Laverne Cox is the First Transgender Nominee for an Emmy

In Depth

In what can only be said to finally help justify the Emmy Awards’ continued existence, transgender actress Laverne Cox has been nominated in the “Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series” category for her role as Sophia Burset in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.

Congrats to everyone at @oitnb on our #EmmyNoms today. So proud to be working with all of you on such a groundbreaking show. #oitnb
Laverne Cox (@Lavernecox)
July 10, 2014

GLAAD sent out a press release earlier today celebrating the nomination and praising the LGBT inclusive nature of the nomination list. GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis recognised the importance of Cox’s nomination by noting, “Laverne Cox continues to break barriers.”

Today, countless transgender youth will hear the message that they can be who they are and still achieve their dreams – nothing is out of reach. Laverne’s success on a hit series is a clear indication that audiences are ready for more trans characters on television.

TIME, who recently featured Cox on its publication’s front cover, making the actress the first openly transgender individual ever given that media nod, spoke to the actress about what the nomination meant in terms of acceptance within her craft.

I was told many times that I wouldn’t be able to have a mainstream career as an actor because I’m trans, because I’m black, and here I am. And it feels really good.

Cox also hit specifically on something I have repeated over and over and over in my various articles on mainstream culture and popular media as it pertains to queer and specifically trans issues: representation matters. Although not a trans woman of color, being a trans woman means I’m used to seeing awful depictions of my lived experiences. I do not see me, and that is when I see trans women or trans people in general depicted at all.

Until Hourou Musuko (officially translated by our very own Jezebel regular, Matt Thorn) I had never seen my own narrative depicted. At least not closely or accurately. And not without the feeling I was being mocked or overtly profited from in an exploitive way. I had never had true representation.

Sophia Burset and I have many points of difference in our narratives, most notably the fact I am not of color, but the way the character represents the struggles around gender dysphoria and specifically medical intervention is something to which I can relate. It is a representation of a shared lived experience. And as Cox told TIME, we as trans people, “want and deserve that.”

For me personally, I am an individual who consumes mainstream culture. I watch a lot of television. I go to mainstream films. And I want to see myself. I want to turn on the television and see people who look like me who have similar experiences that I have. And I think that trans people want and deserve that; everybody wants and deserves that. We should have representations that humanize our experiences and tell the diversity and the complexity of our experiences. I have mainstream sensibilities. Just because I’m black and trans does not mean I’m somehow not mainstream and not consuming the same culture everyone else is consuming. For so long we haven’t had that kind of validation of our experiences in mainstream culture, particularly as black trans women — but as trans people in general…

The Emmy nomination of Cox sends a very important message to trans people: our stories matter. Our lived experiences matter. Representation matters. And there are great transgender actresses and actors who can portray that representation not just effectively but at the top of their craft. And that keeps the Emmys relevant to the changing landscape of television.

Image via Getty.

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