Boy transcends gender stigma, unlocks inner femininity

By Thuy An   September 30, 2020 | 06:00 am PT
Hoping to become a woman, An has injected hormones since age 17 and had two surgeries despite family opposition.

Nguyen Khanh An carefully chooses a white bodycon dress to show off her curves. Looking at herself in the mirror, she combs her hair and applies some makeup before venturing out for work. This has been the 23-year-old Vietnamese's morning ritual since becoming a true woman. Makeup makes her happy, An, a trans woman in Ho Chi Minh City, said.

From southern Hau Giang Province in Mekong Delta, An was born as a boy named Nguyen Duy Quang. As a child, she faced a lot of discrimination since her hobbies differed from those of boys.

An (L) during her teenage years. Photo courtesy of An.

An (L) as a teenage boy. Photo courtesy of An.

Little An liked wearing dresses, playing with dolls, and messing around with makeup. Attending school, she used a wig to cover her long hair, only shown off to friends at home.

One of her friends, engaged in similar pursuits, was told by her family she had mental issues and was ill.

When An was 18, she attended a beauty contest during which she was named first runner-up, though it did little to reduce the prejudice that surrounded her.

"I was told transitioning from male to female would impact my longevity, though there was no research to back these claims," An said, adding she would rather be herself instead of "living in a male body for the rest of my life."

Typically, those wanting to transition from male to female have to inject hormones and overcome two major breast and genital surgeries. After, their faces also need to be surgically adjusted, with supplementary botox injections adding a more feminine look over time. An, among around 500,000 transgender people in Vietnam, decided to embark on this course.

At 17, with no recourse in Vietnam, she started injecting hormones ordered from Thailand, relatively uninformed as to their possible side effects. Out of pocket, she chose to inject hormones once every 10 days, accepting the effects would be slower.

An works as a model for a photoshoot. Photo courtesy of An.

An works as a model. Photo courtesy of An.

When she first started hormone therapy, her arms got swollen and the skin irritated. In time, An also grew more sensitive and emotional.

Once, after self-injecting a batch of hormones, she experienced cyanosis, difficulty in breathing, and a rash. She later found out it was because she was hungry and did not properly follow instructions. Since, she has turned to ingesting hormones instead of injections, though the former would bring slower results.

After saving up, An decided to book her first surgery in Thailand during early 2016. It was a gentle operation and did not cause a lot of disturbance to her daily life.

One year later, the woman returned to Thailand for a follow up, reshaping her male genitals in the process.

"It was a difficult and dangerous operation," An recalled, adding many patients had suffered hemorrhages during these surgeries.

For a year after the life-changing operation, An used various-sized dilators to help stretch and lengthen vaginal tissue and ease scarring. It was a dangerous process, she said.

Later, An underwent a nose job and got a botox injection to add femininity to her face.

In early 2018, she eventually had the self-confidence to show off her new look, naming herself Khanh An in the hope to enjoy a peaceful life ("An" means peaceful).

A new An is confident with her new look. Photo courtesy of An.

A new, more confident An. Photo courtesy of An.

"I told myself I cannot reject my past, but I hide it to live a better life in the body of a woman," she explained.

Unable to bear her own child, An hopes to one day adopt, hoping Mr. Right would eventually come along in the process.

Working as a model and cosmetic tattoo artist in Saigon, she now feels happy with her new life. On first meeting the beautiful An, few can imagine the hardships she has had to overcome.

"Life is not that long, I do not want to waste any moment. The current An is reborn," An maintained with a smile.

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