Amy C. Waninger chats with Celia Daniels, an Asian Indian trans woman of color who serves as an executive board member at TransCanWork, Inc., on this installment of our See It to Be It series. Check the links in the show notes to connect with Celia, find out more about TransCanWork, and listen to her song!
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Want to learn more about TransCanWork? Check out their website.
Listen to Celia’s original song by clicking here.
Check out the Fast Company template Tristan referenced by clicking here.
Zach: What’s up, y’all? This is Zach on the Living Corporate podcast, and it’s a Saturday if you’re listening to it when we air it, right? And you’re listening to See It to Be It. See It to Be It is a great show that I’m not the host of, but I’m like a B mic, you know? And shoot, I’ll let Amy talk a little bit about the guest that we have for See It to Be It today.
Amy: Yeah, I was really excited to land this guest, Zach, this week. So Celia Daniels is–she’s amazing. She just does everything. She does everything. She’s a an IT consultant at the highest levels of management consulting in the IT space and healthcare, she is an activist in the trans community, and she’s on the board for Trans Can Work, which is an organization in California that’s doing remarkable things for the trans community, helping trans people be gainfully employed, which seems like a no brainer, right? You want the best person for the job, the person happens to be trans, you hire them, no big deal. But man, that’s not the case. And it’s a shame because there are so many people out there that are so talented, like Celia, who struggle to find work just because of people’s prejudices. And, you know, as we were talking in the interview, I found out not only is she all of those things, she’s also a songwriter, a singer, a guitar player. I mean, she really does everything, and so we talk a lot in this interview about, you know, her experience, not just as a trans woman but as an immigrant, as someone from India, and all the different spaces that she occupies and what that looks like.
Zach: I mean, that sounds incredible. I can’t wait to one to hear the interview. I’m really excited about it. You know, we talked about the guest, and I can’t wait to hear what they what they got. Yeah, but before we get there, let’s go ahead make sure we TAP in with Tristan for his latest career tip.
Tristan: What’s going on, Living Corporate? It’s Tristan, and I want to thank you for tapping back in with me as I provide some tips and advice for professionals. This week let’s talk about requesting to work from home indefinitely. With COVID-19 cases on the rise in nearly every state throughout the US, many professionals are either continuing to work from home or transitioning back to work from home. According to a recent survey of 4,000 people by FlexJobs, 65% said they would prefer to work at home full-time after the pandemic. In that same survey, 95% of respondents say productivity has been higher or the same while working remotely. So if you fall in this number, here’s how you can request a more permanent work-from-home arrangement. First, you’ll want to set up a meeting with your boss and HR. Fast Company provides a really good template for this email, and we’ll link to it in the show notes. Next, you’ll want to create a proposal that you can present at the meeting. This proposal should include an outright request to work from home permanently, your reasoning for the request, any professional benefits from a permanent arrangement, and an outline of your potential schedule and team communication plan. Fast Company provided an excellent example that is also within the link in the show notes. If your boss is a little apprehensive about the arrangement, ask them what their concerns are, and develop a plan to address those. If they still aren’t in, consider a hybrid schedule where you are in the office a few days a week and at home for the other days. Thanks for tapping in with me this week. I look forward to talking to you next week! This tip was brought to you by Tristan of Layfield Resume Consulting. Check us out on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @LayfieldResume or connect with me, Tristan Layfield, on LinkedIn.
Amy: My guest today is Celia Daniels. Celia is an Asian Indian, non-op trans woman of color. She’s an entrepreneur, musician, photographer, storyteller, activist, and filmmaker. She writes and speaks passionately about the struggles and challenges she’s faced in her family, work and community, both in the United States and in India. As a management consultant with Fortune 100 companies, Celia educates, empowers and advocates for transgender and gender non-binary individuals in the business world. Celia brings an amazing intersectional blend of ethnicity, creativity, culture, religion and corporate experience to her activism. She received the 2019 Human Rights Campaign Equality Award for Outstanding Commitment and Service to Our Community. She is currently on the executive board for Trans Can Work and the VP of Stonewall Democratic Ventura County. Please welcome to the show, Celia Daniels.
Celia: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I’m so honored to be on the show.
Amy: Well, it’s an honor to have you here. I first learned about Trans Can Work at a reaching out MBA event. Gosh, a couple years ago, when I saw Michaela…
Celia: Oh, yes. Michaela Mendelssohn. Yeah.
