On Thursday, Laverne Cox made history when she became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy Award—but it's safe to say the actress' path to stardom has been anything but smooth sailing.
"There was all this fear that I would end up gay or whatever, and there was a lot of homophobia in my hometown. Surprise, surprise," the Orange Is the New Black star reveals in a new interview with The Advocate, in which she opens up about her upbringing in Mobile, Ala. before she moved to New York and eventually began accepting her true self.
Cox, who is currently writing a memoir, recalls being bullied as a kid by both classmates and teachers. "Your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress if you don't get him into therapy right away," one teacher told her mother, who later repeated the sentiment to her child.
Instead of fighting back, the Netflix star focused on her studies and her future as a way to protect herself. "It's sort of embarrassing to say, but as a bullied kid, [I said], ‘Well, you're bullying me, but I'm making all As and I'm better than you!' It's a childish thing to say, and I was a child, but that was my mentality. ‘You're bullying me, but I'm going to be rich and famous some day,'" she says, adding, "I'm not rich yet."
After high school, Cox moved to New York, where she began living full-time as a woman and remembers "getting tons of street harassment, harassment in the subway" before she started her medical transition.
But it wasn't until she met an acquiantance, Tina Sparkles, that she finally found the courage to accept her true self. "Watching her and other trans women transition, I thought, This is who I am. And I was terrified," she admits.
Cox says it was a "relief" when she finally found herself in the doctor's office getting her first hormone shot and, for the first time, was able to truly say, "I'm transgender."
"I never really said that before, and owning that was just a relief," she recalls. "I feel like it was something I'd been running away from my whole life, something I'd been fighting and trying not to be and trying to negotiate, instead of just trying to be who I am."
Now Cox, who is up for an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series award for her portrayal of inmate Sophia Burset, is continuing to make a difference in the world as she works to destigmatize the stereotypes surrounding the transgender community.
"If I'm going to have a public platform, I want to use it not just to elevate myself but to elevate issues that are important to me," she says. "I know a lot of people would rather not have me be the face of this thing…but what's exciting about what's happening now, culturally, is that there are so many more trans folks coming forward and saying, ‘This is who I am, this is my story. I will not be silent anymore, I will not be in hiding anymore,' and that's when a movement really happens, right?"
Congrats, again, Laverne! Can't wait to see you at the Emmys.