Thursday, 8 April 2021

Interview with Dani Masterson

Monika: Today I am going to talk to Dani Masterson, an inspirational transgender woman from Boston, Massachusetts. Dani is a fashion model, social media influencer, transgender activist, and sales consultant in the pharmaceutical industry. She advocates raising awareness for transgender inclusion in the workplace. Hello Dani!
Dani: Hello Monika, thank you for having me.
Monika: You are a woman of many talents. Could you say a few words about yourself? 
Dani: Oh thanks, I appreciate that. However, what I can tell you is that like any other human I also have many areas of opportunity. I think what you are describing as "talents" I'd like to categorize as dedication. I am someone who is very determined and committed to putting the work in on whatever makes me feel passionate. I found it rewarding to be able to contribute to my community by showing the world a woman of transgender experience can be someone well rounded, wholesome, and beautiful beyond the physical aspects.
Monika: When did you develop your interest in fashion and modeling?
Dani: Since I was a little girl I've always loved fashion and modeling. I remember my first runway back in my little hometown when I was only 15 years old - before transition. I can tell you even then I fantasized l was Adriana Lima or the hot model of the moment lol. I believe gender expression is key and acts as a great tool to minimize gender dysphoria. 
Whenever I model I love to convey a message that anyone can be beautiful regardless of their physical appearance or gender. Confidence is sexy. I think being able to express an emotion, ignite a memory or tell a story through an image is powerful and for me the ultimate goal.

"Increasing our visibility in the media and the
workforce is key to expedite progress."

Monika: How did you get on with cis women models? Did they accept you well?
Dani: I think the words we utilize are important. Whenever someone uses the common expression "accepting someone else '' I always let them know that I prefer to use the word "understanding”. Nobody has the power of "accepting" someone else as no one is better than anybody else, we are all equal. I strongly believe we should start utilizing more inclusive language so society starts seeing us as equals.
To your question, yes, I have met different cis women models and we have had great collaborations. I think something that serves me well is to hear and inquire about their journey as we all have a story. If you engage with anyone’s personal journey, the conversations move from “what makes us different to what brings us closer as women and as society”.
Monika: There are more and more trans girls that are successful as fashion models. Do you think that the fashion industry has started to perceive us in a more positive way?
Dani: I definitely believe that companies overall not only in the fashion industry are actively striving to incorporate more initiatives to be proactively more inclusive. I am happy the media is slowly showing a more positive representation of our community. However, there is still so much work to do. I often think about the barriers trans people in other countries face. Where being LGBT+ is still a crime. Increasing our visibility in the media and the workforce is key to expedite progress. A high percentage of people get educated exclusively from the media who have vilified us for ages, creating very hurtful and ignorant stigmas around the matter.
Monika: You work as a sales consultant in the pharmaceutical industry. Did you have to quit modeling?
Dani: Even when I try to take on modeling projects as much as I can, I have made my work in the pharmaceutical industry my main focus at this point. In addition, I recently had a discussion with my manager about my vision to shift my development plan and pursue a career with the inclusion and diversity team within the company. The statistics of our highly marginalized community are so staggering, thus my passion for social justice has increased tremendously in the last couple of years. I envision making the corporate world a more inclusive and safer place to work for everyone.
Monika: Do you remember your interview? Were you open about your transgender status? 
Dani: Oh it's been a while now, but no, I did not share anything about my gender identity then. Actually I just recently came out at work. I took some time off of work to take care of my healthcare needs and then came back and spoke to my manager and peers upon my return. I documented the specifics on a video and an article you can find on my YouTube channel and my website One of the things that made me really anxious was the thought of having to come out at work and have multiple 1:1 conversations with people, so I utilized this video as a tool to reintroduce myself. Ever since I have been able to host some educational events within GSK. You can also find a copy of those talks on my YouTube channel.
Monika: What would you recommend to trans girls and women looking for a job?
Dani: If you have the possibility of studying, do it, education is critical. It empowers you in many ways. For those who already have a degree, continue to find ways to challenge yourself (learn a new language, a new skill, take a technology workshop, etc.). In this globalized and so evolving world we live in, we have to keep up with all the constant changes, otherwise we can become obsolete. Embrace change, give back to your communities, volunteer, get involved by networking, especially in the field you are looking to join is the best way to land a good opportunity.

"We as women need to start empowering and
supporting each other in the workplace."

