Driven to be who they really are, many transgender people in Vietnam are abusing cross-sex hormone therapies by overdosing on pills and injecting and drinking hormones of unknown origin, despite the dangers, including death.
An Vi, a trans woman, said that during her first week of hormone replacement therapy for transgender people, she used 7-8 pills per day because she was impatient.
During that time, her body went into a shock, inducing constant vomiting and dizziness.
After a week, Vi cut down her pill intake to four per day after she became exhausted, but the tablets were not as effective as she had hoped.
Vi later turned to injecting hormones twice a week after being advised by members of the local LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
After three years of using the therapy, Vi’s initial sex hormone changed and caused a significant transformation in her looks.
Hai Minh, a trans man whose looks make it hard for anyone to recognize that he used to be a woman, revealed that he has also had hormones injected into his body for three years.
“I chose injection at the beginning of my therapy because it’s popular with trans men,” Minh said.
Meanwhile, the physical appearance of another trans man, Alex Truong, has changed substantially after only one year using the hormone.
Truc Ly, a contestant at the Miss Beauty 2015 pageant for transgender women, said transgender health care is still not recognized in Vietnam.
“[Anyone] who wants to have a sex change has to go to Thailand, but they will face danger after coming back to Vietnam because there is no post-operative care,” Ly said. “There have been some cases of infection or hemorrhage and death.”
Ly said she is currently unable to afford a trip to Thailand for sex change surgery, so she is injecting hormones once a week.
She added that she has to inject herself and often gets abscesses after a health center in her hometown refused to do it for her because it is not allowed to.
“We have met countless troubles with health care services for transgender people so we really hope to be cared for more,” she said.
She expressed her wish that more services for transgender people will be provided as Vietnam’s law-making National Assembly last November approved a revised law that includes a new provision of recognition of the right to sex reassignment, or to become transgender.
Previously, she took one pill a day at the beginning of her treatment and increased the number of pills to four and then six a day.
“We all know and worry about the harm and complications of sex changes of any kind, but we have no choice,” she said, saying trans women are willing to take risks “just to be women and recognized as women.”
Doctor Tran The Trung from the endocrinology department of the University Medical Center Ho Chi Minh City said the fact that transgender people are injecting cross-sex hormones sold online or advertised as hang xach tay (portable goods that are brought to Vietnam as personal belongings and are not subject to any import tariffs) from Thailand needs to be addressed.
According to the doctor, the desire to change sex is way bigger than their consideration of any long-term harmful effects.
Using incorrect doses of products of unknown origin and without a doctor’s direction and supervision can cause serious danger to people’s health, or even their life, Dr. Trung added.
Meanwhile, technically incorrect or overdose injections can also cause vascular obstruction possibly leading to death.
Moreover, it is now easier to purchase the male sex hormone, which is indiscriminately used, than to buy female hormones.