Thursday 25 March 2021

Interview with Nguyễn Hoàng Trúc Quân

Monika: Today I would like to take you to Vietnam where one of our sisters lives. Nguyễn Hoàng Trúc Quân is a trans enthusiast, make-up artist, and support lady at shared services center from Ho Chi Minh City. Trúc Quân was a co-founder of Trans Women Vietnam, an organization that supports the local transgender community, and now she is a moderator for another trans group called Vietnamese Trans Girl's Community, so she is the best person to share some interesting stories about our trans sisters from Vietnam. Hello Trúc Quân!
Trúc Quân: Hello there! Thank you for the introduction. Well, first I have to say that I am honored to be a part of this worldwide blog and to present the life of a Vietnamese trans sister like myself.
Monika: Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Trúc Quân: My name is Trúc Quân - you can call me Quinn, as it sounds similar to Quân. I am a 21-year-old transgirl living in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh city. I am currently working as a customer care office lady. While I did learn to be a professional makeup artist, I do not do make-up very often, only when other people request me to. (PS: If any foreign ladies out there in Ho Chi Minh city want some make-up and probably a meeting with me, just give me a shout-out, I would love to meet you in person.)
"There are many things
associated with trans
women's life that are
considered illegal"
Monika: Most of my readers are well acquainted with Thailand where many of us go to undergo surgeries. However, Vietnam remains a little unknown in terms of the status of transgender women. Let's start with legal aspects first. Is a transgender woman regarded as a woman in accordance with Vietnamese law?
Trúc Quân: Are transgender women regarded as women in accordance with Vietnamese law? Well legally, unfortunately, no, not yet. There are many things associated with trans women's life that are considered illegal (or at least not legal, no official instruction, so no doctors or public hospitals can help us even though THEY CAN) like HRT, SRS, change of gender on Identification Papers, and psychological counseling. I would say that nothing official is available for us.
For identification papers, we can change our name however it’s not 100% successful - depending on where you live, so it’s still a gamble. Changing gender? Yeah dream on, maybe in a few years, in 4-5 years, we can but now it is a big nope.
Monika: Is the Vietnamese health service ready to provide services to the trans community such as hormone treatment, facial feminization surgery, and gender reassignment surgery?
Trúc Quân: SRS and HRT are still not legal and the Vietnamese PUBLIC Health Service is not ready to provide services to the trans community. FFS (Facial Feminization Surgery) isn’t something exclusive to Trans Women, as many cisgender women still undergo surgery at beauty centers, so we trans women can do it just fine right here in Vietnam.
For HRT, many trans women buy hormone medication through intermediaries from Thailand (For example, Proluton Depot, Oestradiol Benzoate, Progynon Depot, Phenokinon F). Mostly injection medication, because they are prescription medication, not generic drugs sold widely in drugstores.
However, other meds such as oral (Progynova) and transdermal (Oestrogel) are sold in pharmacies and drugstores, so they are easy to access. I used to apply injection, so I have to buy it through a third party like I mentioned above. Now I am using Oestrogel, which is bought from a drugstore near my workplace so it’s super convenient (and cheap too).
For SRS, it is still considered illegal in Vietnam even though the doctor’s capability is sufficient to perform SRS for trans women. Some trans women I know are rumored to have undergone SRS in Vietnam but it is not widely known and the doctor’s name is hidden. 
Monika: When did you start your journey to womanhood?
Trúc Quân: I started my transition journey more than 3 years ago - September of 2017, when I got to Ho Chi Minh University of Foreign Language and Information Technology, and have only been on HRT since October 2019 (which is 1 year to this date). However, my coming out story started way back when I was just a kid in secondary school…
I still remember it very clearly... When I was a baby kid, about 3-4 years old, I began to be aware of who I am... I had no thoughts or worries about gender, sex, or even gender dysphoria, I did not care whether I was born a boy. All I wanted was just to wear what I loved - cute and feminine, clothes and to act all cutesy and a bit naughty. I loved wearing dresses.

"I was hiding the girl inside me and pretending
to be a guy for 18 years of my life."

I remember I used to wear my mom’s black dress very often and publicly in my home. At first, my mom did not take it seriously and thought I was just a dumb kid doing funny stuff… until it happened very often, my mom took notice of it and told me to stop. She told me that I AM A BOY, so I should not be wearing a dress like that… At that moment, I knew there was something off, with me, with my family, and with everyone around me. 
Then I decided to hide myself and my desire whenever I faced my family and society. There was a time when I was at home in the morning, my mom went out to the market, I got up super early, went upstairs, took her dress, and wore it, dancing around and acting cutesy. I still remember it like it was yesterday, I enjoyed every second of those moments. Then I heard my mom open the door outside, “She’s back home, quickly” I told myself, undressed, and went back to the usual “boy” mode as if nothing happened. I played it very well; my mom had no idea what I did whenever I was alone. It was all fun and enjoyable until I hit puberty.
