Friday, 6 February 2015

Interview with Victory “Vi” Lê

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Victory “Vi” Lê, an American Student from San Francisco, singer, performer, one of five transgender women presented in Cecilio Asuncion’s documentary “What’s the T?”. Hello Vi!
Vi: Hello Monika! What a pleasure and honor it is to be interviewed by you. I hope you’re doing well.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Vi: Well, to start off, I am a proud Transgender woman here in beautiful San Francisco, CA. I’m currently a student, finishing up my psychology degree. I also work at DPH(Department of Public Health) and AsiaSF, a restaurant that employs transgender women waitresses/hostesses who are also showgirls; where we all serve and entertain in a dinner PG-13 cabaret/show. I am their only live singer at the moment, and I’m blessed to be able to call the girls who I work with, family.
Monika: Vi, you look absolutely lovely! What is the secret of your beauty? :)
Vi: The secret comes from owning yourself, and knowing who you are. It took a long time for me to come to love myself fully for who I am, and from there, beauty blossomed from the inside out. We were born to stand out, not to fit in. So long have many of us been victims trying to assimilate into society.

Monika: It has been almost 3 years since your participation in “What’s the T?”. How has your life changed since then?
Vi: I’m finally finishing up school. I still have plans on becoming a doctor, but recently changed my major in school from Biology to Psychology because the new medical entrance exam (MCAT) is adding psychology to the exam.
Monika: Do you keep in touch with the other ladies from the documentary?
Vi: I do keep in touch with most of the ladies from the documentary. Melanie/Nya Ampon is my roommate here in San Francisco, after moving out of Hayward. Cassandra, I still see from time to time, and Mia I bump into at community events in the city.
As for Rakash-Armani, I haven’t seen her in a while, I do miss her, but I know she wants to live a quiet life now. And, Cecilio who is an honorary “lady of what’s the t?” *giggles* He has become a brother and a mentor for me.
Monika: When did you decide that you would like to be a stage performer?
Vi: I’ve always known I was meant to be on stage. I’ve always loved to sing and found it to be a passion in life. If I could sing as a career, I would, but nowadays I focus on my career dream. I put my other dreams on the side (still pursuing them), and keep a realistic outlook that can still help people. I’ll be a singing doctor ;)

Victory on the poster of What's the T? 

Monika: Where do you get your dance and music inspirations from?
Vi: Dances I perform are usually silly, yet seductive. I get inspiration from burlesque type choreography. As for singing, I usually perform bluesy/jazzy-type songs because the genre fits my voice. Singing styles like Amy Winehouse, Adele, Melody Gardot, and many others.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now? Where can we see your live performances?
Vi: You can see me perform at AsiaSF in San Francisco. As for new projects… they’re always popping up here and there. I’m mostly focusing on finishing school at the moment. 
Monika: Did your transition change your artistic perception of the world? What does it mean to be a transgender artist?
Vi: Being Transgender is only a part of my identity, my artistic perception continues to evolve and change as I evolve and change.
Monika: What do you think in general about the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Vi: I am happy to see more and more transgender youth emerging, and have the ability to live their lives for who they know they are. I just wish that the trans community didn’t strive so much to fit in/assimilate into society. We should be able to stand up, out and proud, to just be ourselves.
I believe, in order for the transgender community to get equal rights, is to be more visible. We need the world to know that we exist and that we are just living our lives, much like everyone else trying to navigate dating, love, family, careers, and whatever else. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter about your orientation, or sex you were assigned at birth, we are all human. 
Monika: At what age did you transition? Was it a difficult process?
Vi: I actually transitioned late in life. I always knew there was something different about me at a very young age. Growing up, I only thought there were only 2 identities – straight, and gay. For the longest time… I thought I was gay and lived a gay boy life for a while until I got the chance to learn and interact more with the trans community. I then started to live my life more androgynously, and eventually, with a sisterhood of trans women, I started my medical transition at the age of 26.
I have always dreamed of having kids when I was younger, so I only chose to forgo HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) for a year so that I wouldn’t become medically/chemically castrated. I just went on HRT to grow breast tissue so that I could undergo Breast Augmentation as my final step in the transition. This process was, of course, a difficult one, because I had all of these other trans women telling me how to define myself, and how to transition, according to them.
Some told me that breast augmentation is not my final step in my transition, that getting SRS (sexual reassignment surgery) is. For the longest time, I thought about SRS, but I’ve loved my body for more than 28 years now, and I’m happy with how my body is. I love my own body, this is my body, and this is my choice. Yes, it may change, as I may want to possibly get SRS down the road, but at the moment, right now? It isn’t the choice for me. Perhaps when I’m 65? Lol.
In the end, I learned that each person defines his or her own transitional journey. There is no universal trans experience, and that we shouldn’t be forcing someone else to follow the transitional path we’ve chosen. We should allow them to make and choose their own transitional path.

Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Vi: Growing up, there weren’t any visible trans role models to look up to. I hope to change that.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Vi: I love Janet Mock, she is inspirational and incredibly sweet. Laverne Cox, for persevering through it all to get to where she is now. Melanie Ampon, my roommate, has become my older sister. And my little sister LA, though I may be giving her advice, she always teaches me new things all the time; we learn and grow together.
I would also have to say my good friend and mentor who is like my brother, Sean. Though he isn’t a trans lady (he’s definitely honorary trans), he is definitely someone I look up to, admire, and appreciate for making me a better woman than I was yesterday.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Vi: Definitely telling my parents about my truth. Even though I knew I didn’t need their financial support, I still wanted to share with them who I am. My mom and dad love me unconditionally; there is no doubt about it. But, it took them a little while to fully comprehend my changes. My little brother, Vinney, has always supported me through all of my stages in life.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters, which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Vi: I only wish that actual trans people could play these roles portrayed in movies and shows. 
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Vi: The LGB community, I feel, still does not understand the T in LGBT. I feel that we all fight our own battles within our own community. I would love to see cross-community collaborations for equal human rights, not just specifics in gay/lesbian/bi/trans rights.

Monika: Do you follow politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Vi: I am not very active in politics, but yes, I do believe transgender people can make a difference, especially when we unite and stand together, not separate. 
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Vi: I would say that I’m a bit on the grungy side of fashion, I’m a bit of a tomboy. But, I definitely know how to dress it up ;)
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Vi: Love is the reason why I breathe, and why I live. I live to love and be loved. As for the love of a significant other… I’ve learned to just be patient, and let it happen on its own, never to force it; one cis-man to be stupid with, make memories with, share with, build a home with, create a family together with for the rest of our lives.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Vi: I could definitely see myself penning a memoir later in my life.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Vi: At the moment, I’m just focusing on school, and working with DPH (Department of Public Health).
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Vi: Love, just know it doesn’t happen overnight. It took me almost 23+ years to make the decision to transition. It is a process and a journey. Like everything in life, small steps still get you where you need to go, you’re able to view your progress, and you’re able to make smart decisions instead of impulsive ones. Instant gratification only lasts so long. So, take your time to discover you, to love you, to be you.
Monika: Vi, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Victory “Vi” Lê.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska  

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