Laverne Cox Shares Struggle With Mental Health To Promote Respect For Trans Identities

"I have been saying for years that misgendering a trans person is an act of violence."

As an advocate for the transgender community, actress Laverne Cox has always been outspoken about the injustices trans men and women face each day. Thus, when ProPublica published its investigation into how law enforcement officials in Jacksonville, Fla. and other jurisdictions have handled cases involving trans victims, Cox was quick to condemn their tendency to call victims by the names they were assigned at birth, a practice known as "deadnaming." 

As Twitter @hawthorn_fire explained, trans people "call it a deadname because that name is dead to us, not a name people use when we are dead. It may be the name that was assigned to us at birth, but it doesn't fit us and isn't acceptable to use."

In the case of ProPublica's investigation, three trans women — Celine Walker, 36, Antonia "Antash'a" English, 38, and Cathalina James, 24 — were all murdered in the Jacksonville area within the last six months. However, in public statements and official documents, the Sheriff's Office repeatedly misidentified the victims as men and referred to them by the names they were assigned at birth. 

Cox responded by sharing her own battle with suicidal thoughts on Twitter to highlight how deadnaming can impact the mental health of trans individuals. Cox explained that, when contemplating suicide years ago, she "was planning to have a note in my pocket at the time of my death and several other notes in my home which would state my name, preferred gender pronouns and that I should be referred to as a woman in my death. My note would be clear that I should be referred to as Laverne Cox only, not any other name."

"Being misgendered and deadnamed in my death felt like it would be the ultimate insult to the psychological and emotional injuries I was experiencing daily as a black trans woman in New York City, the injuries that made me want to take my own life."

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"I am angered, saddened and enraged that the police in Jacksonville, Florida, and other jurisdictions don't have policies in place to respect the gender identities of trans folks when they have been MURDERED," Cox added. "This misgendering and deadnaming also impedes the investigations into these murders. Injustice on top of injustice!"

According to ProPublica, 65 different law enforcement agencies have investigated murders of transgender people since Jan. 1, 2015. In 74 of 85 cases, victims were identified by the names or genders they no longer used in their daily lives. Moreover, the survey found that arrests have been made in only 55 percent of transgender murders nationwide over the last three-and-a-half years, while the overall clearance rate for murders in the U.S. remains only slightly higher, at 59 percent.

"As I read this report from ProPublica I sobbed and wept for all the trans people who have been murdered and those experiencing direct, cultural and structural violence," Cox wrote. "I wept because I haven't been allowing myself to. I wept for all the violence I have experienced in my own life."

Such cultural and structural violence deeply impacts the mental health of the transgender community as a whole. According to Psychology Todaynearly half of all individuals who identify as transgender struggle with a mental health issue, such as depression or an anxiety disorder.  "Over 41 percent of trans men and women are estimated to have attempted suicide — a rate that's nearly nine times as high as the rate of cisgender Americans."

Many twitter users shared their experiences with deadnaming and the impact it's had on their mental health and the wellness of those around them.

Cox noted that, for years, she's said misgendering trans people constitutes an act of violence. "When I say that I am referring to cultural and structural violence," she said. "The police misgendering and deadnaming trans murder victims as a matter of policy feels like a really good example of that cultural and structural violence."

"Thank you ProPublica for this in depth report on this issue," she added. "Please read and share and join with local trans organizations demanding that police do better on this issue and many others."

If you or someone you know has experienced suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.

Cover image via katz / Shutterstock

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