Laverne Cox on America's Most Stigmatized Group—and It's Not Transgender Women

The 'Orange Is the New Black' actor stands up for the men who love her.

(Photo: Jason LaVeris/Getty Images)

Jun 18, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

When considering the most marginalized demographic in America, black transgender women come to mind, given societal biases surrounding sexuality, race, and gender. But actor and trans woman of color Laverne Cox thinks that one group might be ostracized even more: the men she dates.

“Most men who are attracted to and date transgender women are probably stigmatized even more than trans women are,” Cox said during a Sirius XM interview with radio host and Huffington Post editor Michelangelo Signorile on Wednesday.

A beloved character on Orange Is the New Black, immortalized in wax by museum Madame Tussauds, and recognized in Time’s "100 Most Influential People" issue, Cox is well known as an activist and advocate within the transgender community and by the public at large.

Caitlyn Jenner sought guidance from Cox before revealing her gender identity publicly. But men who want to date women like Cox don’t necessarily have someone to look up to for that kind of support.

“As I date a lot of straight-identified men, I’ve seen them so deeply internalize these ideas very rigidly about what it means to be a man—to be a straight man,” Cox explained.

Media has reinforced this idea. Tabloids aren’t kind to famous men who simply take a picture with a woman who is not cis-gender. Former NFL wide receiver Hank Baskett grabbed media headlines last year for “partying with a transsexual,” with the emphasis on his association with a transgender woman rather than his alleged cheating on wife and former playmate Kendra Wilkinson. Justin Bieber, Eddie Murphy, and LL Cool J have all been linked to transgender women under scandalous headlines.

Tabloids aren’t a go-to source for precise news, but the accuracy of these claims isn’t the point. The sensationalized headlines speak for themselves: Associating with a trans woman is indicative of homosexuality or in itself disgraceful. This “gotcha” attitude is harmful to men who pursue transgender women.

So, Why Should You Care? While these perceived gender norms and the fear of public scrutiny prevent men from pursuing the women they desire, it also implies that there is something shameful about dating a transgender person, perpetuating the idea that trans women are not “real” women and thus invalidating their identities.

That’s not to say there aren’t men who date trans women with pride. Janet Mock has long identified her fiancé, Aaron Tredwell, as a source of support and an advocate. But Cox is hoping someone in the public eye, like herself, will come forward for the rest of the group.

“I think a man who is dating trans women, maybe who is a celebrity or famous or is an athlete or something, needs to come forward…and say, ‘I love transgender women and [they] deserve to be loved and I’m going to declare that publicly,’ ” said Cox. “I think those men need some sort of inspiration and hope, so they can live more authentically.”