By Emmy Liederman
For some students at the College, the convenience store is not much more than a place to stock up on toiletries, microwavable meals and overpriced candy. Meanwhile, other students will find themselves in the store for hours on end with nothing on their shopping list — they just came in to pay a visit to their friend, cashier Malaysia Ford.
“If you ever need a good laugh, go to Malaysia,” said Tian-na Green, a junior criminology major.
Ford started working for Sodexo at the College in 2014, when she worked at the pizza and pasta station in Eickhoff Dining Hall. In January, she was transferred to the convenience store, which she prefers due to her frequent interactions with students, which she says have made her more confident and sociable.
“When I worked at Eick, conversations were limited to ‘Would you like red sauce or white sauce on your pasta?’ At the C-Store, I interact with more students and the conversations are personal and one-on-one,” Ford said.
One student in particular stands out for Ford— Elijah Buckwalter, a sophomore psychology major. After establishing that they were both members of the transgender community, the two had an immediate connection.
“Elijah stood out because his ID had his birth name and I asked whose ID it was, so then we started talking about being trans,” Ford said. “He was so open with it and I’m so open with it. We understand each other.”
Buckwalter makes frequent visits to the store to visit Ford.
“I come in here just to chill and talk to her,” he said. “Malaysia is always tricking the freshmen. They ask if they can use their student ID to pay and she says ‘No, you need cash’ until they actually take out their money.”
After graduating from Trenton Central High, Ford immediately started working at an Educational Testing Services warehouse. She held a few other jobs before coming to the College, but her current position is by far her favorite.
“The students are what make my job fun,” she said. “Students at TCNJ are down to earth, open to meeting friends and conversational. This is the longest I’ve ever been at a job, and I know I can work my way up.”
Ford also praises Sodexo for the benefits she receives, as well as their involvement and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Most companies will say they’re not discriminating but still won’t hire you,” she said. “Sodexo is very involved with the LGBTQ community — I went to Asbury Park Pride with the Sodexo union rep.”
Although Ford has always felt accepted by those around her, she admits that it was difficult for her to begin to accept herself.
“In high school, I struggled socially because I wasn’t a fan of myself,” she said. “I was trying to figure out who I was, and I didn’t think I was going to be accepted. I was too worried about how others would evaluate me and about things that weren’t in my control. I would always have a mask on.”
Because many assume that Ford is a cisgender female, it has often been difficult for her to identify with the LGBTQ+ community.
“Things would definitely be different for me if i didn’t look cis,” she said. “Because I’m so passable, people are envious. If I wasn’t passable, maybe I would have more friends in the community.”
Ford also believes it is harder for her to make connections in the transgender community due to a difference in values.
“I don’t think I mesh with many people in the community because we don’t value the same things in life,” she said. “At one point in time, I had no self-worth. I felt like I was gonna fall into the system of sex work, which is a stereotype that transgender women are known for.”
Ford notes that it takes a certain level of self-worth to be able to break the mold and take control of your own career path in the transgender community.
“When I tell someone I’m transgender, they often view me as an object,” she said. “I’m not a sexual object or a fantasy — I’m a human being. I want to decide the standards for how people are going to treat me. I have to show them that I respect myself before they respect me.”
Although Ford has generally felt comfortable in her circle of friends and coworkers, she notes that there is a lot more work that needs to be done in terms of transgender equality. She emphasizes the need for more affordable surgeries and widespread acceptance in the workplace.
“We are all human at the end of the day,” she said. “There should be no discrimination based on skin color, how you dress or who you choose to be with. It doesn’t affect your ability to work or your ability to do anything.”
Ford hopes to start studying psychology at the College next fall and eventually become a school therapist or counselor for the LGBTQ+ community. She hopes to inspire and encourage young people with her story.
“I didn’t go to college because high school was such a drain and I had no one to push me,” she said. “It was only recently that I thought about studying psychology. It’s never too late. As long as I’m still breathing, I can strive for my dreams.”