Transgender people’s experiences are really very different, so there’s really no one sort of blanket transgender experience. It’s really about listening to individuals in terms of who they are and accepting people on their own terms.
– Laverne Cox
Transgender is a term that is used for individuals whose gender identity varies from what is associated with their biological gender. According to 2011 findings from the Williams Institute, the transgender population represents about 700,000 people or 0.3% of American adults. Despite recent media coverage of the glamorous lifestyle within the transgender community, the average transgender person in America does not live that lifestyle.
Anousine Phommasarn, who goes by the nickname of “Dang”, is a 28-year-old who works full time. Her background is unique and supported at Excelsior College, where diversity and inclusion are part of the culture and led by the President’s Committee on Inclusion (PCI). Working at the Excelsior College DC Center, Dang is the office administrator. Identifying as a woman, Dang expresses that getting hired by Excelsior is where she found hope again. She admits, “Everyone here respects me and addresses me as a woman. No one ever questions me or my past.”
Dang’s family emigrated from Thailand and moved to the States when she was barely six months old. High Point, North Carolina would become her new home. However, growing up as a little boy didn’t seem as complacent for her. “I always knew ever since I was little,” Dang explains. “I just felt that I was born in the wrong body.” Dressing up and playing with dolls felt like the norm for her, despite societal gender biases. She admits, “My parents couldn’t relate or understand so they brushed it off as if it were a phase. But it wasn’t a phase and I didn’t grow out of it.”
Dang decided to fully transition into living as a woman when she was 18 years old and a freshman college student. “I wore women clothes to school and work and started to address myself as a woman because I wasn’t living at home,” Dang expresses. “I was really about to become who I always thought I was.”
For Dang, she claims that ironically everything came natural for her. She didn’t go through the physical changes that the average teenage boy goes through.
“I didn’t grow facial hair, my voice didn’t get deeper, and I got more feminine as I got older. I’m still natural at the age of 28. I don’t take any hormonal supplements. I didn’t do voice therapy. It was an easy transition for me. The hardest part was allowing my family, friends, coworkers and those who knew me before the transition to properly adjust and learn how to address me. That was the biggest challenge of the transitioning part.”
Although Dang’s father is a pastor and there is religious conflict among her decision to transition, she had a strong support group that consists of her family, friends and colleagues after her full transition.
In 2009, Dang graduated from college, had significant internship experience prior to graduation, and worked four years in a nonprofit organization. She was a well-seasoned professional who would be qualified for any relevant position she would apply for. However, during her job hunt she would discover that securing a new job would not be so easy for her the second time around. “Before landing a job with Excelsior, I went to 37 interviews. The phone interviews always went well. I would more than likely get hired but when I came in to do the in-person interview portion, their reactions weren’t as enthusiastic as it was during our phone conversations,” she admits. “On applications I would [legally have to] check off ‘male’ for the gender option, but when I come in person they would see someone completely different.” Ultimately this would lead to employers choosing another candidate for the positions.
Undiscouraged by her job search results, Dang would finally apply for a position at Excelsior College and sought acceptance. She says, “Excelsior helped me open a new chapter in my life and they accepted me as not only a transgender woman but as an individual who qualifies for this position and holds value, has strong work ethic and brings experience to the table.”
As mentioned previously, Excelsior College acknowledges that diversity involves recognition and respect and fosters this work environment though the President’s Committee on Inclusion.
So what advice does Dang have for others? When it comes to gender identity, she advises that colleagues, human resource staff, and supervisors should wait until a transitioning individual is ready to open up publicly about their identity and then address them appropriately. Dang will be a guest panelist for PCI at the College. She will be able to provide the audience with more insight on how to be more transgender inclusive within the work environment. In the meantime, Dang advises that colleagues continue to be an ally or support for all individuals in workplaces everywhere. “Sometimes you just never know what the person in the next cubicle is going through.”