Amy: Michaela Mendelssohn, yeah, I saw her speak, and she just did such a tremendous job. And she was, you know–she was so very relatable in, you know, the panel discussion that she had around the issues that trans folks face at work and, you know, the opportunities and all of the talent that we’re leaving on the table by excluding people from the workforce. And so we have so much to cover today, because I know that you’re on the board for Trans Can Work and you have, you know, a bio that goes on forever. I mean, you’re a musician and a filmmaker and a consultant, and you do all of these amazing things. But I guess where I’d really like to start is your background is in consulting strategically in the healthcare space. Can you tell us a little bit how you got into that work?
Celia: Yeah, absolutely. I think when I came to this country in the late, I would say in the late 90s, I was working with some of the best health care companies. I was working with the HMO, managing certain projects for them, and then I realized that I was getting involved with the payer side of, I would say, the health care industry. So I was working with Blue Cross. I’ve worked with Aetna, which is now [?], and then I was also working with United Insurance. So mostly the insurance side. I worked quite a bit on that. And then I slowly started working in the pharmaceutical space and biotechnology companies, and so in my experience that I have, in my professional experience, I’ve been working as a strategy consultant and also helping them in the IT strategy, coming up with ideas in terms of growing business, expanding business, giving them strategic ideas that can help them save costs, operating expenses, you know, all the usual stuff, people, process, technology, all that. So I worked in that entire space, and I was doing really well, and that’s how I got into this space. And I’m still consulting. In fact, my passion is more in the life sciences space, so I still consult for the biotechs and biopharmaceutical companies in Southern California and Northern California.
Amy: There’s so much in that, right? Because you have to have the engineering background, you have to have the business savvy, you have to be able to see things holistically, you know, to do strategy. Like, where did you start with that? Did you start from an engineering background or from a business background? Or were you–you know what I mean? Like, that’s a lot all at once, so I’m guessing in one place and sort of expanded.
Celia: Absolutely. My education is–I’ve done my master’s in computer science and my degree in computer science back in India, and after finishing my degree, I was, you know–I’m a programmer. I was working on lots of programs. I’ve written now programs for molecular modeling, I worked on the first Silicon Graphics workstation that came to India. I think the second Silicon Graphics workstation, they came to India and I worked on molecular modeling, as I mentioned earlier, and then DNA protein synthesis. I worked on crystallography projects back in India, which was one of the first human genome projects, and my experience was more in the computer science background. And I was absolutely writing code. I was a coder, and I was absolutely coding, and I really enjoyed programming. And then came a time where I had to, you know–my company needed my expertise more talking to clients and interacting with them, building that relationship beyond coding, and I was good at that. My CEO at the time, he said, “Hey, you do good. Why don’t you do it?” You know? I said, “No, I’m just a programmer. I want to be that way.” But I slowly transitioned into a part where I got into business development and I started helping growing accounts, and I was a partner in the company, and that’s how I grew in my career pretty fast, but I kind of lost my programming experience. But I do relate to the fact that I can, you know–when someone is doing coding in Python, now I’m like, “Oh, my God, tell me how to do it. I’m so excited about it.” So I really love it, and that’s how I got into the whole programming background to the management experience that I have today.
Amy: Absolutely. I love that you were able to come in in one place and make your footprint bigger, and I think that happens to so many of us, right? We find a niche that we think, “Oh, I’m gonna be right here, and we’re gonna do this,” and then someone sees the potential in us to do more and kind of, you know, thrusts that upon us, and we have no choice but to figure it out. And so, you know, so many times I’ll hear people say, “Well, I just want to focus.” Like, you get to do that for a while, and then, you know, at some point you get tapped on the shoulder to do more. So how did you then–I mean, being a strategic IT consultant to, you know, the biotech and pharmaceutical industry is a full time job plus, right? And then you do all of these other things in support of that or alongside that. Tell me a little bit about your role with Trans Can Work.
