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“Orange Is the New Black” star Laverne Cox believes that “our lives are on the line” when it comes to representation for trans people.

During Variety‘s transgender roundtable, Cox cited the statistic that approximately 84% of Americans do not personally know someone who is transgender, which means that most Americans learn about trans people through the media — giving media a crucial role in educating the general public about the lived trans experience.

In terms of trans actors actually receiving the opportunity to play out trans stories onscreen, she insists that opportunities are far from equal. “The suggestion that ‘acting is acting’ and ‘we’re on a level playing field’ is ahistorical, apolitical,” she says. “As an artist, I don’t ever want anyone telling me that I shouldn’t play something because people have been telling me that my whole life.”

Cox also referenced Donald Trump’s attempts to “ban us from the military” and notes that “our unemployment rate is three times the national average — four times that for trans people of color.” Even more so, “we’re being murdered in record numbers,” she says.

The actress wants to rectify the misinformed lessons that cis people playing transgender characters can teach viewers: “This idea that ‘trans women are not really women’ and ‘trans men are not really men.’ And ‘non-binary people don’t exist.'”

She claims that such portrayals are the basis of the discrimination trans people experience, depicting them as individuals that are not who they say they are — “That we don’t really exist,” she says.

“It’s crucial that the representations that exist in the media at least at this historical moment reflect the realities and the humanity and the complexities of our real, lived experience,” she urged.

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