She has been able to bring a bit of herself to Sophia Burset, her OITNB character, and ignite a conversation about trans representation on television. (Perhaps you noticed her on the cover of TIME this past May?)

“I think that before Sophia, for the most part, representations of trans folks were comic relief,” says Cox. “We’ve been victims, we’ve been mostly talked about in terms of our transition and being trans, but in a lot of ways Sophia gets to be just another woman in Litchfield, with a different experience and a different story. She is complicated and nuanced, so that we understand this is a full human being and that she’s not just one thing. I think that is major progress.”

“Laverne stands up for what she believes in and does so with grace and humility,” says her costar and nominator Natasha Lyonne. “She is one of a kind: a game changer and a maverick who not only expands closed minds but educates them. She is the living embodiment of what she believes in, and the inevitable fallout of that is she inspires others to tell their own truths.”

Cox’s message is rooted in an uncompromised sense of self: “As an actress, I love playing different characters, but it all starts with me being truthful to who I am, honoring my own truths and having a lot of conviction,” she says. “Most of us aren’t offered spaces to do that. We’re encouraged to fit in and conform, and that just doesn’t always work for everyone. So, in a way, I think authenticity—really listening to our hard-wiring, our emotions—is the greatest rebellion of all.”

Credits: Makeup Regina Harris using M.A.C Pro Cosmetics  Hair Jeff Francis for Shu Uemura (Brydges Mackinney)  Lighting director Chris Parsons  Digital technician Jonathan Rios  Photo assistants Kenya Jones and Michael Burk  Production Jay Wert and Nyenye Kitchings (Bunker)  Retouching Gil Inoue

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