Monika: My puberty was a nightmare. How about you?
Trúc Quân: Yes, for me too. Puberty hit me like a truck. Body hair grew like a forest, legs hair made me feel like I was a monkey, facial hair was a mess, and my eyebrows grew thick... Overall it was a freaking nightmare! It was puberty that made me realize that I was born as a guy, and that I had to become a normal guy like society expected me to, and that I would grow up just like any other men. Only now did I have gender dysphoria, not before when I was younger.
I was hiding the girl inside me and pretending to be a guy for 18 years of my life. I played that role so well that even I didn't know who I was, what I wanted when I got to university - 18 years old. Of course, people around me didn’t know either, including my parents. Coming out to them was hard especially when you have played the role of a masculine guy for so long in their eyes.
Monika: Did anything change when you started your studies?
Trúc Quân: After getting to university, I just wanted to wear cute and girly clothing, and so I did just that without a care. I still identified myself as a boy back then. Oh, and I had a lot of labels for myself, from “straight guy” to gay guy, bisexual guy, feminine boy, and trap too. It was fun experiencing the labels and being free with your desire, curiosity. But I still couldn't feel like my true self, I needed more than just a girly boy, I wanted my body to be feminine, I wanted to live in the role of a woman, I wanted to be a girl. But I still denied myself of the label “transgender” because my knowledge about transgender people, particularly trans women in Vietnam, was very narrow and misleading.
"Look at the past and see
how far you have come."
Everything turned out to be alright in the end for me. I know who I am, what I want, what I need, my knowledge about being a transgender woman became clearer and more exact instead of vague and single-sided like before.
I’m happy with myself right now. I maybe don't want to perform SRS but that’s fine. I don't have that high of gender dysphoria. What truly matters in your transition journey is that you feel comfortable and confident with yourself, not trying to be someone else you don’t want to (or people expect of you being a transgender woman), not listening to what people tell you how to live your life as a woman - even if they are transgender women like you.
Just be you, and you are okay, you are valid.
Monika: What was the reaction of your friends and family?
Trúc Quân: Friends eh? Well, I don't have many friends, to be honest. When I got to university, my friends were new classmates. At that time I was starting to act femininely so when I changed to girl clothing, they weren't surprised that much.
My old classmates were very shocked as I was still kind of masculine when I was in high school, but then accepted the fact that I want to live and look like a girl now, my past is left behind. They’re cool with me.
My family? Not so much. They didn't like it when I was a gay boy but like wearing girl clothing (Yes they knew I was gay before because I confessed that but what surprised me the most is that my mom literally said “It’s okay if you like boys but you don’t need to wear girl clothing”). They were often being sarcastic to me and said really mean things which made me upset a lot. You know, a typical story that most of us trans women have gone through, so I don't want to tell you all the details.
They are okay with me now I guess. My mom doesn't act harshly to me like she did before. In fact, sometimes she even gives me advice on how to pick and mix clothing to make me look better, buys me some dresses, panties, paints my nails. Overall she’s okay with me. She still addresses me with male pronouns but meh I really can't blame her. She’s used to it; it doesn't bother me that much. 
Monika: How did you discover hormones? Did you have anyone helping you with them? 
Trúc Quân: Like most trans girls in Vietnam, we discover hormone medication through resellers (people buy from Thailand and bring them back to Vietnam to resell them).
In the beginning, there was no one to help me; I don't know any endocrinologist who specializes in treating trans girls. There was no correct information page or knowledge about hormones, even the resellers (some of them are trans women) know nothing about it, they only say vague things like “Breast growing, less oily skin, more beautiful” (beauty is a subjective thing so this isn’t right to describe the effects of hormone). Therefore, it could lead to some serious damage like they sell birth control pills (Ethinyl estradiol) and we - buyers don't know about it; and if we do know and we correct them, they will shut us down, shamming and threatening us, it’s horrible and they should be ashamed of themselves but no.
This has been going on for a while now until the establishment of Trans Women Vietnam and HRT Vietnam (another trans woman page founded by my friend, an ex co-founder of Trans Women Vietnam), information pages that provide knowledge and right understanding about the effects of hormones and how to safely use them.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman? Is it easy for a transwoman to find employment in Vietnam?
Trúc Quân: My first job interview as a woman - when my mindset is of a woman; not a feminine boy or just like being an androgynous boy - was back in December 2019. It was easy for me, no trouble at all. My gender expression or gender identity is not what the employers are interested in, but rather my attitude, skills, and experience.
"Gender identity is different
from gender expression and
sexual orientation."
Sadly, I can’t say the same for the majority of other trans women in Vietnam. Girls who live in major cities like Ho Chi Minh City or Ha Noi will have a better chance since there is a lot LESS discrimination there.
It also depends on us trans women too. You can’t expect employers to have high respect or expectation of you when even yourself do not have (yet), or don't want to improve yourself to become better; whether you are transgender or not, being trans is not a requirement or an aspect to be disqualified.
