Since launching to fame with her role on Orange Is the New Black, Laverne Cox has used her notoriety to become a fierce advocate for trans people, which has become one of her main priorities.
But in an interview with Nylon magazine, the star, who is also transgender, says it can be difficult to balance her career and her dedication to raising awareness. Given her status as a "public figure," she knows she's in for a tough battle.
"Ultimately, I'm a storyteller—imagining different ways to tell transgender stories. I'm really interested in changing the ways in which we talk with and about transgender people, not only in personal conversation but also how we cover those stories in the media," she tells the magazine.
"I've had to say no to a lot of things. There's a cost for me emotionally when I speak up about things. I'm always a target because I'm a public figure, and I'm not doing activism in obscurity. I have to get myself ready for the bullets."
But with Caitlyn Jenner coming out the way she did via her Vanity Fair cover, Cox realized that there is too much focus on transgender women's appearances, which is something she had to come to terms with on her own terms.
"Years ago I wanted to have the kind of cosmetic facial feminization surgery that Caitlyn has made popular in terms of people's understanding. But I didn't have the money to do it," she explains. "I'm so blessed and grateful that I didn't because I would look completely different. I've had to learn to love and accept all those things about me that make me distinctly trans: my broad shoulders, my big hands and feet, my deep voice."
Although she agrees that Caitlyn looked gorgeous in her photo shoot, Cox warns the messages people said were still very sexist, which is something the actress is fighting to change. "...The language that people were using was deeply misogynist—she looked beautiful according to very specific standards, and that's deeply problematic," she says.
Even though she herself has been doused with compliments regarding her appearance over the years, Cox remains skeptical of what people are trying to say.
"So many people on my social media pages say, 'You're gorgeous,' and who doesn't like hearing that? But it made me think: Are people saying I'm beautiful for a trans person? Are they saying I'm beautiful because they couldn't tell I'm trans? I mean, you can find blogs where people are like, 'Laverne Cox is drop-dead gorgeous,' and there are other blogs saying I have 'linebacker proportions.'"
In order to change the language, Cox says we have to break down patriarchy.
"Patriarchy is linked to homophobia and transphobia, and in the patriarchal imagination they're inextricably linked; there's a binary that separates men and women," she explains. "To dismantle patriarchal thinking, one has to critically interrogate how they've internalized it."
She continues, "Patriarchy is killing men. It's killing men of all races actually. I've dated so many straight men who would never claim me publicly, and I was witnessing them be torn because they thought everybody's idea of them as men would change and that would be just so devastating for them."