Transgender people in Vietnam: P5 – A new life for Phong

Sex reassignment surgery can grant a new life to transgender people, but it comes with a price

Phong and her mother after surgery

March 19, 2013

It was the day before Le Quoc Phong’s sex reassignment surgery at the international Piyavate Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. With financial help from her foster father, she had finally made it to Thailand with her sister and a few friends for the long-awaited procedure.

Transgender people in Vietnam: P1 – True to themselves
Transgender people in Vietnam: P2 – First steps of the painful journey
Transgender people in Vietnam: P3 – No pain no gain
Transgender people in Vietnam: P4 – The beauty queen
Transgender people in Vietnam: P5 – A new life for Phong

March 20, 2013

Before the surgery, blood and urine tests were taken, as well as medications to induce vomiting. In her last minutes before surgery, Phong wrote on her Facebook wall about the harsh journey she had been through: “Born into a big family of many siblings, I’ve known I wanted to be a girl ever since I was a child. I knew I was one inside, but it was hard even to put these thoughts into words. I had thought I would have to live the rest of my life like this…”

After years of denying her own identity and burying her secrets, Phong finally learned to live as she was and that it was not wrong to be the person she wanted to be. “It was not easy accepting my own self. Having been through it all – pain, self-hatred, self-pity, insecurities, shame--I decided to live the way I wanted to,” she wrote.

In 2010, upon graduating from college, Phong came out to her family and told them her plan to go to Thailand for gender reconstruction surgery. While Phong’s father reacted with anger, her mother was calm but deeply hurt. It took them a long time to accept their child and support her for the next great challenge.

In 2011, Phong met make-up artist Le Duy, a trans-woman who helped Phong realize her dream. Following Duy’s advice, Phong underwent psychological tests, a health checkup, and took hormonal medications to prepare for the operation.

March 14, 2013

After a 24-hour wait, the much-awaited surgery finally took place, granting Phong the life she had always wanted. After waking up from the one-hour procedure, she wrote on Facebook: “It is over now, I have just woken up. I feel so happy now that I have become the real ME. Although it hurts so so much!”

The status was also a message for her family, especially her mother. “Please don’t worry about me. Mom, I have become your daughter now. Your old son will always be with you, you just have another daughter,” she wrote.

The first week after the surgery, Phong was bed-ridden and all she could eat was plain rice porridge. In the second week, her doctor allowed her to practice walking again. “Every step hurt,” she recalled, “it was so painful that all I could do was lie in exactly the same spot on the bed.”

On her fourteenth day, with the help of her doctor, Phong started having vaginal dilation, a process required for all trans-women after sex reassignment surgery. This procedure must be done for life or else the reconstructed sexual organ will ‘close,’ but right after the operation, “the pain is unbearable”, said Phong. The doctor gave her a 16-centimeter glass dilator for the everyday routine, “which is like my daily torture”.

“Think of it like a skin ulcer you must poke a stick into every day. Now you know how it feels,” she recalled.

Three weeks after the surgery, Phong and her sister returned to their hometown, Quang Nam. They knew that airport securities would probably not allow Phong to board the plane because she now looked nothing like the person on her personal identification card.

Fortunately, after her sister’s explanation, airport officers were understanding and let them pass security checkpoints with heart-warming greetings and encouraging comments on her new look. “That was a very moving experience,” Phong shared, “that they held no prejudice against a person like me.”

“I was in tears and could only mumble that I will be a good person to thank them and show my appreciation.”

Since Phong came back, things have changed for her and she is still getting used to her new life as a woman. “From dressing up, to walking, to taking medications, to the painful dilation practice every day,” Phong shared.

Asked why she went to such extraordinary lengths to become a woman, Phong simply said, “I didn’t choose to be like this. I wish I could be just a normal man and didn’t have to go through all of this. But I have to accept who I am. I am a girl and I am happy I can be one now.”


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