For all of Laverne Cox‘s renown, visibility and assured success, it might be difficult to envision her as anything less than flawless.
Gracing the cover of SELF’s October 2018 issue, which hit newsstands this week, the Orange Is the New Black star spoke to trans journalist and Them editor Meredith Talusan about her vulnerabilities and her daily worries about living life as a famous, visible black trans woman.
Early in the candid interview, she opened up about acting as a way of opening herself up to discovery and self-acceptance. “I think actors must know the very depth of who we are as human beings so that we can give the depth of our humanity to the characters that we play and find where those intersections meet,” she told SELF. “There’s constant work of self-discovery, self-acceptance, peeling back layers of an onion that an actor must do constantly.”
Cox also confessed that self-love as a trans woman has required lots of affirmations and ignoring societal pressures around beauty. “Loving myself is a practice,” she says. “It is something that I must cultivate and it is something that I must consciously do or it will go away.”
The SELF profile also details her relationship with Kyle Draper, the CEO of the record label Mateo Sound, and how she learned to separate her self-worth from male approval.
“I wanted a man to validate my womanhood or validate that I’m attractive,” Cox admitted, explaining that her relationship with Draper allowed her to alter this self-perception on her own terms. “I’m not buying into that, I’m not having it. I’m sexy and I’m going to own that because I think trans women…are sexy. A lot of us are sexy not despite our transness, but because of our transness. That’s just the truth.”
Revealingly, she laid bare the anxieties of being a hyper-visible, successful black trans woman while other trans women of color aren’t afforded the same opportunity — a feeling that she describes as “survivor’s guilt” — and how her anxieties about navigating the world haven’t vanished in spite of her fame. She reveals, too, that she doesn’t usually accept every fan’s request for a photo or a conversation and the worry that comes with how she’s perceived by her fans.
“It’s really hurtful, I could almost cry right now,” Cox adds. “But there are many, many people I’ve disappointed when they’ve met me in person because I was not able to receive their energy, I wasn’t able to listen to them or take a picture or whatever they wanted. That’s hard.”
But, still, Cox is putting in the work to be more open publicly. “I have to challenge myself to be more vulnerable, to peel back more layers,” she wrote in an Instagram post debuting the SELF cover. “I don’t always do that publicly. It’s not always safe to do the work of being vulnerable in public spaces. But here is another attempt from me to be more vulnerable in a public forum. Thank you @selfmagazine for making me feel safe enough to go there.”
See the SELF cover above.