Acceptance makes transgender woman's love story heartwarming

By Phan Duong   April 1, 2022 | 11:00 pm PT
Kha Ai had to go through painful surgeries and overcome prejudice to be able to tie the knot with the love of her life, Tri Nguyen.

When Kha Ai finished singing a song on the evening of March 20, applause erupted in the courtyard of the communal house in Dien Thanh Commune in the central Khanh Hoa Province's Dien Khanh District.

As she was wiping away her tears, Nguyen was also in tears.

The two had been betrothed just a few hours earlier.

Ai, 28, said: "A day filled with emotions. It was not easy to get to this point".

Kha Ai and her fiance during their betrothal ceremony on March 20, 2022. Photo courtesy of Ai

Kha Ai and her fiance at their betrothal ceremony on March 20, 2022. Photo courtesy of Ai

Ai, birth name Luong Duc Cuong, was born in the town of Lien Huong in Binh Thuan Province.

She expressed the desire to be a girl since the age of three. In 2012 she dropped out of acting school in Saigon to become a transgender cabaret bingo performer.

Her entire family advised against it, fearing the constant travel to perform would be too much around and pointing to her flourishing career as an MC in her hometown.

She explained: "But in my hometown I can't wear girl's clothes or makeup or be myself. So I was determined to leave".

The next morning, she accompanied the troupe to Dong Nai Province for a show. She brought along a reclining chair and a plywood board her mother had made so for resting and sleeping at night.

Everywhere they performed Ai was loved by the audience thanks to her lovely voice and sense of humor. This boosted her confidence despite the fact her hair was still short and she was still stocky.

She saved enough money after five years of performing for breast implants, inching closer to the path of "rediscovering her true self".

In 2019 Ai went to Dien Thanh Commune to perform and met Nguyen, a militia man placed in charge of the troupe’s security while they performed. While performing, Ai laughed every time she noticed that Nguyen was shy when teased by a pair of transgender sisters in the troupe.

She later asked him to be friends with her on Facebook and they spoke for a long time that night.

Nguyen was shunned by other transgender people at the time but felt a connection between him and Ai. He admired her performance and thought she was the most feminine of the group.

He promised to take her out at 7 a.m. the next day as the two said goodbye. That night Ai was restless and could not sleep since it was her first time she would be going on a date. The two had a great time at the movies and then in a mall.

After that they started texting each other regularly, and Nguyen began to understand the soul of a girl who wished to be free of her male appearance.

About a month into their relationship, Ai was offered free surgery by a cosmetic clinic in Hanoi. Since the clinic staff took away her phone she and Nguyen were unable to communicate for 20 days.

When they got back in touch, Nguyen cried when he saw Ai's bandaged face. She sobbed because she had greatly missed him.

They reunited after a month and a half and visited Ai's hometown, but decided to keep their relationship a secret for the moment.

Nguyen began compulsory military service in early 2020 and told his mother three days before leaving, "I'm in love with a transgender person".

This left his mother, Bich Thao, enraged.

She called Ai up and ordered her to "let go" of her son.

"You should use these two years to forget him. You are older than him and his father is a very strict man. If he finds out, he will create a scene".

But Thao was surprised that Nguyen's father supported the relationship when he found out.

He said simply: "Let them love each other if they want to. As long as they are happy, there's nothing to oppose".

He praised Ai's voice after hearing her sing, saying "I like her voice; it is very feminine".

Covid-19 broke out right when Nguyen was joining the army, and Ai was forced to stop performing.

Since international travel had not been suspended yet, she decided to borrow some money and travel to Thailand for a final surgery.

After the surgery she was in such pain that she even thought of ending her life at one point.

"But I tried to overcome it by remembering my promise to wait for him for two years".

Meanwhile, Thao found it easier to accept her son's love story after giving it some thought.

Knowing Ai had recently been in pain, she called her up to check and then said, "When you come back, come to my house and I will cook delicious food for you".

Ai went to her Nguyen’s house and ate with his uncle and aunt. Thao encouraged her to recuperate at home. She and her husband also gave her money to repay part of the loan she had taken for the surgery and then some to spend since she was out of work due to the pandemic.

Thao told Ai to accompany her to Gia Lai Province to visit Nguyen three months after he had joined the military.

They were taken aback to see he had lost 15 kg. Ai then visited him every weekend with food.

Nguyen stayed in the camp for a year. During that time his parents took Ai to the graves of his grandfather and grandmother to pay respects.

"If, after Nguyen completes his stint and you two still love each other, my husband and I will organize a proper wedding for you two," Thao promised Ai.

Birth and soon-to-be mother-in-law put on earrings for Ai during the engagement ceremony. Photo courtesy of Ai

Biological and soon-to-be mother-in-law help Ai put on earrings at the engagement ceremony. Photo courtesy of Ai

After months of not being able to perform, Ai started selling goods online via live streams. Her charming demeanor fetched lots of customers, allowing her to pay the rest of her surgery debts and buy some furniture.

After Nguyen was discharged the couple got engaged on March 20 and are set to wed on April 30.

Ai works as a streamer during the day to sell goods, while Nguyen works as a carpenter and takes her to gigs in the evenings.

They are saving money to build a house next year on a plot of land his parents have given them.

"Then we'll adopt children to have kids running around the house like any other family," the couple said.

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