Laverne Cox and the Practical Realities of Intersectional Feminist Theory

In a touching speech on her experience as a trans woman of colour, actress Laverene Cox reveals a personal incident of street harassment. She describes an instance where two men cat-called her and then proceeded to argue over whether she was a “b-word” or an “n-word”. In this moment, Cox experienced the very real interlocking oppressions of racism, sexism, and transphobia. In this blog post, I will use the case of Laverene Cox argue that the utility of feminist intersectional analysis is grounded in its ability to apply to lived experiences. First, I will analyze what is meant by the term “intersectional analysis”. Next, I will examine how that theory applies specifically to the case of Laverne Cox. Moreover, I will discuss how the systemic violence faced by trans women of colour requires an urgent solution, specifically the role that theoretical frameworks can play. I will conclude by exploring the compassion exhibited by Cox with a view to future solutions for violence against trans women of colour.

The term intersectional analysis came into popular use by feminist theorist Patricia Hill Collins in her book “Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment”. In another work entitled “Toward a new vision: race, class and gender as categories of analysis and connection”, Hill-Collins calls the reader to consider that “race, class and gender are all present in any given setting, even if one appears more visible and salient than the others.” (Hill-Collins 29). For example, academic Harold Garfinkle claimed that gender is omnirelevant; that is, regardless of the context, gender is always significant (Aulette and Wittner 71). This relevance can also be extended to factors such as race, class, sexuality, ability, and so on. An intersectional approach to feminist theory helps to negotiate the numerous, and often conflicting, privileges and oppressions that individuals can experience. It also is a useful tool in unsettling much of the privilege of second wave white feminism, that emphasized shared victimhood rather than engaging self-reflexive analysis on the roles white women play in white supremacy and settler colonialism.

The individual experiences of Laverene Cox provide an excellent example of how privileges and oppressions can intersect in complex ways. As a trans woman of colour, Cox is subject to oppression in many forms. The systemic power structures of the Global North privileges white, heterosexual, men over individuals who fall outside of these socially constructed identities. The essentialism of gender (the expectation that gender match the identity assigned at birth on the basis of unrelated biology) is an oppressive force for Cox as a gender non-conforming individual. Moreover, her identity as a woman of colour, puts Cox at a substantially higher risk of violence (Cox) than her white counterparts. Cox’s gender expression make her vulnerable to aggressive street harassment. In all of these situations, though one social identity may seem more relevant at the time than others, her race gender identity and gender expression contribute to the way Cox experiences the world. The anecdote relayed above makes this abundantly clear.

As a normative project, feminist theory aims to unsettle the systemic power structures that oppress huge segments of the population along arbitrary lines. Because of this aim, feminist theory is only significant if it is relevant to lived experiences. Intersectional analysis then can be said to hold significant value; as the case of Laverene Cox aptly demonstrates, social identities form interlocking systems that dictate her experiences. If one tried to analyze the cat-calling incident using a solely gender-centered framework, they would entirely miss the role that transphobia played in the encounter. Intersectional analysis helps to explain the way oppression and privilege are manifested, therefore facilitating the breaking down of these structures.

While intersectional analysis can provide valuable insights into systemic oppression, Laverne Cox provides a simple yet profound way forward: “love is the answer.” (Cox). Cox does not just tell us what the answer is, she shows us what it looks like in action. Cox explains how the majority of the harassment she has faced has come from black communities. However rather than criticize these communities, Cox shows remarkable love and compassion. She draws on the concept of collective trauma, in particular the hypersexualization and fetishization of African American men, to explain the resistance to MTF transitions. In these words of compassion, Cox is turning intersectional theory into feminist praxis, recognizing the role that race can play in perpetuating systemic gendered violence. It is true what Cox says: loving trans people would be “a revolutionary act” (Cox).

-12eg22

 References

Aulette, Judy Root, and Judith G. Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

 Cox, Laverne. ” Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. 7 Dec. 2014. Web. 9 March 2015. http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/

Hill-Collins, Patricia. “Toward a New Vision: Race, Class and Gender as Categories of Analysis and Connection.” Race, Sex and Class. 1st ed. Vol. 1. 1993. 25-45.

4 thoughts on “Laverne Cox and the Practical Realities of Intersectional Feminist Theory

  1. lesg1249 says:

    Really well written and formatted blog! Your discussion and acknowledgment of intersectionality was well done. Reading this blog made me think about white privilege. White people do not have to worry about being harassed while walking down the street to the extent that black people do. Cox unfortunately now has to worry about what others will say to her and how others will treat her while she’s out in public. It is the little things that white people seem to take for granted which are ultimately privileges. Even though, gender expression is another factor that creates oppression, race, in a sense can either enhance or diminish one’s experience with oppression. I think that if a person were white and transgender, they would experience less oppression because one’s “whiteness” can act like a shield. Therefore, when there are a large amount of intersecting minority factors, a greater amount of oppression is created. Overall, your blog was thought provoking and well written. Good job!

    Like

  2. foster.s says:

    Your blog was so well done! I specifically enjoyed the way you laid out your introductory paragraph with the road map to your blog post. It did, however, seem a bit wordy in some sentences. As for the rest of your blog, you did a really great job explaining how Laverne Cox’s experience with street harassment represented intersectionality.
    Great job on your post.

    Like

  3. graceelisabeth says:

    Your blog post was so thought provoking, good job! Your application of Collins’ intersectional analysis to Cox’s case displayed the clear connections between gender, race, and class oppression. Your blog made me question the intersectionality of my personal experiences at Queen’s. I realized that I do endure some consequences (because I am a woman) but not nearly as much as minority groups. I wonder if because I cannot connect to these experiences that minority groups have, do I actually perpetuate them? Does this make me less likely to put a stop to them because I do not understand the worthlessness that they feel? I hope that more people like Cox speak out about their experiences because I believe that more awareness of this pressing issue will motivate people, like us, to change the culture of our perceptions.

    Like

  4. tlapp30 says:

    I really enjoyed how you formatted this blog post, especially how you explained what you were going to talk about in the first paragraph. One particular topic that I found you talked about well is the idea of white privilege in today’s society. I agree with the fact you stated, saying that Cox’s gender expression put her at higher risk of being victim to violence. It is sad but true that just because of who you are, you can be put at a higher risk of being seriously hurt, or even killed. There are too many transgender black women in our world that have been hurt, murdered or abused due to who they are. Overall, I think you did a really good job of showing the intersectionality found in the amount of violence that is shown towards certain people and women.

    Like

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