Celia: There was a transition in my professional to personal life, and I wanted to touch upon it, because that probably will give you more context in terms of why I got involved with nonprofits. So I was trying to come out in my work, and While I was successful as a businessman, I hadn’t transitioned at the time. I was still struggling with my gender identity. I had come out to my wife and my wife said, “Hey, don’t tell anyone because you’re an executive in a company. You don’t want to be losing your job,” and “It’s gonna be such a shame, you know, being in the IT industry.” So I was doing very well as a professional. I was successful. I’ve built accounts. I’ve grown accounts. I’ve globally done lots of things, Build Operate Transfer models for BPO companies, all that I can think of I have done. But personally, every time I’d go back to the hotel after my business presentation, I’d be sitting in my room and crying because I was going through gender dysphoria, which people don’t understand. Gender dysphoria is where you’re born, the gender that you’re born versus your preferred gender, which is the gender that I love to be. That’s the gender that I feel that is right for me. So there are a lot of people, trans people who actually have this kind of gender dysphoria, because it’s not aligning with the way they think, and so that’s why transgender people go through different issues. And being a professional and a consultant, I was successful in my business, and I went to a point where I couldn’t come out, and family wise my wife was like, “Oh, please don’t do it,” and I was just coming out of the wrong places, and I didn’t find where I found acceptance. Unfortunately, you know, the bar is is where I came out, and it wasn’t the ideal scenario, and when I used to go out in the bars, people thought I was a prostitute, and they would ask me, you know, “How much are you?” You know, “Would you come for 20 bucks?” And I was thinking to myself, “Oh, my God, they are misunderstanding me as a prostitute.” Not that prostitution is, you know, wrong. I have a lot of friends who are prostitutes, but for me to be associated as a prostitute because I was looking for acceptance in the wrong place, it kind of threw me off. And I was like, “I have a decent family, I have a decent job, I just came here to have a good time. Why people are doing this to me? Is this how people are being treated?” Because there is such a misconception about trans people, you know, and I wanted to change that and kind of be a trans person in a corporate setting and still change things. And I got, you know, abused in a bar by another transgender person, and I was going through a lot with that. 2:30 in the morning I was sitting in the car and crying, and I was thinking to myself, “I have a beautiful wife, I have a beautiful family, I have a nice house here in California, I have a great job. What is wrong with me?” I was struggling so hard in my head because I was not able to complain, and I slowly started coming out socially. Medically, I have not transitioned, but I slowly started coming out, and I got involved with organizations where I wanted to bring more awareness for people like me, and there is so much acceptance for people who are in the blue collar jobs, you know, if you can get a job at a restaurant, for a trans person, there are other ways in which you can make your living. But as an executive, when I have almost 23 plus years of experience in the healthcare industry, and when I came out, the job that I was offered was a case manager, and it was so demeaning to me. I was literally looking for a project manager job after I had built all these empires and businesses, and I was thinking to myself as to how can this change, you know? Can a person like me, who is a trans person at a senior director level, can I find something which is of my own caliber, rather than stepping down just because I look different? And I wanted to change that, and so I followed companies and I found Trans Can Work, and I was able to volunteer with them for a while, a couple of years, and then I spoke to Michaela. Michaela was very curious about my life. She was always asking, “Hey, Celia, can you come and, you know, help us here? Help us out? Give some ideas?” So I got involved, and then one fine day she said, “Celia, can you please join the board? Or would you like to join the board?” And I said, “Oh, sure, I’d love to, because I want to make a difference in the corporate sector.” That’s how I got involved in Trans Can Work.
Amy: There’s so much there that I want to dive into, and I think, you know, first and foremost, this notion that somehow, you know, despite having all of this work history and all of the success and all of these qualifications, it’s like you didn’t change, right? Nobody went into your brain and took out all of that knowledge and all of that skill and all of that perspective, and yet you were instantly devalued in a corporate setting in terms of what people expected you to be able to offer, and I can’t imagine how hard that must be. And I have to say when you said that you were a successful businessman, it took a second because I’ve only known you, you know, as an out trans woman, and, you know, I would imagine that you enjoy quite a bit of passing privilege, if I may say so. I mean, you’re gorgeous. And, you know, I would never look at you and think, “Oh, there’s a businessman,” right? And so just that dichotomy, right, of, like, thinking about yourself that way. And then making the transition was interesting, but, you know, I don’t even know, like, how to unravel that, because when you get treated one way, when you presented as a man versus when you presented as your authentic self and then got treated as less than, what does that tell you about, you know, this notion of meritocracy in the workplace, or, you know, this notion that, you know, we just need to do a good job and doing a good job will be enough? I mean, it just seems like that turns it on its head.
