By Sadie Gennis
There’s something really special happening in television right now. Jenji Kohan’s Orange Is the New Black not only features a nearly all-female cast depicting a diverse spectrum of race, sexuality and body types, but it also includes a trans woman of color actually playing a trans woman of color — a first on mainstream television.
Former reality star and producer Laverne Cox plays Sophia Burset, a firefighter whose wife Crystal is less disturbed by her transition than her decision to steal credit cards. Though trans actors often fall victim to typecasting as sex workers, Cox felt no qualms about playing another kind of deviant: an incarcerated thief. “For me, the fact that she was in jail, that’s not a deterrent. I thought, What an opportunity to tell stories that aren’t really told a lot about trans folks in prison,'” Cox tellsTVGuide.com.
With the debut of Orange, Cox likely became the first trans person many viewers had seen either on TV or in real life and the actress is well aware of the role’s potential benefits to the trans community. By portraying Sophia as a multi-dimensional character — a loving parent, devoted spouse, compassionate friend and determined entrepreneur — Cox hopes the show will help alleviate some of the stigma imposed on trans people. “What I’ve always believed is that if you get to know someone as a human being that everything — all the preconceptions and stereotypes you might have had about them — will fade away. And I think what our writers and the show have done such a great job of is humanizing Sophia so we really understand her as a complicated, flawed human being just like anyone else,” she says.