Celebrating PRIDE: Meet Angel (she/her), who knows the power of ‘living out loud’

Story by Michael Ko

About 12 years ago, Angel was beginning her gender transition process. A Starbucks barista at the time, she felt ready to come out in the workplace and scheduled a meeting with her store manager. She was nervous. Declaring herself an openly trans person was not going to be easy. 

“Of course, it was one of the most difficult experiences, but I knew I couldn’t transition without having agency for myself,” Angel recalls. “I told my store manager, ‘I’m going to transition, my preferred name is Angel and my pronouns are she/her.’ (The store manager) shared that with the rest of the team and said, ‘We will honor that, we will respect that and this isn’t an issue up for debate.’

“She embraced me with love. I felt seen by somebody that I admired. She had a liking for my work ethic and saw so many great things in me. Just because I told her I was trans, that didn’t erase those things. It didn’t change those things about me.”

Angel thinks back to that moment of positive allyship as pivotal in her development, both personally and professionally. At a vulnerable time, she felt like she belonged. Encouraged by other leaders who pushed and encouraged her, Angel is now a Starbucks store manager herself in Washington, D.C. – and a good one at that.

Angel holding a tablet in her hand and talking with two other partners in the Starbucks store

Several times, she’s been recognized as a top store manager in her area. She helped organize a Starbucks volunteer tent at a recent trans visibility march in D.C. and also led a table talk for the Starbucks Black Partner Network, a partner (employee) resource group, around her experience as a Black trans woman. She’s also led barista training workshops, promoted civic engagement in her community and organized local toy and literacy drives. Her store’s customer connection score is the highest in her district. 

Here, in her own words, she shares some of her perspectives and experiences, and talks about how to be an ally to the trans community, why pronouns are all about respect and what it means to try and be yourself during a time of increasing anti-trans legislation across the country.

On her experiences with gender as a child, and societal norms around gender…

“At a young age, I started wearing girl clothes. I was 11, 12 (years old), putting on my mom’s shoes. People would say, ‘You know you’re not supposed to play with that. You’re not supposed to do that.’ Little kids experience that all the time. It’s a form of trauma.

“We have to rethink what normal looks like, rethink what a boy or girl is supposed to do. If you have a child who is different or doesn’t identify as either, or isn’t your typical kid for whatever reason, why do we have the associations we have – colors, job expectations, their toys. We have to try not to limit them. Had I not been gender policed when I was a kid, who knows what talents I would have developed if I had the safety to do so?

“Don’t force your kids to be anyone other than who they say they are.”

On her journey of becoming more comfortable in her own skin…

“At the beginning of my transition, people were calling me out, taking pictures, (referring to me as) ‘that thing.’ The first time that happened, it was crushing. I cried. The things that people would say were outrageous.  

“I got to a point where I didn’t have to deal with that all the time, and I knew I had more to offer than my trans-ness… I wanted to make myself the best shift supervisor. I was always on time. My store was the cleanest. I’d check every little box at work. But it was very stressful. I built this armor of wanting to make everything perfect, to the point of anxiety… Because I was trans, I felt I had to do more to earn my keep.

“I’m in a place, probably the last two years, I feel a little more liberated… I’m in a place now where I’m a mother to many, and I can give that advice to trans partners or gender non-conforming partners. The more that I’m living out loud and expressing that I’m trans, I’m starting to become more comfortable at work, and certainly more comfortable about not letting my trans-ness feel like a burden in any way.”

On seeing trans people as people, and respecting their chosen identity and pronouns…

“I think we have to create that culture of not making assumptions, and creating that level of professionalism that is required to work with people of all walks of life, just like we do with different religious beliefs. Ask before you say anything that could be damaging. For trans and gender non-conforming people, misgendering them is one of the most obvious forms of verbal violence that you can commit. It is truly one of the most hurtful things you can say to someone who is struggling with identity or transitioning through gender. Respecting me is using my pronouns and my name and how I choose to identify.

“Sometimes I don’t want to lead with being trans. That’s not the only thing I want to be seen as. I’m also Black, I’m also a creative… I am a house mother for the Legendary House of Comme Des Garcon (an organization committed to supporting and uplifting the LGBTQ+ community).  If you’ve seen ‘Pose’ (a television drama about New York’s drag scene), you’ll kind of understand my leadership role. My work as a house mother encompasses me being a resource of love, advice and sometimes feedback to help my members/kids grow. I pour into them all.”

On what it means to be an ally to someone who identifies as trans…

“(About six years ago) I transferred to another store with a manager, Meskerem, who poured into my development. Every day was class. She was able to teach me about business acumen, ordering, managing waste, running a store that was busier than my old store. She didn’t see my trans-ness, she just saw my work.

“Being an ally means creating a sense of belonging, making sure that we are creating a space where that trans person or trans youth doesn’t feel like they’ll be penalized for being vulnerable and transparent about their identity or experience. And within that, words of affirmation, affirming that this is a safe space…

“And when things happen, making sure we’re not bystanders, that we are present and we are advocates for trans and gender non-conforming people when they are and when they are not in the room. It means so much more to me if you’re an advocate when I’m not there.”

On the power of living life more visibly…

“For many years, I didn’t talk about my trans-ness. I just wanted to be the best person for the job. The beauty of my experience has been that once you do free yourself, the possibilities are endless. A lot of those achievements (recognition for being a top store manager) happened after I was visible. After I was more forthcoming and more comfortable and honest, I was able to live up to my potential and things fell into place. I was able to work harder and be free around my identity and not have to be secretive.”