Celia: Yeah, absolutely. I did an experiment, it was a very interesting experiment that I did. What I did was, when I started coming out in the last company that I worked in 2017, I was trying to explain to them that I am genderfluid and a non-op trans, and they didn’t get it. They were like, “Okay, so are you going to transition? Or are you going to, you know, just be who you are? And what does it mean?” I said, “I’m genderfluid. Sometimes I would love to come out, you know? I want to express my feminine side, and I’m not going to lose the productivity, my work. This is who I am. This is my preferred gender. I want to be Celia. I also want to be Daniels at work. And this is how gender nonbinary, you know, folks are. So I was trying to see why the company is trying to stereotype me to the binaries. You either be a guy or if you’re able to go and pick one side, we will help you transition, but you need to pick a side, then I told them that not all of them are like me, because it looks like you’re not understanding the gender nonbinary side of, you know, how people think, and so I was educating them. So I quit that company and I was trying to find a job where I could be–I wanted to be a senior, and I applied for these jobs, the companies that actually fly all the pride flags during the June month, all these companies, Salesforce, Accenture, all these companies, I’ve tried applying for them, and when I put in my resume, my whole experience, I mentioned it as Daniels and also Celia in my resume, and I also mentioned my community work and the work that I was doing in the advocacy for trans community, and also my professional experience was in my letter. And when I started looking at all these, you know, I was trying to see if there’s a way I can get into this industry. And then bang, here goes everything. I went for these jobs and these interviews, and unfortunately, they wouldn’t hire me. Almost 30 companies in LA, I sent my resumes, and I was very honest about who I am, but they didn’t want to hire me because they saw my resume, they wanted, but then they looked at the other side and thought “This is a complicated process of a trans person being hired at a senior level.” If I transition in a company that I was working at, it’s much more easier, but if a company wants to hire an executive from the outside as a trans person into the fabric or the framework of the company, there’s a lot of change they need to do. And at a junior level, it’s fine. You know, they probably give you a desk and say, “Oh, we have a trans person there,” but when you’re an executive you’re actually the face of the company, not just at a branding level but also making a decision for the company. You’re literally there in the boardroom fighting with people who are women. And there are no women there, right? I mean, when you’re a trans woman, you’re like, “Why are you in here?” And that is how people look at me, and I was not given any opportunity after six months of trying. Then I went as Daniel. I took away all the Celia parts in my resume and I strived for a job. I took off everything and I took off the community activity. I just put it as a pure professional resume. Within one month, I had three job interviews and no questions asked. “We know you. We saw your resume. It looks great. Please come.” And when I looked at it–I didn’t join those companies, but I saw that there was so much disparity between talking about diversity, talking about equality, talking about inclusion, but when it comes to actual integration of those ideas and policies and making it happen, companies always take a backseat. [?], but the challenge is, if you want to make a change in the company, make it at the board level. If you want to bring diversity in your company, don’t just hire people so that they leave after three months. You know, that’s not how you want to do it. You want to do it at a point where it’s women’s rights, also same thing, like, trans women, trans men, everyone is valuable, you know? When you devalue a person because of their gender identity, to me that is such a demeaning thing, because I have not lost any of my experience. In fact, I can be even more creative and productive. And to be honest with you, I’m more powerful. I’m more energetic as Celia than as Daniels, and I found so much energy. I am so happy with what’s happening. People don’t normally understand, and that’s what I believe that we can change. Companies are moving the needle, but they are talking about it. But I just want to make sure, at all levels, even in the Supreme Court or even when you make decisions about diversity, should it be taught, and I would say in the corporate sector, even in schools, we need to have these conversations that are really difficult, because when you devalue a person, it becomes really hard for the person to exist in this world and live a normal life.
Amy: And I think when you keep people out of executive ranks or out of board seats because of their difference, you’re missing an opportunity, not just for the talent that you’re losing in that person, but the talent that you’re losing in all the people in your organization that know they don’t have a chance to see a path forward. Because why would they stick around if they know that they’re going to have to blaze that trail and the odds of being the one to blaze that trail, right, is really slim, and I think it’s interesting, too, that you said, you know, you started with the places that flew the biggest pride flags in June, and I think we’ve seen a lot of that this year with, you know, people, you know, blacking out their logos and flying, you know, supporting Black Lives Matter publicly, right, saying all the right things. But then when you go look at the website and you see who’s on their executive team, it’s, you know, 13 white guys and, like, three white women, right? And, you know, you hear about, you know, the systemic racism that’s intrinsic in these companies that are saying all these great things, you know, in support of Black Lives Matter, but they don’t actually want to change anything internally to make that real. And so, you know, it’s a shame that so much talent is being left on the table by these organizations, because, my gosh, we’ve got so many problems to solve in this world. How can we afford to let anybody sit out?
