An Interview with a courageous transwoman – Celia Daniels. Part 1 of 2

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.

Books like “Phoenix Goes To School” can help children understand transgender people.

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.

Celia attended her first Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2011.

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?

Five things never to say to transgender people

Many thanks to two local gracious trans-knowledgeable people Rebecca Chapin and Elaine Martin for their review and suggestions on this blog.

In recognition of November 20th being the annual “Transgender Day of Remembrance” I am publishing this blog called “Five things never to say (or ask of) transgender people.” A few years ago I wrote “Five things to not say to gay people” which was my first blog to ever get over 100 hits, which motivated me to add this new installment.

Transgender woman Laverne Cox made history by being the first transgender person on the cover of Time Magazine (May, 2014)

Transgender woman Laverne Cox made history by being the first transgender person on the cover of Time Magazine (May, 2014)

For those of you in North Carolina, here is a link to our local Transgender Day of Remembrance activities.

Transgender people are getting much more visibility and recognition today as evidenced by the cover story in the June 9th issue of Time Magazine titled “The Transgender Tipping Point – America’s Next Civil Right’s Frontier.”

In addition to my five listed below, check out this humorous yet very educational YouTube video from Calperia Adams titled “Bad Questions.” (link)

1) Do you have a penis or vagina? Or “when did you have the surgery?” Not all gender variant people are able to afford, wish to have, nor are moving in the direction of surgery. This question perpetuates the mentality that all trans people are physically transitioning and that genitals are the ultimate decider of a person’s gender. Plus you normally do not ask other people about their private parts … they are called private parts for a reason.

2) Calling the person by the wrong pronoun. Or also asking “what is your real name?” When a transgender person is dressed in women’s clothes and presenting as a female, she probably wants to be referred to as “she” and if presenting as a male in male clothes, addressed as “he.” If you are in doubt, respectfully ask the person what gender and preferred name they would like used in addressing them.

Transgender man Chas Bono, child of iconic pop singers Sonny and Cher, brought great visibility to the transgender community when he appeared on "Dancing with the Stars."

Transgender man Chas Bono, child of iconic pop singers Sonny and Cher, brought great visibility to the transgender community when he appeared on “Dancing with the Stars.”

3) Asking “when did you decide to become transgender?” or “when did you choose to be a transgender person?” Like sexual orientation, gender identity is not a choice, it is the way a person was born. Most transgender people have identified internally in their hearts their desired and honest gender since early childhood.

4) Asking “Are you straight or gay? Do you like men or women?” Normally, you do not ask a casual acquaintance if they are gay, straight or bi, so why ask a transgender person? People will disclose their sexual orientation when they want to in the context of a growing friendship. It is also important to keep in mind that sexual orientation (who you are attracted to) and gender identity (who you feel you are deep down inside) are two very different aspects of a person.

5) Being sexually intrigued by them and asking them to participate in kinky games with you. That totally dehumanizes a transgender person and basically turns them into a “curiosity” for you instead of respecting them as full normal human beings who deserve the same respect as everyone else (if not more respect for some of the issues they have had to deal with.)

Please take the time to research this important community, get to know transgender people as people, and please be an active ally for transgender people advocating for full equal rights and respect.


FYI with photo above – link to Laverne Cox’s interview with Time Magazine on the Transgender Movement