Cable networks Logo and MTV have teamed up with Emmy-nominated trans advocate and actor Laverne Cox for a new documentary, “Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word,” which premieres 7 p.m. Oct. 17.
The one-hour special takes viewers inside the lives of seven transgender youth hailing from across the country, giving the audience a look into their efforts to live as the people they are meant to be. It also explores the intersection of transgender identities and race through each individual’s journey as they deal with the challenges of coming out, bullying and anti-transgender violence.
“I believe this group of young people from the ages of 12-24 is so amazing and courageous,” Cox said. “In this world, it is still a big deal to come forward publicly and say that you are trans. You open yourself up to all kinds of discrimination, violence and stigmas. For these young people to come forth on national television and tell their stories so openly and truthfully, they should be applauded. It really humanizes them. At the end of the day, it’s hard to look at this group of young people and think that they should be denied anything in terms of equality and access to things that everyone should have and enjoy in this country.”
Cox said the documentary is focused on a broad audience, ranging from members of the LGBTQ community to those who aren’t familiar with the people and issues in the documentary.
“We have a little ‘Trans 101’ in the beginning in terms of terminology,” Cox said. “We have to educate people a little bit because there are a lot of folks who still don’t understand what it means to be trans. But at the end of the day, we tell our stories. That is how we connect as human beings. So I’m really interested in connecting this group of young people with the audience that is watching the show. Hopefully through that connection, we can break down the misconceptions that people have about people who are transgender. We’re not a monolithic group of folks. We are very diverse and I think this group of young people represents some of that diversity. Not all, but some.”
Cox also hopes the documentary will help to change the perceptions and misconceptions about trans people within the LGBTQ community.
“A lot of people in the LGBTQ community don’t understand trans people and don’t feel trans people should be included in the overall movement,” Cox said. “It’s shocking. I would hope that people who are not in the LGBT community will see our humanity and understand that we are who we say we are and we should be treated in a way that is consistent with that.”
Cox said she learned a lot from “The T Word” and was blown away by the individuals featured.
“I’ve had a pretty challenging life, but then I think about this group of young people we are profiling. Seeing this group of young people’s stories really affirms how resilient trans people are.”
When asked why “The T Word” focuses only on trans youth, Cox said that younger people have a more positive worldview and more of a willingness to put themselves in the public eye.
“Young people tend to be more optimistic and politically active and activated,” she said. “Maybe when people get older they get more jaded and cynical about the world around them. There is this hope that every single young person that participated in this show believes that they can change the world around them. When I think about that, I get really emotional. I think that it is incumbent upon all of us to not disappoint them, to not allow the world around them stay the same. Where there are young people who put themselves on the line in a really intense way, like being on national television, we should live up to the hope that they have and try to make this world better for them.”
The documentary also focuses on the varying levels of parental and social support these individuals have in their lives. Cox hopes that individuals and organizations that aren’t supportive of trans individuals might have a change of heart after seeing themselves and the people whose lives are affected.
“This one young person named Kye has a mother who is supportive but she has some issues,” Cox said. “We have a live forum that we are doing on Logo and MTV.com after the premiere and Kye is bringing his mother. So we’ll she where she is at. That kind of transformation is something I hope and pray for. I hope that people’s ideas and views will change. I think that time will tell.”
Cox, who is probably one of the most famous transgender actors in America right now, thanks in large part to her role on “Orange Is the New Black,” said she is grateful for the platform the show has given her, but also acknowledges trans actors who made her success possible.
“I’ve said many times that I would not be here if it were not for Candis Cayne,” Cox said, calling the “Dirty Sexy Money” actor a “huge inspiration.” “That historic moment made me believe it was possible for me to have a career as an actor. So I wouldn’t be here without Candis Cayne. I’m on a really great show that is insanely popular. Our fans are intense and they love the show so much. I’m lucky that I’m on this show that people love so much and has struck a chord with the public. Because our show is an Internet show and the Internet is exploding with Twitter and Facebook in a way that wasn’t happening in 2007, that’s given the trans community a platform to say who we are and what we want. It’s reverberating in a different way.”
“Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word” premieres simultaneously at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 on Logo and MTV. For more information, visit www.lavernecox.com.