Laverne Cox talks about her greatest challenge: 'Getting out of my own way'

When Laverne Cox first burst onto the pop culture scene through her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black — becoming the first trans woman of color to have a leading role in a mainstream TV series — the timing was perfect, thanks to a rise in transgender visibility that Cox soon became a major part of. But, as she tells designer Zac Posen (also a board member of Yahoo Lifestyle’s parent company, Oath, a division of Verizon) in the premiere episode of Yahoo Lifestyle’s new “Loud and Clear” video series (above), her heralded arrival had been a long time coming.

“I think that a lot of the reason I was bullied is because there was a light that I had as a kid that the other kids saw, and they were afraid of it,” says Cox, who grew up in Alabama. And she says it was those early attacks from others that threw at Cox the biggest challenge in life: “Getting out of my own way.”

She had to overcome the many doubts she had about herself, she continues, that came from “internalizing a lot of the bullies who said I could never do this or that, and then being really, really hard on myself, and in the process dimming the light that I’ve always had.”

Luckily, Cox had a supportive family, including a mom who encouraged the budding actor and dancer to perform. “I did talent shows all over the Southeast. That was good for me,” she says. “I was an usher and I sang in the choir, so church was good for that, and my mom was a teacher, so I understood that education was the path to freedom.”

Specifically, it was learning and honing the art of dance, at least for Cox, who received scholarships to study at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, Indiana University, Marymount Manhattan College, and finally, the Joffrey Ballet School in Chicago, which took the rising start to New York City.

“I think dancers are the hardest-working people in show business,” Cox says. Still, it’s ultimately acting that has stolen her heart.

“I love acting. I love performing, so that’s really what got me through,” says Cox, who did an HBO pilot and a couple of reality shows before getting her OITNB big break. “It’s this process of discovery that comes from a super-vulnerable, deeply intimate place that is just healing. It doesn’t always feel good, but the process … feels like the highest form of living.”

She first found inspiration to be an openly transgender actress when she saw Candis Cayne do just that in 2007 on the groundbreaking ABC drama Dirty Sexy Money. Now Cox has become a role model in her own right, though she says that status brought an added pressure to her career at first.

“I felt this tremendous responsibility,” she says of her increased exposure, including being on the cover of Time magazine in 2014. “And I still do, but I just know now that I can’t do everything.” And that’s because there’s just so much to be done.

“It’s amazing that in various parts of the country, young people are still struggling who are LGBTQ+. And I think it’s because we still, culturally, have this very rigid idea of what women should be,” she says. “And because of that, young people are being bullied, particularly LGBTQ youth. There’s unprecedented visibility for trans folks now, but we’re being attacked more than ever before.” (She’s correct that incidents of violence have gone up along with trans visibility: According to a Human Rights Campaign report, 2017 was one of the deadliest years on record for transgender people in the U.S., with at least 25 trans people killed — the highest number of such fatalities in at least a decade.)

Still, Cox remains a steady force of hope and positivity, noting that she only wishes she could have known of her powers when she was growing up and could have told herself: “You’re not crazy for thinking you’re a girl. You are a girl. Everything you’re going through now, everything is for a reason. And you’re going to get through it. And you’re going to be the person that you’ve always dreamt you’re going to be.”

So for now, she’s sending that message to others, saying: “Anything is possible.”

See more of Laverne Cox below

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NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 27: Actress Laverne Cox and host of Lifetime TV series 'Glam Masters' is seen arriving to AOL Build Series at Build Studio on February 27, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 27: Actress Laverne Cox visits Build Series to discuss 'Glam Masters' at Build Studio on February 27, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Desiree Navarro/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 26: (L-R) The Executive Producer and cast of Lifetime's new show, 'Glam Masters,' Diana Madison, Laverne Cox, Kandee Johnson, and Zanna Roberts Rassi, attend the exclusive premiere event at Dirty French on February 26, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Lifetime)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 22: Actress Laverne Cox visits Macy's Herald Square on February 22, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 11: Laverne Cox attends Prabal Gurung - Front Row - February 2018 - New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Spring Studios on February 11, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: Actress Laverne Cox is seen arriving to Christian Siriano fashion show during New York Fashion Week at Grand Lodge on February 10, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: (L-R) Laverne Cox, Whoopi Goldberg, Meg Ryan, Molly Shannon and Cardi B attend the Christian Siriano fashion show during New York Fashion Week at Grand Lodge on February 10, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 18: Laverne Cox arrives at the Lip Sync Battle LIVE: A Michael Jackson Celebration at Dolby Theatre on January 18, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: Actress Laverne Cox attends the 19th Annual Post-Golden Globes Party hosted by Warner Bros. Pictures and InStyle at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Host Laverne Cox dances onstage during the AHF World AIDS DAY Concert and 30th Anniversary Celebration featuring Mariah Carey and DJ Khaled at the Shrine Auditorium on November 30, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Laverne Cox attends the 2017 Glamour Women Of The Year Awards at Kings Theatre on November 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 22: Laverne Cox arrives for the 13th Annual Outfest Legacy Awards at Vibiana on October 22, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Woman of the Year 2014, actress and LGBTQ Advocate Laverne Cox poses during Glamour Celebrates 2017 Women Of The Year Live Summit at Brooklyn Museum on November 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Glamour)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Laverne Cox attends the 2017 Glamour Women of The Year Awards at Kings Theatre on November 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Laverne Cox arrives at the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Actress Laverne Cox attends HBO's Post Emmy Awards Reception at The Plaza at the Pacific Design Center on September 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Barry King/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Laverne Cox arrives at the 16th Annual Heroes In The Struggle gala reception and awards presentation at 20th Century Fox on September 16, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Maury Phillips/Getty Images,)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Actress Laverne Cox attends the Television Academy event honoring Emmy nominated performers at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on September 15, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Laverne Cox attends Glamour x Tory Burch Women To Watch Lunch on September 15, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Glamour x Tory Burch)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Actress Laverne Cox attends the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
Laverne Cox attends the Entertainment Weekly 2017 pre-Emmy party at the Sunset Tower hotel in West Hollywood, on September 15, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / CHRIS DELMAS (Photo credit should read CHRIS DELMAS/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 16: Laverne Cox attends the 2017 Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival - Closing Night Gala Screening Of ''Freak Show' on July 16, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23: Laverne Cox attends the 'RuPaul's Drag Race' Season 9 Finale Viewing Party at Stage 48 on June 23, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)

