The progression of gender expression

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First Posted: 7/29/2014

Every actress tells that story of practicing her acceptance speech in the mirror as a little girl while holding a hairbrush. The hope for this dream may seem extravagant, but every little girl appreciates its possibility. After all, when you’re a child, what isn’t possible?

That’s the spirit every child deserves to keep. For “Orange is the New Black” star Laverne Cox who plays man turned woman Sophia Burset on the cult hit, that wasn’t the deal. Her mirrored reflection was of a little boy who didn’t feel in alignment with the male gender assigned to her at birth. Her dreams of an acceptance speech were no doubt muffled by toy soldiers, model cars and footballs.

“My third grade teacher called my mom and said ‘Your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress,’” said the Netflix star during an interview with Time magazine. “Up until that point I just thought that I was a girl and that there was no difference between girls and boys. I think in my imagination I thought that I would hit puberty and I would start turning into a girl.”

Cox did become a girl, but it was contrarily a more physically and emotionally challenging transition than puberty. Cox made history in July when she was nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, held later this month — making her the first openly transgender person to receive a nomination.

Transgender people now have a prominent leader to admire — one who has a real shot at being the first little boy to grow up and give an acceptance speech for an acting role while expressing true gender identity.

“I was thinking about Sydney Poitier,” said Cox during a July visit to “The View”. “He won the Academy Award 50 years ago for best actor and it was actually the year the Civil Rights Act was signed. What he says about that moment is that he didn’t feel like we had overcome as black actors because he was the only one. And so I think the revolution happens when it’s not just me – there’s more of us.”

Cox, featured on the cover of Time magazine in June, is helping melt away misconceptions about transgender people. There is now a visibility that ceased to exist as anything beyond a caricature. Their voices are being heard and their needs are beginning to be met. Maryland, joining Oregon and California, recently agreed to cover “transition-related treatment that is medically necessary,” which applies to state employees and retirees along with their spouses.

Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, TV’s first transgender comedy series is hitting OUTtv. “The Switch” will have storylines that detail the everyday nuances of dating, sex, disclosure – the little details about transition and life that are less talked about. The show, featuring an all-trans cast, will follow a woman played by YouTube personality Julie Vi, who loses her job and apartment after coming out.

“The show treats people like people,” said Katrina Caudle, the show’s publicist in an online interview with GLAAD. “Beautiful, complicated, with a breadth of experiences.”

Though this new frontier is trailblazing a path to make room for acceptance, it is important to understand the struggle for this community. Transgender people faced more than hate crimes in the past.

Joseph Lobdell, born Lucy Ann Lobdell in 1829, was arrested and sent to an insane asylum for expressing his true gender identity. When Christine Jorgenensen made headlines for being the first man to become a woman in 1952, she was subjected to ridicule in the media with headlines making fun at her. The prejudices are far beyond designating someone mentally ill or poking fun – they are often violent. Each year on the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a list of killings is released. Since 2008, 1,374 murders of trans people in 60 countries have been documented.

“At times, the trans community can feel a bit like a minority’ in a minority group,” said Kelly Novakowski, Board Secretary of NEPA PrideFest, while speaking about the LGBT Center of NEPA Trans Discussion Group. “There’s a lot of focus on lesbian and gay issues in the LGBT community, and this is an inclusive group where everyone has the opportunity to share their voice.”

The LGBT Center of NEPA Trans Discussion Group is for adults who identify as being part of the transgender community, with the only stipulation being that they are 18 years or older. Anywhere from 10 to 15 members meet biweekly at the center in Fox Ridge Plaza, Plains Township., a program of the NEPA Rainbow Alliance — with members ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s.

Novakowski said that members of this local group have been given a true sense of community.

“Everyone, no matter what their personal situation, can relate to the idea that just not being alone can make such a difference in an individual’s life,” Novakowski said. “Knowing you have somewhere to simply talk and have fun with people in a judgment-free, safe space can make all the difference.”

When the world watches Laverne Cox at the Emmys — win or lose — the company of people struggling with their identity on any level will feel a warm sense of vindication as the world will now be able to associate being trans with being accomplished, successful, and fulfilling their childhood dreams.