Laverne Cox was onstage at the Memorial Church Tuesday evening, reflecting on her struggle to break into Hollywood as one of the first transgender actresses of color. She described her path by paraphrasing the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius:
“What gets in the way becomes the way,” she said.
That mantra helped define her success as a now Emmy-nominated actress (“Orange Is the New Black”) and Emmy-winning producer who is equally visible as an activist and advocate for gender equity. In a lively panel conversation for Harvard’s inaugural #HarvardHearsYou Summit for Gender Equity, Cox shared her experiences alongside fashion designer Christian Siriano and fashion blogger Nicolette Mason. Culture expert Jess Weiner, CEO of Talk to Jess, moderated the lively conversation, which ranged from affection for performing arts education to creating 17 red-carpet looks for a single Oscar night to a deep examination of language and privilege.
Cox said becoming famous didn’t erase her experiences of being called “man” on the street.
“Privilege is contextual,” she said. “In certain contexts you have privilege and certain contexts you don’t, and that’s a strange thing to balance.”
Mason, who is Iranian American and part of the LGBTQ community, recently launched Premme, an online plus-size fashion line serving the 68 percent of American women who are size 14 or above, with her friend Gabi Gregg.
“It’s been a really exciting journey,” said Mason, who had consulted with brands such as Target, ASOS, and Barbie before launching Premme. “We got to a place a couple of years ago where we realized there was only so much progress we could make as individuals, as young women. We wanted to see clothes that looked like us who are young and working and want to have fun with fashion and style. We realized the only way to create influence and change the market was to do it ourselves, and it’s an enormous privilege to be able to do that. ”