Celia: I know, yeah. I think it’s also important to focus on intersectionalities. I would say I’ve looked at almost all the Fortune 500 companies. I’ve looked at [the boat?], because I was doing branding for a small startup company, and it also depends on the industry. If it’s the financial industry, they have more white conservative men. And then if it’s the fashion industry, you have probably a few women in that, but they also have one person who’s probably Asian, Chinese, or, you know, they have some other ethnicity. There’s a Black person. But it’s just the way they want to bring some diversity because everyone is talking about it. “Hey, would you like to be a part of the board? We want to [bring in more color].” You know, I know what you’re trying to do. But please start somewhere, you know? Start somewhere. It’s okay to hire even one person just to bring in some change, because when you make the change, right, from the bathrooms to boardrooms for trans people, that is more important because it should not be just the bathrooms. “Oh, yeah, we have a gender neutral bathroom for you.” So, you know, “Be very happy.” Please give me a seat on the board room. And there are a lot of people who have actually [?] vice presidents, as you mentioned, clearly, they leave the talent on the table, because these are–I’ve seen a lot of people who are so qualified as CEOs of companies who have not been able to come out because they knew that they will lose their jobs, and the ones who are successful are actually the ones who actually came out and started on the road. Like Michaela, right? Michaela started on her own, and she said, “I’m going to get more jobs to the trans community,” and she did it. And so a lot of people are trying to do the best, but sometimes I think we also have to be patient. But I would love to see the change happening quickly, before it’s too late. It’s not the tenure of the CEO. It should be a long term process when you put them in place.
Amy: So let’s talk a little bit about some of the challenges that trans people are facing right now, and not just in the workplace, right? So we have all sorts of access issues, and I love what you said about, you know, it’s one thing to have a gender neutral bathroom. It’s another thing to have a gender neutral board seat. And, you know, there’s a lot of work to do, but I think the courage that it takes to be out and trans is just so–it’s so overwhelming when we see record numbers of trans women, especially trans women of color and black trans women in particular, being murdered, you know, women, trans women, in particular, being assaulted and harassed in public restrooms and public spaces. You know, a lot of black trans women face high prosecution rates because people assume that they’re prostitutes, and instead of, you know, engaging in a conversation with them in the hotel lobby, “Hey, how are you doing? Why are you down?” They go to the room and call the police, right, because they think that’s the right thing to do somehow. And then, you know, the rates of suicide and attempted suicide in the trans and nonbinary community is so high. The poverty rates are so high because of people who can’t get access to jobs. Like, there is so much to overcome. What form does your activism take? And how do you approach it? Like, what aspect of that are you trying to untangle first?
Celia: I think when you look at the whole oppression of the discrimination for a trans person–I created something called a transgender ecosystem, just for people to understand, and I had given this idea to the trans Latino coalition in LA, which was later presented to California and [?]. One of the frameworks that I presented to them was, if there is one trans person here, you know, what are the types of challenges they face? So I looked at this from a 360 degree angle, and I took the perspective where the child comes on at school, they get bullied there. When they go to college, they have different problems because of dorms and other issues they face. And then when they go to work, of course, you know, we’re talking about workplace discrimination, so many things have happened. And then they belong to certain communities. It could be the faith community, it could be the music community, you know, we have some issues there, especially when they’re trying to come out. And then when you look at housing, that is also another problem for transgender people. The housing issues are still a problem there. And then immigration is another issue. Healthcare is another issue. Because if you’re trans and you’re traveling to other countries–as a US citizen, when I’m traveling to India, I have a problem because my passport still says Daniels. It doesn’t say Celia, so I really cannot travel across the border, but my license in the U.S. is fine. It’s gender nonbinary, but you don’t have a gender nonbinary passport. You know, that’s another issue. And then when you’re talking about different–other aspects that I thought about was we talked about immigration, you know, when you’re talking about safety, how important it is for a person’s safety, then we’re talking about, if you’re in jail, the system is wrong, because, you know, if I’m arrested by the police and, because of my birth gender, I’m sent to a male prison, I don’t know, right–I won’t survive for an hour there. Even an hour, I’m dead. And then when you