In addition, I would encourage you to believe in yourself, to believe you are truly the best candidate for that job you are interviewing for, your confidence and preparation for that meeting will be critical for landing that opportunity. Lastly, we as women need to start empowering and supporting each other in the workplace, we grow faster when we help and elevate others. Be that team member people will rely on. Become a leader within your own team. I promise you, the right job opportunities will come your way.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. It seems that you did not pay such a high price. What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Dani: This is a great question and unfortunately a sad reality. One of the wisest pieces of advice someone has ever given me was my therapist on my very first session, she said "You are about to start a journey, where you may lose a lot of close people but that's OK".
At first, it didn't really resonate with me. Sadly I quickly learned what she meant. Looking back, many people who I considered my closest friends then and even some family members, we no longer talk. However, real love and respect have no limitations, when someone truly loves you unconditionally they won't put restrictions on the relationship especially if you just decided to embrace your true self. I am glad those people left and made space for the right people to come into my life, the right energy, the right family. The family you choose.
To the second part of your question, I'd say the hardest thing about coming out was the "timing" I often think I should have done it way earlier. At the same time, I try to reframe my thoughts and think I did what I could with the resources I had at the moment and then took action to get me closer to my goals and that is all you can do.
Monika: Was your mother surprised by your transition? Did she accept it?
Dani: It’s funny you ask about my mother specifically. Why not my father? Hehe well, in any case, my father passed when I was a teenager, so I didn't have the opportunity to officially come out to him, but I think both of them always knew.
To be honest, the relationship with my mother throughout my life has been very unique. She comes from a very conservative family, culture (Hispanic), generation, and religion. There have been times when we have been really close and others where we go time without talking. I left my house at a very early age (21) and never came back. When I officially told her I had started medically transitioning, she was very positive about it, respectful and very progressive and understanding for her generation I was actually surprised.

"I left my house at a very early
age (21) and never came back."

There was a period of time at the beginning where she would go back and forth and deliberately misgender me by calling me son instead of a daughter for example. Even when it hurts I honestly think our parents and loved ones who decide to stay with us in this journey are also "transitioning with you" and do need some time to adjust. I know she loves me so much and knows this life is right for me. We have a good relationship at present time and lately, we have been communicating quite often.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Dani: Yes I am overall. However, I would not say I am so happy with the occasional adverse events or the cravings (like gaining weight after drinking a glass of water, haha) but hey it comes with the territory right? The effects that notably were more satisfying are the mental ones. The way it shapes your personality, the way I approach, analyze and enjoy things differently now (even sex). My senses are on point, especially feel and taste. I feel way more at peace and I'd say less aggressive, which definitely makes me feel more in sync and balanced with my true self.
As for the physical changes, I honestly didn't see major ones as I considered myself to look pretty similar prior to HRT but maybe just slightly enhanced, softer skin and healthier hair. So yes, I'd say I am very satisfied and thankful overall. 
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. You look like a million dollars yourself so maybe this question is not relevant for you. But do you have some advice on how we can cope with this?
Dani: Aw thanks for saying that. First, at my last talk at GSK, I was having a conversation about how I don't like that term because despite our passing privileges, we are all valid and our existence should be respected.
On the other hand, it is such a cruel reality. The way people treat you is directly is often linked to what degree you pass, impacting your overall well-being and quality of life. If you pass, you do have a great advantage for all the privileges you will automatically obtain but if you don't society will vilify you and marginalize you, contributing to -that horrible loop of " 1. I don't pass - 2. I am harassed -discriminated -unemployed -not access to housing - often not access to a healthy fulfilling relationship perhaps (that varies as we all have a different opinion of what is a good or bad relationship). In the end, this creates a huge affective need and insecurities in the individual who as a result will likely want to fulfill those voids with the wrong people who can deteriorate your overall health in many ways.
In addition, in many cases that leads to extreme poverty forcing people to get involved in underground economies such as prostitution and drugs in order to survive. The icing on the cake happens when the media capitalize on those aspects of our community fueling confusion and creating very hurtful stigmas around the matter.
Lastly, I'd advise anyone - cisgender or transgender. Surgeries shouldn't be taken as a tool to fix our problems. We need to respect and listen to our bodies and most importantly know when we need to pull the breaks. For each surgery you'd like to undergo, I'd encourage you to also nurture your mind to maintain a healthy balance.


All the photos: courtesy of Dani Masterson.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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