Similarly, told and challenging…the ways in which trans stories

Similarly, Laverne Cox in the famous ‘Orange Is the New Black’ represents the transgender community through her character of Sophia Burset. Sophia is the only transgender woman in Litchfield Penitentiary, where the show is set. Before transitioning she worked as a firefighter, and now works as a hairdresser in the prison. She is one of the most “feminine” of the prisoners in terms of her gender expression. She is in prison for credit card fraud, which she did in order to pay for her sex-reassignment surgeries. While many of the other inmates generally accept her, she faces prejudice from staff and some inmates, including a severe beating from other inmates which ends, heartbreakingly, with Sophia in solitary confinement “for her own protection”. The show in general shows that womanhood contains multitudes. The women on the show are straight, gay, and bisexual; old and young; black, white, Latina, and Asian; speak a variety of languages; come from a variety of class and educational backgrounds or none of the above. Sophia, however, is a complicated character who gets too little screen time but still has some of the best storylines in the series overall. Though Cox’s role as transgender inmate Sophia Burset is one of the most visible, positive examples of transgendered representation in television now, Cox is not  new to playing transgendered women on television. Before her role as Burset, Cox made a name for herself as the first trans woman of color on a reality show, appearing on VH1’s “I Want to Work for Diddy” in 2008. She then went on to produce and star in a trans-oriented makeover show, “TRANSform Me,” in 2010. Her visibility has had notable ripple effects in the mainstream and has given Cox a platform from which she has been able to advocate for transgender women to tell their own stories. “What we’re seeing now is trans folks taking more control over how our stories are told and challenging…the ways in which trans stories have been told,” Cox said. Though this kind of pushback has sparked a certain amount of controversy, especially over Katie Couric and Piers Morgan’s recent handling of discussions about transgender issues, Cox has emphasised the need for these discussions. Sometimes, Cox said, people come from a place of ignorance, and sometimes they come from a place of hate. The fact that millions and millions of “Orange is the New Black” viewers witnessed this story is one of the most powerful moments in transgender representation on television or elsewhere, and launched Laverne Cox as the wonderful, thoughtful trans activist we all have come to know her as. Her performance is honest and raw. An issue, however, that the show seems to make is that the producers take every chance to remind the audience that Sophia is different than the other inmates. This is evident as almost every time that Sophia is visible on screen the producers make sort of reference to genitalia. This is a technique used in many movies today. The constant fixation on genitalia serves as an reminder to the audience that she is not a ‘real woman’. This is particularly evident in episode three where Sophia’s story is one of the most central narratives. In this episode, I lost track of the number of times there was a comment about her genitalia. The prison guards joke about her “cyborg pussy” and the fact that “she had a dick, so she knows what it likes”. The Russian cook in the series also drops a comment when she is chopping a zucchini in half and then realises what she did asking Sophia if it was “too soon?”. However, the most emotional and heartbreaking scenes is when Sophia’s wife lets Sophia try on one of her dresses. After drying on the dress and looking at herself in the mirror her wife interrupts the moment by asking Sophia to “keep her penis”, constantly reminding us that she is not a ‘real woman’. If there was a moral to Sophia’s storyline it is that a woman, no matter her background, should never be asked to prove she is a woman. 

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