Professor Comes Out As Transgender: An Interview

Jacob DeCarli ’22, Associate managing Editor

Diana “Dee” Dragani, visiting scholar of Italian, came out as a transgender woman on Thursday, March 21 via Instagram and Facebook. In her written post, Dragani explained that she came out to her colleagues two weeks prior and said, “Almost 28 years of lying and pretending I was someone else are erased by the joy of finally being my true self.” The Dickinsonian sat down with her on Tuesday, March 26, to discuss her position as the first out transgender faculty member at Dickinson. 

The Dickinsonian: Can you describe your coming out process?

Dee Dragani:

“I’ve known about this since I was fourteen years old, but when I first came out to my family I actually came out as gay…I didn’t know that I was trans. I just wanted to know that I wanted to be a woman. So, my family didn’t react well, and I covered it up. So for 14 years I lived a gay life, but not a nice one. I never had a partner, in the sense of a relationship, because that’s not what I was feeling. I wasn’t really attracted to gay men in a way, and so when I was in Italy it was always really hard for me to come out. My closest friends knew, my family didn’t. When I came here, because of Dickinson and the United States as well, people are more aware of gender and sexuality issues, and so being here made me think ‘you know what, this might be the perfect space for me to come out because maybe people will support me because it’s a very educated environment.” I have a really good friendship here with my colleagues, and I came out to them first, then my department, then the whole [staff in] Bosler. Once that was done, I talked to my family, and the response this time was very positive and supported, and then I came out on social media. Hopefully everyone knows by now. 

TD: How have your students reacted to your coming out?

DD: My students are amazing; they all respected this choice. They started calling me “Professoressa” [the female, Italian noun for ‘Professor’] instead of “Professore” [the male, Italian noun for ‘Professor’] which, for me, is something that fills my heart with joy. It’s weird at first, but they use female adjectives, pronouns, and I’m really happy for that. That’s the happiest thing for me now.

TD: Have you faced problems since coming out?  

DD: The only problem as of now is actually living as trans but looking like a man. Presentation wise, it’s what bothers me the most because I try as much as I can to present as female but being Italian my facial hair is dark and that doesn’t help. I want to start electrolysis or laser [procedures], but I need to be back in Italy, or if I find a new job, maybe I can get that. My insurance doesn’t cover it as of now and that’s really expensive. It’s always a matter of time, [and to] always be patient and try to do as much as I can to do the basics as of now. The problem is I am not American, so I cannot start the process here and I have to start in Italy. As of now this will be two months of basic things I can do like therapy, getting information on Italian laws, and what I have to bear to continue this process. If I find a new job [then] I have to make sure they are accepting of this. Many states can still deny jobs to trans people, and I think universities are all okay, I hope, so that’s also a struggle. 

TD: What are the laws like in Italy that involve trans rights and the queer community and how does that worry you since you are leaving [the United States] in a couple months?

DD: “I’m not that aware of laws in Italy. I don’t think that our constitution states that people can deny jobs based on sex, but I don’t know about gender. I don’t think we have gender in the constitution. I’m not sure, and I’m really afraid to look it up. But I believe people cannot fire you because you are trans. My problem is that when I lived in Italy in my hometown, there weren’t a lot of transgender people, so I really don’t know how that would affect me. I am a little bit scared when I’ll start transitioning. I’m used to being discriminated against, yelled at or insulted publicly for being gay. But for being transgender that’s another thing. Also, it continues coming out, it was a little bit distressing and tiring, but as long as my family and close friends know and have their support, I am okay.  Here, in the states, it will be better because times are getting better…being trans is getting better. But there are worse places to be trans, and as of now I don’t want to be the coward that leaves the country because the laws are better in other countries. But, for my life, the United States is better in many aspects including the trans part of my life. The problem with trans people is bathrooms. For me, now, the problem of having to go to male bathrooms is bad. I got used to the feeling of being in that restroom, but it’s something that kills you a little bit every day when you enter that restroom and you have to share that space that doesn’t reflect that persona. I hope that gender neutral bathrooms will be a thing in all buildings at Dickinson.

TD: You mentioned the positive support that you got from the community. What do you think contributed to that? 

