Laverne Cox Health Mag April 2022

Laverne Cox on Working Through Trauma, Advocating for Trans People, and Turning 50 'With Some Wisdom'

With some exciting career happenings and a personal life that is grounded and joyful, the actor and advocate says she’s never been in a better place.

You can't help but smile when you're in the presence of Laverne Cox. The 49-year-old is warm and chatty and has a tendency to break into song—sometimes it's Beyoncé, other times it's opera. She's also incredibly open and is willing to really go there. Whether shedding light on the prejudices the trans community faces or discussing her own mental health, she doesn't hold back.

Laverne has been acting for over two decades, but it was her role as Sophia in Netflix's Orange Is the New Black that shot her into stardom. Since the show ended in 2019, she's appeared in a variety of other television programs and movies. Most recently, she returned to Netflix in Shonda Rhimes' limited series Inventing Anna, which is based on the real-life case of a fake socialite who swindled tons of people around the world. She's also the newest red-carpet host for Live From E!, covering all of the biggest award shows for the network.

Even more exciting than her professional achievements is a big milestone she's about to reach. On May 29, Laverne will turn 50. "It's a miracle that I'm a Black transgender woman from Mobile, Alabama, who has managed to not just survive, but thrive," she says. "I've had a lot of guilt around that—because I'm aware that there are a lot of Black trans people who are suffering. I've had to let go of that. I'm insanely grateful. I have to enjoy it—life is too short." Here, she opens up about all the above, and more.

Laverne Cox Health Mag April 2022

You are the newest red-carpet host for E! What have you learned in your new gig?

What I've learned doing my podcast, The Laverne Cox Show, is that I talk a lot. But it's important when I'm interviewing people that I listen. It seems simple, but that's important—to be curious and to let them talk. Some people are going to give you a little bit more than others will, and it is my job to make everyone at ease so they can give the best inter view possible. You have to be so incredibly present.

Beyond acting, you've done some impressive advocacy work—especially for trans men and women. That must be deeply personal for you.

I think of the violence against trans people—it has really [messed] me up. There were anti-trans bills introduced into state legislatures in 2021. Many of them use language like "biologically male but thinks they're a girl." They don't actually use the word transgender. It's language that literally erases us as trans people. So, I've really found myself needing to protect my mental health.

How do you go about doing that?

I'm responsible for my mental health. I'm responsible for how I respond or don't respond to trauma. I can have compassion for myself and grace for myself. I think we can simultaneously acknowledge systemic oppression and inequities and also say, "In the face of this systemic oppression, what is my part in bettering my life? Bettering my mental health?"

Have you found a way to do that?

Well, one way is to unplug from the news sometimes. And I've learned that I have to lean into my joy. One of the six skills of the Community Resiliency Model, which is a process developed through the Trauma Research Institute, is resourcing. And resourcing is just really about that thing that makes you feel good in your life. It might be a song. It might be the thought of a person. I'll think about my boyfriend cooking breakfast for me and I just light up inside. We have to lean into those things that bring us joy. And the things that don't, we need to let them go to protect our mental health.

Laverne Cox Health Mag April 2022

You've been open about therapy being part of your life. Are you still working with a therapist?

Yes. When you have trauma, eventually it needs to be reprocessed. What I'm working on with my therapist now is building up my resourcing, so that when it's time to reprocess the trauma, it's not re-traumatizing. You don't want to flood yourself revisiting that trauma because that can keep you from healing—you have to go slowly. My therapist defines trauma as too much too fast, or too little for too long.

How does the work you're doing in therapy affect your life?

The falling-in-love process has been overwhelming. The work is to be able to receive it and feel I'm worthy of the love. Hello, I'm worthy because I'm a child of God and worthiness is a birthright. But I can't believe I'm being treated this well, after all these years. It's taken me nearly 50 years to get here. It can be overwhelming. Love has to be constantly renewed and cared for. When you're really vulnerable with someone, there's something beautiful and incredible about that. When you're vulnerable, you're woundable. You have the capacity to be hurt. And when someone is vulnerable with you, you have the capacity to hurt them. That is an awesome responsibility. It's something I don't take lightly. It is an honor to be loved and to love. It's a huge responsibility to have someone's heart.

In moments when you are overwhelmed, how do you ground yourself?

For me, it's about breathing and feeling my feet on the floor. Smell is also really big for me. The smell of lavender or vanilla can really calm me. And I'm very tactile. I have a fuzzy robe that I wear, that I will rub and it just makes me feel good. Even just rubbing my arms, sort of caressing myself, is a soothing thing that lets my body know it's safe.

Laverne Cox Health Mag April 2022

You're clearly attentive to your mental health. How do you take care of your physical health?

I started dance classes again and it's so much fun. I hate working out, so getting in a rhythm has been a struggle. When I go to the gym, it becomes goal-oriented and not process-oriented. When I start thinking about the results, it's not a good space for me to be in. I'm better when I focus on the journey. I want to turn 50 and be healthy. That's part of the reason I started dance classes again. I want to feel good in my body, mind, and spirit.

Speaking of turning 50, how are you feeling about it?

In some ways, I feel like I'm in the prime of my life. I think I look better than I've ever looked, and I've evolved so much. I'm turning 50 with some wisdom. I know some things, which is really nice. Could I know more? Absolutely. But I'm moving through the world with integrity, and that's something I'm proud of.

This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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