think about when the person is getting old, how would you like to bury the person based on their dignity, giving them the dignity of being who they are, or just because you think your family wants to bury them as the way you perceive them? So if you take the transgender ecosystem as a lot of oppression in the whole 360 degree angle, everywhere, it’s a lot, and I didn’t know where to start. I was looking at it, and I was thinking, let me first discover myself. Who is Celia? Who is this person inside Daniels? Why is she there? I was in denial for many years. I didn’t want to see Celia because I was married to a beautiful woman, and I’m still attracted to women. I’m not attracted to men. And so I always had this confusion whether I’m gay or not, or what’s going on with me. Am I a crossdresser or do I have gender identity issues? And then I started doing research. Now, when you read research, I mean, since I was in healthcare, I knew things. I was reading about policies, I was reading about everything, and I found that the research about trans people, which is, like, 1.7 million trans folks who live in the U.S., there’s not much of research on that, you know? There’s just a few articles I found in Stanford, John Hopkins, and a few Harvard Medical Laboratory articles, but not too much focused about why we need to help the transgender community, but it was so easy, and I started learning about it. And I thought, “I need to educate everyone,” you know? “Let me start educating people about me,” and I then started accepting myself too. I accepted myself, and I started explaining to my wife about me, and she was in denial for a long time because she didn’t want to see her husband as a woman. You know, it was hard for her. I mean, she’s an Indian cisgender woman and her husband is trans, and for her it was like, “Oh, my God, this is too much,” you know? And she was learning along with me, and 17 years it took for her to accept me. We’ve been married for 23 years, and it took 17 years for her to accept me. And my daughter is now–I came out to her when she was 15 years old, and now she’s 20 years old, and she’s very accepting, you know, so I have a healthy family life and my wife is accepting, my daughter’s accepting, and they all really appreciate and they know everything that’s happening. So I thought about it, and I thought, “Where can I start?” Then I thought about the younger generation. My daughter accepted me in 25 minutes. My wife took 17 years to accept. Why? It’s because she was born in a different culture, a different time. Like me, you know, I’m just one year older than her. So I looked at all the disparities, and I started focusing on our younger generation, any issues that they are going through, and so I wanted to help the younger trans folks who are coming out, because I went through a lot when I was a child. I would try committing suicide. I was always suicidal. I went through public shaming in India, and it wasn’t easy, you know, being an executive. Now, it’s all nice and fancy to people when they think about it, but I worked in India. I was born in India. I suffered a lot in India. I went through a lot in India too, but I know how difficult it is for the children to come out because the parents wouldn’t accept it. So early education I wanted to change as to where is the fundamental problem and how do we change it where you have a family that’s accepting, and then the child will thrive? I think that is where I started focusing my energy. And then, of course, I would love to go through the entire 360 degree spectrum of helping in every space, but I chose health care because that is really important for every human being. And when trans people are denied health care because they say your gender identity is different, to me that is like, “Why would you do that?” We are human beings. Don’t do that. You know, we are human beings. We need to go to the bathroom. Don’t do that. We don’t want to go to the bathroom and harass anyone there. I mean, you want me to go to a male bathroom? I can’t. I mean, I really cannot, and that’s where I think we need to change the whole fragment of the fundamental system, the systemic–when you talk about the systemic depression or the systemic way in which the whole country is ostracizing the trans community, and this is where it is happening too, you know, like Black Lives Matter is so important because it’s been happening. A lot of systemic discrimination of 400 years. Trans people have always been there, right from the dawn of time. A 4000 year old culture. Hello, this is nothing new. Gender fluidity was always there in India, 4000 years back. Now everyone says, “Oh, what happened? It’s so fashionable to come out as trans.” No, it is not. This is not a life choice.
Amy: And, you know, a lot of places in the world–and my understanding, correct me if I’m wrong, but in a lot of places in the world, there was not this binary of gender, and it wasn’t until colonialism spread throughout the world and, you know, the European religious doctrines started permeating other cultures, that these things even became taboo in a lot of places or became, you know, a source of discrimination or shame. And, you know, I’m wondering, like, how much decolonization did you have to do of your own mind and your own identity, you know, to come to an understanding and appreciation of who Celia is?
