Laverne Cox on what really matters about Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover
The world exploded in congratulations when Caitlyn Jenner (formerly known to the public as Bruce Jenner) revealed her new name with an exquisite Vanity Fair cover. She was heaped with praise, broke a Twitter record, and even inspired an awesome Twitter bot that politely corrects anyone who misgenders Jenner on the social media site.
Even the president applauded Jenner for sharing her story. But perhaps the most insightful reaction to Jenner’s cover came from actress and trans activist Laverne Cox, who noticed the outpouring of compliments centered around Jenner’s looks. Yesterday, she took to Tumblr to raise awareness about why that could be problematic.
First, Cox started with the praise that was due.
“…I am so moved by all the love and support Caitlyn is receiving. It feels like a new day, indeed, when a trans person can present her authentic self to the world for the first time and be celebrated for it so universally. Many have commented on how gorgeous Caitlyn looks in her photos, how she is ‘slaying for the Gods.’ I must echo these comments in the vernacular, ‘Yasss Gawd! Werk Caitlyn! Get it!'”
That said, Cox would love if we could shift the conversation from Caitlyn’s face and body to her spirit.
“Yes, Caitlyn looks amazing and is beautiful but what I think is most beautiful about her is her heart and soul, the ways she has allowed the world into her vulnerabilities. The love and devotion she has for her family and that they have for her. Her courage to move past denial into her truth so publicly. These things are beyond beautiful to me.”
YES, Laverne, YES, a billion times yes. As Cox reminds us, the monumental thing happening here is not Caitlyn getting her pretty on for the cameras, but this woman living her truth and serving as a role model for so many people around the world who struggle to similarly live their truths.
Laverne also questions the attention she personally has received for her looks.
“A year ago when my Time magazine cover came out I saw posts from many trans folks saying that I am “drop dead gorgeous” and that that doesn’t represent most trans people. (It was news to be that I am drop dead gorgeous but I’ll certainly take it). But what I think they meant is that in certain lighting, at certain angles I am able to embody certain cisnormative beauty standards.”
Cox knows there are many trans women who, because of genetics and access, can not look like Cox and Jenner, and many trans women who wouldn’t WANT to look like this.
“I have always been aware that I can never represent all trans people. No one or two or three trans people can,” she acknowledges in her Tumblr post.” This is why we need diverse media representations of trans folks to multiply trans narratives in the media and depict our beautiful diversities. I started #TransIsBeautiful as a way to celebrate all those things that make trans folks uniquely trans, those things that don’t necessarily align with cisnormative beauty standards. For me it is necessary everyday to celebrate every aspect of myself especially those things about myself that don’t align with other people’s ideas about what is beautiful. #TransIsBeautiful is about, whether you’re trans or not, celebrating all those things that make us uniquely ourselves.”
All the PREACH in the world, Laverne, all the PREACH in the world. It’s so important that we, as a culture, don’t make cisnormative beauty standards something trans individuals—or any individuals—adhere to. We need to take this moment as an opportunity to expand the always-too-narrow definition of beauty. And, as fun as it is to oooh and aahhh over glam shots, we need to make sure, as Cox says, that we are giving center stage to Caitlyn’s actions and words.
Laverne ACED this Tumblr essay, to read this smart as heck piece in full, head over here.
(Images via NY Times and Vanity Fair)