DD: I don’t know if there’s a specific factor that helped the community to have this good of a reaction on social media and on campus. I believe that education is key in these cases. The more educated you are, the more you can see that we are all the same. Being a professor, I think for students and for my students, they respect me as professor no matter who I am as a person, and it can be helpful. I think this college has [more] trans students than years before; 4 years ago, I knew one person that identified as trans. Through the years, we have more kids who identify as trans, and that helps the community to see a different side of the community. Events on campus help, there are not many, but this is not a college about gender and sexuality so we cannot expect to have just those. 

TD: So, if I’m not mistaken, this nakes you the first openly transgender professor at Dickinson?

DD: I think so.

TD: How does that make you feel?

DD: Great! I’ve been the first in many situations, I’ve had many records whether they are positive or negative.  I’m used to being the first. Being the first professor, if I am the first openly trans one, it’s something that, because I’m only visiting, I don’t even know if students—let’s say, the firts openly identifying gay professor came to Dickinson and gay students reached out to them, so maybe being the first out trans professor I could expect trans identified students to reach out to me. But, because I’m visiting, I’m leaving in two months, and I cannot be the support that students would like me to be. But also, I’m new to this. I don’t know at what point I can be that support. As a professor, life doesn’t change that much, I just see a supportive community among my colleagues in different departments. Everyone has been very supportive on social media. It’s weird sometimes when people want to be supportive, they don’t realize it, but they can be micro- aggressing it. Again, as I told you before, I was used to a different type of microaggression being a foreigner, being gay and presenting as female. Now I have to readdress that being used to a different person. I cannot be the teacher to everyone– I cannot educate everyone who misgenders me or say stuff like ‘oh did you straighten your hair? Now you know what it’s like to be a woman.’ I’ve been having long hair for twelve years now, so I already knew how to do this. Those kinds of things can be problematic and micro-aggressive, but I don’t have the time and strength to educate people.

TD: That was actually my next question: today we talk about how marginalized peoples and communities are expected to educate others on certain issues. Have you been put in that position most of your life?

DD: Yeah. I was the first openly ‘gay’ person in my high school and in my year. Italian high schools are different, so for the five years of school I was the only openly gay student for at least four years… I had to educate my professors in high school, so that was the beginning of my education process in the world. Even at university in one of my Chinese classes we were talking about culture in a class of 30 people, and I wasn’t the only out gay, so I asked the question “So, how is it being gay in China?’ and the professors were like ‘I don’t want to talk about it’–and this was only 7 years ago. It’s not that they weren’t supportive, they were just embarrassed and felt it was not their place to communicate this information. So, I had to research spaces and topics by myself so I could educate others, if asked. Even now, I’m reading books about transgender people. Yes, I am a scholar it’s what I do, but it’s also the topic of my research, sexuality and gender, but I had to do it for things I’m not expecting for the future when people ask me things or mis-gender me. 

TD: Yes, discovering your identity is a learning process.

DD: Yeah it is. But also, it’s not just one right way, and that’s what people have to understand. What people do who are straight and cisgender is categorize, and what I tell people is that we are not the same. There can be many types of trans people and many types of gay people. You cannot just identify that person because ‘that’s gay.’

TD: What do you have to say who anyone in the community who does not understand why you are coming out about your trans identity?

DD: Coming out is something that I hate because I’ve been coming out most of my life, and I will always come out. The coming out process helps people feel comfortable about themselves, to feel appreciated by who they are inside that may not reflect their outsides. ‘You were born this way,’ like Lady Gaga says, and you will always be this person within. That’s why I feel why I am, I’ve felt trapped. Every time you look in the mirror, you know it’s not you. You know that you’re a person inside, trapped into a body that doesn’t represent you, so you feel like you want to scratch it out, tear it apart until the real you comes out. 

TD: Do you have anything else to add?

DD: The Dickinson environment has been very helpful because of the system that it is. Even if I might be the openly trans faculty, people might not know how to deal with it, but I have to admit that being here was the right space to come out in because of the environment, because of how ‘bubbly’ it is, but that ‘bubbly’ can be good for people because outside this bubble, people may not be able to feel like themselves. So, this is a little shout out to Dickinson.