Celia: That’s an amazing question, and I wanted to quickly touch upon it without going in detail, because India as a country has always been very gender fluid and very spectrum. There’s a spectrum in sexual orientation and a spectrum in gender fluidity ’til the colonials came down there and they put a binary rule. They criminalized people, like, who are trans or who are in same sex relationship, and so they all went into hiding. And when I came out in India, the only people that I could identify were the Hijra communities, and the Hijra communities, these are people who have been rejected by their families. If your family has thrown you outside the home, [it was] the only place you could go. Everyone would take a train or bus and go to Mumbai and they would find refuge there, because that’s where they were hosting all these people, and they had a system of taking care of the trans community. And it was very religious based, too. That’s why it’s a Hijra community. And there are other people in India who are trans, but they don’t identify with the religious Hijra, Hindu culture. Like me, if I come out, I cannot identify in the Hijra community because I’m a Christian. And so for me, coming out and identifying with the Hijra community would have been really hard. So when I saw that kind of decolonization, the only thing that hit me was, “I identify with you, I am you, but I don’t want to be you.” And that is how I was thinking about myself. I don’t want to be a beggar like you. I don’t want to be a street performer like you. I don’t want to be a sex worker like you, but I am you. I identify with you. And one of the reasons why I didn’t come out in my childhood is because if I had come out, my only two choices if my parents kicked me out was join a Hijra community, become a trans person and do all this performance in India. That’s for survival. There’s no way you can study. There’s no way you can do that. Or kill myself. I tried killing myself, because I didn’t want to do this. A lot of self harm, but I didn’t find that really helpful because the decolonization could really cause so much damage to the trans and LGBTQ community in India, which was not there at all, and that’s why now we are also educating the Indian community. We’re taking all the mythology, the ancient Hindu ideas and ideologies and talking about the gods and goddesses and saying that this is how Indian culture was. Why was this messed up over a period of years? And if you can accept a Hindu culture, why do you discriminate against a transgender person? Now, it’s so interesting when you give them the idea that you learn from the history. You don’t create your own history, you have to learn from the history to be a more better person over the period of centuries and centuries, and I don’t know why–you rightly touched upon a point where 33 trans women were just killed this year. There’s so much issues and colonization that has happened that has taken off this beautiful spectrum in every country, in every culture. Like, the Native American culture has close to five genders. And so a lot of things have happened, and yeah, that’s one of the reasons why I think that we should be–we need to go and re-educate history, learn from history and move on to what we can do better in the future.
Amy: Absolutely. And from a multicultural perspective, so that people can understand where we are, in this moment, our current understanding of who people are, who people could be, is not how it’s always been. And it’s not the only way to be, and I applaud you, Celia, seeing the options, right, the obvious options in front of you and saying, “That’s not who I am. I’m capable of something different. I want to do something different.” And I can’t imagine how much resilience and courage and just inner strength it’s taken for you to be the amazing woman that you are, but also, you know, with all of the success in your career, and you know, with a strong family unit, you know, I’m very blessed to know you, and I’m very grateful that you’re here with us, and I’m very grateful for your voice and your work and your contribution. Thank you so much.
Celia: Thank you so much, Amy, for giving me this opportunity. I’m blessed for having a wonderful family and beautiful allies like yourself, and you’re a part of the community. I’m so thankful for this platform.
Amy: Thank you very much. Hello, everyone. I’m back with Celia Daniels, and I had mentioned in her bio that she’s a musician, and so I asked her after we wrapped up the interview, “What do you play?” And she said–well, she plays guitar, she’s a songwriter, and we’re actually going to close this episode out with a song that she wrote. So can you tell me and our audience a little bit about the song, what it means to you, and tell us a little bit about the harmonies in the music.
Celia: Absolutely. So I play the guitar and I write songs. I’ve written a lot of songs, more than 40 songs in my life, and most of them are about the issues that I was going through. When I was in dark moments, I used to write a song. But during the Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2011, when I went to the first Transgender Day of Remembrance, I was just looking at the pictures of trans people getting killed because of who they are, you know? They have not done any harm. They have not committed any crime, but they were just murdered because they were trans. And I was just crying, you know, standing in the audience. I was thinking about it. And, you know, I was thinking I should do something about it. You know, “How do I express this?” And I have spoken a lot about it. I have always also even conducted safety workshops for that, but one thing that hit me was as a musician, “What am I going to do?” So I wrote the song about a transgender murder, and I also brought a lot more hope, you know, that we will not be erased and lots of aspects into it, where I sang as Celia and I also sang as Daniels, and then I harmonize both. So I think I did more genderfluid vocals into it, and I had some amazing musicians who played from the Music Institute in Hollywood, and it was interesting because I was not planning to sing the song. I was having a professional singer sing the song, and they told me, “Hey, you need to sing because this is your song, and can you sing?” and I said, “I’ve not sung as Celia, but I can sing as Daniels.” And so I tried, and so I sang as Celia and I also harmonized in my Daniels voice just to give a variety that I’m a person of two spirits, and all of us have wonderful spirits in our life, and we enhance it through music, through art, through creativity, through spectrums of color, through anything that we can do. You know, innovation, everything that matters. So to me the song is–and I will be playing the song, but to me, the song is so personal because I was always amazed at the fact that “How do we keep moving on with life when we have so much oppression?” I know we talked about it, but, you know, please listen to the song. It’s amazing, and I believe that when we express ourselves through music, it’s always so comforting for me, and I hope it is comforting to you as well, when you’re listening to the song.
