When was Laverne Cox born?
But we think Cox is a lot older — like, 12 years older. We’ve found evidence that she was in college in 1993, and we’re pretty sure she was born in 1972. Read on for details.
[2019 update: Success! Who2 reader Vasanti Gupta points out that the Hollywood Reporter has confirmed 1972: “When Laverne Cox turned 40 in May 2012…” We’re proud to have broken this story in 2015.]
Laverne Cox is both actress and advocate. She stars on the hit show Orange Is the New Black, and she has been everywhere (including the cover of Time) in the last year as a transgender icon and advocate. But in the grand tradition of Hollywood stars, she also likes to hide her age. That’s what made us curious to learn more.
First, the known facts. Laverne Cox was born in Mobile, Alabama and was, as she prefers to say, “assigned male at birth.” She has a twin brother, M. Lamar, who is now an avant-garde artist and musician. Playbill says confidently that Cox’s birthday is May 29th, but gives no year.
We know that Cox studied creative writing and dance in high school at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, then went to Indiana University before she transferred to Manhattan Marymount in New York “to finish her last two years.” Cox told Dartmouth students in May of 2014 that she began her transition to female “almost 16 years ago” (that is, around 1998) and that it happened sometime in the years after she arrived in New York City. So that alone makes a 1984 birth extremely improbable.
Birth records in Alabama are confidential for 125 years, so requesting a birth certificate won’t help. Even were it possible, we don’t know Cox’s first name at birth: she doesn’t reveal it, and neither do others around her. (Her mother, in a 2014 interview, would say only that she and M. Lamar “didn’t stray far from the names their mama gave them.”) Laverne Cox has said that Laverne was her middle name and Cox was her last name at birth.
[ 2016 update: A reader points us to this archived earlier version of the same article, which did include Laverne Cox’s birth name: “[Cox’s mother] lives in the same house in the Down the Bay neighborhood south of downtown Mobile where she raised her children, whose names growing up were Roderick Leverne and Reginald Lamar.” ]
The Mobile Press-Register, the local paper of record, has online archives only going back to 2002, so a search of birth announcements isn’t possible without a trip to Mobile.
What can we find elsewhere on the Internet?
Laverne Cox says that at Manhattan Marymount she switched to theater:
The first play I did at Marymount happened because a guest instructor by the name of Daniel Banks saw me walking down the hall in all my androgyny and said, “I want you in my play.” I was in the dance department. And it was a big deal at the time, doing a play in the theater department. The play was Max Frisch’s Andorra.
The Manhattan Marymount theater department lists its plays going back to 2003-04, and Andorra doesn’t appear. Fortunately, Daniel Banks has stated in an essay that he directed Andorra in 1993. The photo caption in the essay confirms that the production was at Manhattan Marymount College. (Note: The leading actor pictured in that essay, Steven Beckford, is not the pre-transition Laverne Cox. “I had no lines,” Cox says. “I was the village idiot, but I stole the show with just grinning and nodding.”)
So we know that Laverne Cox was at Manhattan Marymount in 1993. Was she a junior or a senior then? Playbill said in a 2014 profile:
She then became very involved with theatre in college at Marymount Manhattan College. Before transitioning, Cox was cast in Hair and Pippin and played the incarcerated drag queen, Queenie, in a production of John Herbert’s 1967 play Fortune and Men’s Eyes.
That means Cox probably wasn’t a graduating senior when she was first cast in 1993: appearing in Andorra and three other plays all in one semester is unlikely. So either Andorra was in the spring of 1993 and Cox was a junior, or Andorra was in the fall of 1993 and Cox could have been a junior or senior.
Fortune and Men’s Eyes was also produced in 1993, it seems. (A biography of actor George Katt says he went to Marymount Manhattan and was directed by Felix Solis in a 1993 production of the play. Felix Solis’s website says he has an BFA from Marymount Manhattan College and was born in 1971, which matches with him directing a production there at about age 22.)
If both Andorra and Fortune and Men’s Eyes were produced in 1993, it’s possible that both were done in the fall; but it seems far more likely that Cox would have been cast in Andorra in the spring and then, encouraged by her success, gone on to Fortune and Men’s Eyes in the fall.
If that’s the case, then she entered Manhattan Marymount as a junior in the fall of 1992 and graduated in 1994. And that would mean she was born in or around 1972.
Of course, this all assumes that Cox was a typical student: that she graduated from high school the year she turned 18, that she went straight to Indiana U. and then straight to Manhattan Marymount, that she was in Marymount’s usual September-to-May academic year, that she didn’t appear in plays after her graduation, etc.
But in general, 1972 looks like the frontrunner, with 1971 and 1973 as possibilities and 1970 and 1974 as distant longshots.
If 1972 is the year, and if she followed a typical eduction path, then that makes Laverne Cox’s overall timeline look something like this:
- 1972: Born in Mobile, Alabama (on May 29?)
- 1990 (spring): Graduates from Alabama School of Fine Arts
- 1990 (fall): Enters Indiana University
- 1992 (fall): Transfers to Manhattan Marymount
- 1993: Appears in the plays Andorra and Fortune and Men’s Eyes
- 1994 (spring): Graduates from Manhattan Marymount
- 2000: First film credit (the short film Betty Anderson)
- 2013: Begins her role on Orange Is the New Black
For what it’s worth, Google When was M. Lamar born? and you get “May 29, 1972.” Since Google is so far off on Laverne Cox, that doesn’t really prove anything. But since they are twins, it’s one more bit of evidence in favor of 1972.
[ 2018 note: Google search results for both M. Lamar and Laverne Cox have flipped; as of May 2018, Google announces that M. Lamar was born in 1984 and that Laverne Cox was born in 1972. ]
A small bit of bonus evidence: This videocassette archive of a 1992 student choreographic workshop at Indiana University lists “Roderick Cox” as one of the choreographers. Dated January 18, it also fits the timeline, assuming Laverne Cox was still going by her birth name then.
It’s worth pointing out that we’ve found no articles with Laverne Cox saying that she was born in 1984. We suspect that the number got out there somehow and she just let it ride. But she clearly also hasn’t gone out of her way to set the record straight.
We’ve written to Manhattan Marymount, asking for clarification on the production years of Hair and Pippin, but received no reply. It’s also not clear what Laverne Cox was doing between the years 1994 and 2000, although she spent a few semesters at the Fashion Institute of Technology and “performed in downtown clubs, singing operatic versions of heavy metal songs by Pantera and Iron Maiden.”
We’ll leave those years for others to figure out. But we stand by our analysis of her chronology: For now, we are listing Laverne Cox’s year of birth as “May 29, 1972 (?)”.