Actress, producer and LGBTQ advocate Laverne Cox "takes a dip" at the MAGNUM New York dipping bar during a special event celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month, in partnership with GLAAD, on Wednesday, June, 21, 2017 in New York City. Guests can purchase a limited-edition custom Pride MAGNUM bar during the month of June.

Photo by Amy Sussman/Invision for MAGNUM/AP Images

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 12: Actress Laverne Cox attends the 'Orange is the New Black' Season Five Debute Screening And Conversation at 92nd Street Y on June 12, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by CJ Rivera/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 09: Laverne Cox and Danielle Brooks attend the Season 5 celebration of 'Orange is the New Black' at Catch on June 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 09: Actress Laverne Cox attends the 'Orange Is The New Black' Season 5 Celebration at Catch on June 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage)
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 05: Actress Laverne Cox arrives at Netflix's 'Orange Is The New Black' For Your Consideration Event at the Saban Media Center on May 5, 2017 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)
INGLEWOOD, CA - APRIL 27: Actress Laverne Cox arrives at We Day California 2017 at The Forum on April 27, 2017 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 07: Laverne Cox attends the Netflix FYSEE Kick-Off event at Netflix FYSee Space on May 7, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Tibrina Hobson/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Laverne Cox attends the 25th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation's Academy Awards Viewing Party at The City of West Hollywood Park on February 26, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: (L-R) Actors Judith Light, Andrew Rannells, and Laverne Cox attend the 25th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation's Academy Awards Viewing Party at The City of West Hollywood Park on February 26, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for EJAF)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 23: Actresses Laverne Cox (L) and Adrienne C. Moore arrive at the Essence 10th Annual Black Women in Hollywood Awards Gala at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on February 23, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images,)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 15: Laverne Cox attends Build series to discuss 'Doubt' at Build Studio on February 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Chance Yeh/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 13: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Monday, February 13, 2017 with Laverne Cox. (Photo by Timothy Kuratek/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Actress Laverne Cox attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Recording artist Beyonc�(L) and actor Laverne Cox during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for NARAS)
PASADENA, CA - FEBRUARY 11: Actress Laverne Cox attends the 48th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 11, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 04: Actress Laverne Cox poses in the press room at the 69th annual Directors Guild of America Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 4, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 29: CEO of Absolut Elyx, Jonas Tahlin and actress Laverne Cox attend The Weinstein Company & Netflix's 2017 SAG After Party in partnership with Absolut Elyx at Sunset Tower Hotel on January 29, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company/Netflix)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 09: Actress Laverne Cox attends SAG-AFTRA Foundation's Conversations with 'Doubt' at SAG-AFTRA Foundation Screening Room on January 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vincent Sandoval/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 08: Actress Laverne Cox attends the 18th Annual Post-Golden Globes Party hosted by Warner Bros. Pictures and InStyle at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 8, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)
MARINA DEL REY, CA - NOVEMBER 19: Actress Laverne Cox arrives at the 1st Annual Marie Claire Young Women's Honors at Marina del Rey Marriott on November 19, 2016 in Marina del Rey, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 14: Actress Laverne Cox attends Variety's Power of Women Luncheon 2016 at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on October 14, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 13: Actress Laverne Cox attends the premiere of 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do The Time Warp Again' at The Roxy Theatre on October 13, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 13: Laverne Cox at 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again' Press Conference at the Four Seasons Hotel on October 13, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 13: Laverne Cox attends Madame Tussauds Hollywood Unveils A Wax Figure Of Laverne Cox at Madame Tussauds on October 13, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Actress Laverne Cox arrives at the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) greets actress Laverne Cox during he LGBT for Hillary Gala at Cipriani Club on September 9, 2016 in New York City. Hillary Clinton is attending fundraisers and in New York City. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Trace Lysette and Laverne Cox arrives at the Variety And Women In Film's Pre-Emmy Celebration at Gracias Madre on September 16, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 28: Actress Laverne Cox attends a celebration with Republic Records and Guess after the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards at Vandal with cocktails by Ciroc on August 28, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images for Republic Records)
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