The yearning to become a member of the opposite sex has driven many tormented youths to undergo agonizing transsexual surgeries. Though they’re happy with their new body and true self, most face continued discrimination or alienation from their families and society.
The ordeal begins as soon as they realize they were born with the wrong gender, but doesn’t end with the extremely painful transsexual operation.
As no orthodox medical institution in Vietnam offers the operation, many who can’t afford costly transgender operations in Thailand or Korea have turned to local bogus “doctors” and put their lives at risk by taking hormone-changing pills, having silicon injected into their face and breast, or even undergoing a mastectomy or vasectomy.
The man of the dreams
Ha Duy Linh, 22, from northern Phu Tho province, identifies as a trans man. Linh confided that she vaguely realized she was different from other girls in high school, when she had a secret crush on one of her female teachers and later a female classmate.
“Also, I always felt incomprehensible differences inside my body. Deep inside me, I invariably yearned to do something contrary to myself,” Linh shared.
Preoccupied with her innate differences, Linh turned to the internet. Her findings, paired with a program on the topic she heard on the Voice of Vietnam as well as a seminar she attended two years later, prompted Linh to realize that she has always yearned to be a man.
“It was a revelation for me. I suddenly understood I’m not homosexual; I need to become a real man,” Linh shared.
Since then, Linh began to dress like a male. He has his long hair cut short and wears baggy clothes to hide his curves. He even begged his mother to sell part of their land so that he could afford a transsexual operation in Thailand. His mother was frustrated, while his father strongly forbade him from changing his body.
Without his family’s consent, Linh works as a worker in an industrial zone in Hanoi and rarely visits home. He finds reminders of his original gender disturbing, particularly his menstrual cycles.
“I’m really upset and frustrated and even in crisis sometimes. My aunt and everyone else says I don’t look male or female. I really wish I could live a fulfilling life as a real man,” Linh sadly added.
Despite Linh’s manly dressing style, haircut, and masculine gait and gestures, his soft hands, voice and fair complexion defy his wishes. He recently began taking male hormone pills and saving money to have an ovariectomy in Ho Chi Minh City. These are the simplest and cheapest steps Linh can take for now to begin fulfilling his dream of becoming a real man.
The transgender twins
Since a tender age, a pair of male twins, born into a rich family in Phu Nhuan district in HCMC, have always enjoyed mingling with girls, wearing dresses, braiding their hair, and playing with dolls.
Their parents could never imagine that their sons’ childish hobbies would translate into their joint desire for a sex change once they matured.
When they turned 19, the younger brother made a huge decision. Despite his parents’ strong objections, he contacted his transsexual friends and underwent excruciating operations to become a girl.
“One day, I returned home as a girl, renamed Truc Linh. My parents were stunned with shock while our relatives and neighbors were unsympathetic and harsh,” the younger twin recalled.
Their family received the second blow when three years later the elder twin decided to follow his brother’s footsteps and underwent similar operations.
“We try to ignore everyone’s gossip and harsh jokes, as long as we’re happy with our new bodies and lives. Our parents have gradually accepted us as their daughters. But neighbors and bystanders still maliciously stare and point at us as if we were ogres,” Truc Lam, the elder twin confided.
Truc Linh now stays at her aunt’s home and helps her with loan collecting. Lam earns her living by performing at funerals, as many transgender Vietnamese do. She is also a social worker at the HCMC-based ICS Center, an organization dedicated to supporting and counseling local lesbians, gays and transsexuals.
Yearning for a normal, rewarding life, Lam applied for work at more conventional places, but was met with rejection and malicious jokes. She once worked as a waitress at a Korean restaurant, but was fired after only a few days as the customers discriminated against her and complained.