Amy: Thank you so much. And I love the way you encapsulated that about, you know, let us not be erased, because I think it’s so important that people are remembered, and that we appreciate people when they’re here and we don’t forget them when they’re gone. Thank you, Celia, so much. Thank you.
Zach: Yo, Amy, that was incredible.
Amy: Thank you. Yeah, you know, this week–for those who don’t know, we’re airing this episode on November 21. Yesterday, November 20, was Trans Day of Remembrance in 2020, and, you know, that’s the day that we honor the lives lost in the trans community, specifically lives lost to violence and suicide. And I want to be very clear about this for people who don’t know–and this is not, like, an upbeat thing to end the show on, so we got to do something after this to kind of pick us up, right? But 2020 is seeing the worst violence ever against the trans community, against trans people, trans women of color, and black trans women in particular are especially vulnerable, and we have set a record every year for at least the last four years in terms of the number of murders of black and brown trans women. So this is something that we all need to be aware of, and, you know, step up and show our support anywhere we can, because people’s lives truly are on the line.
Zach: You’re 100% right. And I’m glad. I’m honored, one, that we’re able to have this conversation. And that song, that song was incredible.
Amy: And I love that she harmonizes–so I say she. I spoke with Celia. She’s gender fluid. She identifies as a non-op trans woman. And so while I refer to her, she’s singing in both her male and her female voices and harmonizing with herself in that song. I mean, it was just incredible. You know, you talk about talent, right? To be able to not only write and produce it, I mean, my gosh, I can barely play a song on iTunes, much less on a guitar with my voice. So just incredible what she’s doing, what she’s capable of doing. And, you know, just a great reminder that we need this talent in the world, and we shouldn’t overlook it.
Zach: 100%. Shout out to Celia. Shout out to the trans community. Shout out to black trans women. And, you know, shout out to you, Amy. This is good work. You know, like, this is good. Thank you. I’m thankful and I’m excited for you, and thank you for your your presence here.
Amy: I’m just so glad to have a platform to share these stories.
Zach: I mean, it’s a blessing. It’s a blessing for us all to be doing what we’re doing. I’m curious, you know, you said end it on a light note. I feel like we had a conversation–so, like, you know, you’re not a musical person, but you do like limericks.
Amy: I don’t know if I can do a limerick on Trans Remembrance Day. That’s a little too light.
Zach: That’s way too light. We’re not that kind of–
Amy: We can’t do that. But you catch me next week, and we’ll do a limerick next week.
Zach: I appreciate that.
Amy: Alright. I will leave you with this though. If you want to hear more voices like Celia’s, if you want to hear more stories like this one, the best way to do that is to support Living Corporate, and there are a number of ways you can do that. The easiest way is as soon as you’re done listening to this episode, go give us a five star rating and write us a quick review. And, you know, there are other ways to support us as well. Right, Zach?
Zach: There are other ways to support us. You know, what you can do is you can just tell a friend about us. You know what I’m saying? You know what I mean? Tell a family member, right? Tell your crazy uncle. Oh, my goodness. Wait, this is gonna air right before Thanksgiving, huh? Yo, so this what you need to do. Send this episode to the family member that you like to annoy because you don’t agree with their political and social views, and then when y’all have y’all’s Zoom Thanksgiving, bring it up. In fact, what you could also do, you know, is just, like, send it to the entire family. Right? It’s really good conversation content.
Amy: Yeah. Here’s a real person that our policies affect, and let’s talk about that. Yeah. Ooh, bravery. I love it.
Zach: I’m just saying. I mean, what do you have to lose? You’re not gonna see ’em in–well, you shouldn’t be seeing them in person anyway.
Amy: Well, that’s true.
Zach: I mean, I would hope that people are staying home. Stay at home, everybody. Just stay home.
Amy: Zoom. Thanksgiving Zoom.
Zach: The CDC is out here saying don’t even travel.
Amy: Don’t even go there. Yeah.
Zach: Don’t even go. So yeah, no, look, this has been great. I appreciate you, Amy. Thank you so much. Shout out again to Celia, and we’ll catch y’all next time.
Amy: Take care.