Orange is the New Black star talks transgender


We love villains. We want to know them and what makes them evil. We’ve become sophisticated enough to know villains aren’t evil just to be evil; they have a story – a story with which we may often relate. So we love our villains because being bad sometimes makes us feel good.

Evil was once so simple; never subjective. We accepted evil for evil’s sake – as though evil exists in the world simply because evil exists as a necessary label.

We haven’t really needed to know why there is evil because the villains in our stories never needed a back-story. We’ve simply accepted evil for what evil is – evil – and we just knew what was evil because storytellers told us right from wrong, and wrong was evil.

But, that’s changing; and it’s changing fast. Suddenly we want to know why Dexter, the Showtime TV-series serial killer, wants to kill – and we kind of like him. We want to know what the Evil Queen has against Snow White and what makes the Wicked Witch of the West so wicked.

The closer we look at the characters storytellers have demonized, the less we hate — the more we relate — and the more we want to understand the villains of the stories we’ve been told.

Time magazine recently featured Laverne Cox, a transgender activist and actress on the acclaimed online series “Orange is the New Black,” on the cover of its June 9th issue. Featured beside the title The Transgender Tipping Point, America’s next civil rights frontier, Laverne Cox earned the opportunity to tell her own story in which she isn’t a villain simply because she was born biologically male and chooses to live her life as a female.

But for many, Ms. Cox is a villain.

She was boy who wanted to grow up to be a woman. She was a boy who wanted to one-day wear makeup, dresses and fabulous shoes that society normally reserves for women.

In the online series, we’ve been told Laverne Cox is cast as a villain because she never identified as being a boy at all.

Time has a way of telling the stories no one ‘s ever heard before. It makes us think, makes us wonder if we really understand the labeled villains in our lives, and it is time to get over our hang-ups over gender identity and expression.

I was a boy who wanted to be a man. I watched my father shave his face and I wanted a beard. When I couldn’t grow a beard I grew a goatee. I went through puberty waiting for hair to grow on my legs and wanted to have strong arms and a big chest when I grew up.

Telling me I should want something different – that there was something fundamentally wrong with the kind of adult I wanted to be one day — is nothing short of evil because bad messages like that can break a human spirit.

I don’t know why we tell children and young adults the stories of heroes and villains the way we do.

After all, it wasn’t long ago the male heroes who signed the American Constitution proudly wore wigs, stockings, make-up and high heels. It’s part of our great American story, and we didn’t even question how they expressed their gender.

Gender identity and expression is the new civil-rights movement because we never founded this country to force children to grow up and live as men or women — no matter their biology.

It isn’t important for any of us to understand why gender matters to each of us in a different way than it matters to others. It doesn’t even matter if any of us understand why we prefer or express our own gender the way we do ourselves.

What matters is being sensitive to what we may never understand about others and ourselves. Every person or character we encounter isn’t a villain simply because they aren’t the idolized heroes of unsophisticated stories someone else told you long ago.

Enter the hero. Time magazine is allowing Laverne Cox to tell her story, and by telling her story she identifies as a hero countless people need to see. Growing up different doesn’t make you a villain. In fact, heroes stand out simply because they can be themselves in someone else’s story.

Maybe Time is right: transgender is the new black, and as the magazine states, a civil rights movement moves toward the right side of history.

Copyright © 2014, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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