On February 17, 2015, my school, Saginaw Valley State University, hosted Laverne Cox.
Ms. Cox is an advocate for the transgender community and an actress on the popular Netflix series, "Orange is the New Black."
She is the first transgender woman to grace the cover of Time and to be nominated for an Emmy. Needless to say, having her at the school was an absolute honor.
I attended the event with very limited knowledge of the transgender community and its fight for civil rights, so I went into the event hoping I would learn something. And I did.
I learned a lot about both the transgender community and about life in general. I would like to share some of the things that I learned with all of you.
Now, before I get started, I want to make very clear that I am only communicating what I learned. When I present facts about the transgender community, I am in no way speaking for its members.
I am a cisgendered woman, which means I identify with the gender I was born with, and I cannot even begin to comprehend the prejudice and ignorance that members of the transgender community faces every day.
I am simply reflecting on Ms. Cox’s words through my point of view. I can only hope that I am doing her justice:
1. Trans Lives Matter
This is a message that Ms. Cox wove throughout her story; she wanted to get this point across, loud and clear. She informed us that eight transgender women lost their lives to violence since the beginning of 2015 and 41 percent of transgender individuals reported suicide attempts.
This happens because there are aspects of our society that silence the voices of the transgender community and deny their humanity. It's terrible; no one should ever be denied who he or she is or be made to feel less than simply because society can’t bother to get to know them.
In my opinion, every person who isn't a member of the transgender community needs to educate themselves. We need to learn so we can understand. We need to learn so we can stand behind the community and support them in their battle.
And, when we learn, we don’t have to speak over them or drown out their voices. We just need to continue to listen, learn, love and support. Because trans lives matter.
2. Empathy Is The Anecdote To Shame
Ms. Cox talked about the shame that she felt while growing up. People constantly put her down for her race, her socioeconomic status and her gender.
She carried that shame and it weighed on her. It wasn’t until people showed her kindness, empathy and a genuine desire to understand whom she is that she began to feel the shame lift.
To me, this is a strong message. It emphasizes the fact that empathy — truly trying to see things from another’s perspective — is the best way to fight a societal attitude that works to put so many people down.
If everyone spoke to, listened and heard the stories and lives of other people, we would have a much better understanding of those who surround us.
When a message like this comes up, I can’t help but turn to the Bible, Mark 12:31 specifically, which states, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
We all love ourselves a lot because we all know ourselves well. We know our identities, what’s in our hearts and mind.
We know what we love about ourselves and what we hate. We know what we are insecure about and we know what we feel shame about.
If we all took the time to talk to others and get to know them half as well as we know ourselves and if we could gain just a little insight into their minds and souls, we could truly love others as we love ourselves.
Maybe the world would truly be a better place. There would be less shame and more love.
3. Have The Difficult Conversations
One of my favorite quotes from Ms. Cox was, “I would like to challenge each of you to have these difficult conversations, take risks, make mistakes and be vulnerable so you can have a better understanding of who the other person is and who you are.”
This really struck a chord with me. Whenever we try to educate ourselves about another person and his or her way of life, we make mistakes and screw up.
An example that Ms. Cox gave us was one where a cisgendered person may accidentally misgender a transgender person (that is, use a non-preferred pronoun).
Ms. Cox told us that being called the wrong pronoun or being identified as the gender assigned at birth can lead a transgender person to feel unsafe.
Obviously, if a person is misgendered, it will make the conversation more difficult, but the conversation can’t end there.
We have to be able to be open to both people in the conversation while making mistakes and being vulnerable. Having difficult conversations is the only way to ever see the other person's views.
These conversations teach us about what others think and feel, and along the way, we learn about ourselves.
We can’t have empathy and we can’t support people if we skip the part where we talk to them. Everything begins with having the difficult conversations.
Another one of my favorite quotes from Ms. Cox is, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” That was really her overall message: love.
How do we help show the world that trans lives matter? Through love. How do we gain empathy? Love. How do we get through the difficult conversations? Love.
How can we fight for justice? Simply put, with love.