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By Badri Murali
Students and members of Toronto’s transgender communities filled the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres to listen to acclaimed actress Laverne Cox speak on March 24.
The event, “Ain’t I A Woman: My journey to Womanhood”, was hosted by various student groups and unions from across the city, including the Ryerson Students’ Union, The Trans Collective and Continuing Education Students At Ryerson (CESAR).
Cox, an African-American transgender woman and an actress on the hit series Orange is the New Black, spoke about her life and her experiences with overcoming internalized shame as a transgender woman of colour.
She explained how growing up in a Christian household in the American South affected how her family and community imposed gender roles for her.
“I was expected to act like a boy because they said I was a boy. In sixth grade, I started going through puberty and it was tough, because I didn’t want to grow up and become a man,” said Cox.
Cox also spoke about being “spooked”, which is a slang term from New York City meaning that another person can tell if a person is transgender or not. For Cox, this used to be a point of shame, but now, she sees it as a point of pride.
“I have to internalize that if someone can look at me and tell that I’m trans, it should be celebrated,” says Cox.
She also explained that it is wrong to purposely use the wrong pronouns to refer to a person (also known as misgendering), especially transgender people.
“Calling a trans woman a man is an act of violence,” said Cox. “Pronouns matter.”
For London Alex Lee, a transgender woman who was in the audience, listening to Cox speak about her identities and experiences was inspiring and necessary.
“The importance of being herself and being out and being true to who she is and doing so unapologetically … it was super important for me to hear that, there’s so much strength in that,” said Lee.
Markus Harwood-Jones (who also goes by Star), coordinator of the Trans Collective, said that one of the biggest challenges in organizing the event was informing individual transgender people in Toronto who are not members of any organizations or schools.
“Getting word out to other trans people and communities is challenging, so we decided to use social networking (Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr) and created an email where people were able to ask us questions and request tickets. I allotted 100 tickets specifically for people who requested through this email,” said Jones.
Lee said that she hopes other non-transgender members of the audience can educate others to look at transgender people beyond their gender identity and expression. “We (transgender people of colour) are people too and we’re beautiful,” said Lee. “We’re qualified, we’re smart and all of these things. I hope people take this message back to their communities.”