Trans actress and advocate Laverne Cox recently joined scholar bell hooks for a talk at New York City’s The New School. Read an excerpt from their conversation on hyper-femininity, white supremacy, and hyper-visibility below.

“One of the issues I think that many people have with trans women is the sense of a traditional femininity being called out and reveled in — a femininity that many feminist women feel, ‘Oh, we’ve been trying to get away from that,'” says bells hooks at the 34:28 mark, referencing Laverne’s high heels and long, blond hair. “Can you talk about that a little bit?”

“I love that you brought that up,” Laverne replies. “I think that the important thing to remember for me is that a lot of trans women don’t embrace this kind of femininity. A lot of trans women don’t wear high heels and don’t wear makeup and feel oppressed by that. My choices to wear all of this…I’m in show business but some of it is about what I find aesthetically pleasing for myself.

“I went through various phases where I had braids…it was an androgynous phase,” she continues. “And this is where I feel empowered, ironically, and comfortable. I think it’s important to note that not all trans women are embracing this. That this trans woman does and this trans woman feels empowered by this. And I have to say it’s something I really struggle with having an understanding of your work and an understanding of patriarchy. Am I feeding into the patriarchal gaze in my blond wigs?”

“Yes,” bell hooks chimes in.

“It’s one of those things where I’m sort of like, here I am. If I’m embracing a patriarchal gaze with this presentation, it’s the way that I’ve found something that feels empowering. And I think the really honest answer is that I’ve sort of constructed myself in a way so that I don’t want to disappear. And I think so often there’s an erasure in, and I’d like to add ‘cisnormative heteronormative imperialist white supremacist capitalist’ patriarchy, where there’s an erasure of certain bodies and certain identities. And I’ve never been interested in being invisible and erased. So a lot of how I’m negotiating these systems of oppression and trying not to be erased is perhaps by buying into and playing into some of the patriarchal gaze and white supremacy.”

We love her honesty and vulnerability. Watch the entire conversation here.

Laverne posted the following photo on Instagram saying, “So I can’t believe this happened. I am still in shock and disbelief that I got to share this moment…”

So I can’t believe this happened. I am still in shock and disbelief that I got to share this moment with my feminist idol #bellhooks. I still don’t feel worthy but wow! Thanks @alialahloux for the photo “Love, community, James Baldwin, orange is the new black, beauty standards, high heels, money, academia, invisibility blues, love as risk-taking, imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, decolonizing our minds and practicing freedom. They hit it all, and were fierce and fabulous. Double star struck. #lavernecox #bellhooks #oitnb” via @PhotoRepost_app

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In what ways does hyper-femininity serve as a tool for visibility and survival? In what ways does it play into patriarchy? 

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