Currently in the USA and around the world, the transgender community is become much more visible and welcomed. However, there is still far too much stigma and misunderstanding of transgender people, including several states trying to pass horrific laws to disparage our trans community.
Fortunately, most large businesses understand the business case and value of including transgender people as a core constituency with their diversity framework. At a recent panel discussion I participated in, I met the fascinating and courageous Celia Daniels, and knew immediately I wanted to build a connection with her. Here is part of our recent discussion:
STAN: Celia, Let’s start at the beginning. What was your childhood like and when did you realize you may be a transgender person.
CELIA: I was born and grew up in southern India and raised in a conservative Christian home. I felt there was something different within me around the age of four. My gender was clearly not doing justice to my anatomy. Due to societal stigma that existed in India, I was asked not to dress up in girl clothes nor express my femininity. I chose to live a closeted life due to gender dysphoria which lead to constant fear and trauma. Also early in my life, I was molested by a distant family member, and internalized that trauma since I had no one I felt I could really talk to about it. I suppressed my trauma and learned to survive.
STAN: Then how did things progress as you entered into early adulthood.
CELIA: I went out in public for the first time as Celia in my 9th grade, but I was caught by a security guard down the street and I was publicly shamed and humiliated in front of a small crowd. That trauma caused me to attempt taking my own life twice. I would wake up every day trying to hide my femininity so I wouldn’t get bullied or beat up at school. Growing up in the early seventies, nobody would even care if I was hurt or even killed for coming out as a trans person.
STAN: Did things get any better for you as you progressed into adulthood?
CELIA: I decided to immerse myself in school and in work as a way to suppress my gender dysphoria. I focused on my studies and received an Bachelors and Master degree in computer science and also worked for Dun & Bradstreet in India. I came to New York to expand their business portfolio across US among the Healthcare and Life Sciences customers. As a client partner with F100 companies, the largest portfolio I managed was around $250M with a global team of 800 employees. I kept my mind busy to avoid gender dysphoria. I found opportunities during my business trips to express my femininity. Yes, I was really successful as a business professional, but I was dying inside.
STAN: But then it sounds like something needed to change?
CELIA: Yes, I tried to “suck it up” and lived in denial, hoping that one day these feminine feelings would go away. But I was struggling as a parent and a husband. I came out to my wife four years after our marriage, but she didn’t understand what I was going through and asked me to see a therapist to fix my issue. Even the therapist those days didn’t understand about Gender dysphoria. They branded me as feminine gay instead of understanding that I was transgender. Years later I came out to my daughter when she was 15. She fully loved and accepted me. Though it took 17yeas for my wife to understand me, she is very supportive to me. Both of them are my greatest allies.
STAN: How did things eventually change for you?
CELIA: Yes! Of course I attended a transgender day of remembrance in 2011 when I realized that transgender and gender variant folks were murdered for being who they are. Especially people of color. I started studying various research articles and understanding about transgender, gender variant and intersex individuals. It gave me deep insights to understand the challenges and discrimination they went through in various walks of life. This opened my eyes to understand and support folks like me. Educating folks in my community and companies across California became my primary goal. I started as a transgender advocate and end up as a human rights activist.
STAN: Celia, thank you for opening up so openly with me. I look forward to now talking more about what happened then to your professional life and what you are doing now.
And now here is PART 2! Where did Celia go from here?