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Transgender conundrums: when the mother wants to be the father

By Thuy An   September 19, 2022 | 03:29 am PT
Transgender conundrums: when the mother wants to be the father
Minh Khang (L) plays with his daughter. Photo by Minh Khang
Minh Khang, the first Vietnamese transgender man to give birth to a child, is listed as the mother on the child's birth certificate despite his wish to be its father.

Khang, 26, from the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, gave birth to his daughter in 2020. 23-year-old Minh Anh, a transgender woman from the delta's Can Tho, is the girl's mother. Khang and Anh were the first transgender couple to go public in Vietnam.

Khang said his body was fully female before his transition, while Anh's was fully male. As such, even after their transition, Khang still had a uterus and was capable of carrying a child like a woman.

"We transgender people feel as if we've been left behind," Khang said, adding that his pregnancy was a "terrible" experience. He could not have maternity rights like a cis-gender woman, while having to work harder than ever to prepare for his daughter's arrival.

With every passing day of his pregnancy, Khang experienced difficulties breathing and sleeping as expecting mothers sometimes do. In the 32nd week, the fetus showed signs of possible premature delivery, so Khang had to be hospitalized for treatment.

And through all the physical trials he had to go through, Khang also had to deal with the scorn society heaped on him.

"Why would a transgender give birth?" "If you have a uterus and carry a child, how can you be called transgender?"

Khang knew there was a risk of their daughter not being born healthy, as both he and his wife had used hormones for their transitions before the pregnancy happened, not to mention numerous kinds of antibiotics, anesthetics and other drugs. But they badly wanted to bring their child into this world.

"We decided to have her, whatever it takes. Even if it meant losing our lives," Khang said.

Irrespective of surgery

Khang is among thousands of transgender persons in Vietnam who wish to be eligible for maternity and social insurance benefits when they are pregnant or raising children.

A draft for Vietnam's Transgender Law is calling for people to be entitled to maternity benefits and the right to marry according to their gender.

Trans men who either carry or give birth to babies would be entitled to maternity benefits in accordance with laws on labor and social insurance, while transgender people would be entitled to the right to marry in accordance with their gender, as well as any other right per the law and the Constitution, once they have been acknowledged as transgender, it proposed.

Such policies would not only help them medically and financially, but also promote social equality, activists have argued.

Huynh Minh Thao, an activist for LGBTQ+ rights in Vietnam, said a transgender person has a gender identity that is different from their biological sex. Activists should now take a look at rights for transgender people, whether or not they have had sex-change surgeries, he said.

"Just the thought (that one's gender identity is different from their biological sex) alone already makes one a transgender person. There is no surgery or medical intervention required for one to be called transgender," Thao said.

Agreeing with Thao, Luong The Huy, director of the iSee Institute, said transition surgeries include medical intervention like recreating the genitalia, hormone treatments and surgeries for cosmetic purposes. However, they do not change one's genetic makeup or chromosomes. Additionally, not all transgender people go through all the "proper" steps of transition like hormones and surgeries, he added.

In fact, for various reasons, including health and finance, many transgender people prefer not going through any medical intervention at all.

"They might not want surgeries due to financial, health and family reasons, but they still want to be legally recognized with the gender identity they desire," Huy said, adding that legal recognition would help make life easier for transgender people in many ways including job hunting, going abroad or other activities that require personal documents. It would also help promote social equality and personal development, he reiterated.

In accordance with the current Civil Code, a person may undergo gender transition when doctors at certain hospitals determine that they have "unique body features," like a man with a uterus. They would then be advised to choose a gender identity and undergo transition surgeries. Following their surgeries and doctors' approval, transgender people may begin procedures to change their gender and other details on their personal documents.

But such regulations are roadblocks for the transgender community. The Ministry of Health estimates that there are around 480,000 transgender people in Vietnam, but actual numbers can be much higher as most still live in their closets. There are very few transgender people who are recognized by law in Vietnam. Most of them go to countries like Thailand for transition surgeries and return to Vietnam with a new appearance and a new gender, but details on their personal documents stay the same.

The health ministry is currently preparing a draft law on gender changes, making transgender people eligible for all the rights and responsibilities of any citizen, like marriage and military service. The draft also proposes that transgender people be eligible for maternity and social insurance benefits if they get pregnant. Transgender people would not have to go through medical intervention, and such interventions would be absolutely voluntary.

 
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