Laverne Cox was the keynote speaker at the 2014 Creating Change conference, appropriately introduced by Beyoncé’s ***Flawless. “In the face of so much injustice, we are a resilient people,” she declared; “we are a fierce people, we are a beautiful people.” In her address, she spoke of the revolutionary potential in loving trans women–in a world that too often seeks to eradicate their existence. The 2014 National Conference on LGBT Equality, run by the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is the premier annual organizing and skills-building event for LGBT people in the U.S.
“This feels so amazing, all this love that you’re giving to me tonight. I have to say that a Black transgender woman from a working class background raised by a single mother, getting all this love tonight, this feels like the change I need to see more of in this country…But I have to tell you I’m not used to receiving this kind of love.”
Cox discussed many pertinent trans* issues: the recent release of CeCe McDonald, Katie Couric’s uncouth question about Cox’s genitalia on her talk show, the criminalization of trans people, racism, healthcare, bullying, abuse, media manhandling and objectification, and shame. Yet perhaps the most important message that Cox relays is the power of love: “Loving trans people, I believe, is a revolutionary act.” She then continued: “And I believe when we love someone, we respect them, and we listen to them, we feel that their voice matters, and we let them dictate the terms of who they are and what their story is.”
Her speech mentions a wide array of grassroots and large-scale activist groups working toward trans equality, justice and empowerment, peppering it with statistics of trans discrimination and violence and pockets of wisdom. One of her most salient remarks bespeaks the injustice in misgendering trans people: “I’ve come to understand that when a trans woman is called a man that is an act of violence.”
The result of such violence?
Some days I wake up and I’m that 3-4-5, 12-13-14-year-old kid in Mobile, Alabama who was bullied.
Some days I wake up and I’m that kid and I’m being chased home from school by a group of kids who wanted to beat me up because I did not act the way that people assigned male at birth were supposed to act.
Some days I wake up and I’m that 6th grader who swallowed a bottle of pills because I did not want to be myself anymore, because I did not know how to be anyone else.
And who I was, I was told, was a sin, was a problem, and I didn’t want to exist.
Some days I wake up and I’m that Black, trans woman walking the streets of New York City, hearing people yell ‘That’s a man’–to me.
…Some days I wake up and I’m just a girl who wants to be loved, but I was told on more than one occasion by a man who told me that he loved me, that he could be seen in public with me, could not introduce me to friends and family, because I am trans, and not only because I am trans, but because people can tell that I am trans. I’m not passable enough by certain standards.
Some days I wake up and I don’t feel good enough because I’ve heard that over and over again, I’ve heard it from men I’ve dated, I’ve heard that from members of my own community who’ve told me that I’m not passable enough, that I should get surgery for this and that and then I’ll be an acceptable trans woman. Some days I wake up and I’ve heard about another one of my transgender sisters who’ve been assaulted, raped, murdered. There’s no justice. Amen.
There will be justice.
Some days I wake up and it’s just too much, it’s too much to deal with, there’s too much pain, there’s too much cultural trauma around being who am I. But then I think, I think we’re resilient people. I think of so many people who’ve come before me that made me being on this stage possible.
Check out the exquisite, poignant speech below.
Edited Image via Ragna Rök Jóns