If a company or an employer rejects you for being trans, I think you should be thankful because you got yourself out of trouble and they aren’t worth your time and effort. It’s their fault, not yours.
Monika: How did you become a trans activist?
Trúc Quân: Back in April 2020, my friend - a transguy, his name is Mai Như Thiên Ân (his nickname is Cáo - Fox) - founder of FTM Vietnam Organization, wanted to do something for the opposite world of transgender - Trans Women in Vietnam, just like what he has done for Trans Men in Vietnam. So he and I along with another trans girl got together and founded Trans Women Vietnam - a closed and safe group exclusively for Trans Women in Vietnam.
Therefore I have only been a “trans activist” (I don't fancy myself with that title) for 8 months. I am still learning and growing, things are tough and challenging for us in Vietnam, but everything will be alright in the end. 
However, Trans Women Vietnam is closed and now an archived group for information storage only. I have passed that group for my friend, the “another transgirl” that I mentioned earlier.
Currently, I’m a moderator for another trans group called Vietnamese Trans Girl's Community - Cộng đồng người chuyển giới nữ Việt Nam, working along with her and other trans girls.
Monika: What are the main initiatives of the Vietnamese Trans Girl's Community?
Trúc Quân: Just providing a safe and exclusive space for trans women mostly, as some guys are allowed to join if they have good intentions. I want information provided to be clear, correct, no single-sided, and most importantly, constructive. There are other groups for Trans Women too but most of the activities there are selfie posting; finding FWB, one-night stand, trans women finding sex friends, or guys who fetishize trans women.
Monika: What is the general perception of trans women in Vietnamese society? Is it as inclusive as in Thailand?
Trúc Quân: There is not much difference when it comes to society’s view about trans women both in Vietnam and Thailand.
Most people still don't know that a trans woman does not need to undergo SRS or breast implant or FFS to be identified as a trans woman. Gender identity is different from gender expression and sexual orientation. You can be a trans woman and still like other girls (doesn’t matter if you have undergone SRS or not). You can have androgynous or masculine fashion styles, if you identify and are aware of yourself as a woman, you are a woman and you are valid.
The only difference as far as I know is that HRT and SRS are legal in Thailand, and still illegal in Vietnam. Changing your gender on paper is still not possible both in Thailand and Vietnam.
Monika: I was reading about some Vietnamese ladies: Cindy Thai Tai - singer- the first Vietnamese person to publicize herself as a transgender, Jessica Ca - entertainer and showgirl, Nguyen Huong Giang - the winner of Miss International Queen Pageant 2018, and Kaycee Chung - a well-known model. Do you have any role models that you look up to? 
Trúc Quân: I used to have role models that I look up to, whether they are trans women or cis women doesn’t matter. Now I don't have any, and I don't want to look up to anyone else, as I am different from them, I have my own values.
Having a role model to look up to is not bad, as long as you are fully aware that you are you, your role model is different, and each one has their own path. Comparing yourself to others is like a two-way knife; you can improve yourself or hurt yourself in the process.
What I am doing is comparing me in the present and in the past and it really helps me a lot, realizing how far I have gone and improved. I am the role model for myself to look up to (kind of ha-ha).
"My partner helped me
cope with my gender
dysphoria a lot."
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Trúc Quân: Very important. My partner helped me cope with my gender dysphoria a lot. Well, in fact not just gender dysphoria, but with life and my emotional burst in general. I’m a weird girl, I was very weird, shy, and awkward back when I was a boy and I still am now that I'm a girl.
He loves me no matter how weird and dumb I am. Of course, there are many times we got into heated arguments, misunderstandings that could even break our relationship. However, for us, love is not something easy to forget and throw away, so we always come back, admit our fault and understand each other even more.
I love him so much, and I want to give him the best of everything.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Trúc Quân: We are planning to own some properties first, a piece of land, a house for us and our future child. After that, we will get married. Easier said than done though, so we spread our goal in about 5-6 years for that.
We will probably get to SRS after settling down, owning a house, getting married, etc.… You know, we have some more important priorities first before SRS - since we do not care much about this aspect at the moment.
My partner does want SRS so we will get into that for him, however, he is happy at the moment, our gender dysphoria is no longer something that causes us so much trouble like before.
I don't care much about SRS. Frankly, I don't need it at the moment. I do have gender dysphoria but not with my genital organs. Who knows, maybe in the future I will change my mind after having family, but I will leave that for the future. SRS is not something I pay attention to, it doesn't matter to me. Also, I'm planning to learn digital art, 2D drawing on the computer. I love drawing. I might become an artist in the near future.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Trúc Quân: I know there are many reasons to be afraid, whether you are unsure about yourself, you are afraid that your family, partner, friends will abandon you, etc. I was scared too at first, that's why I was in denial for so long - nearly 20 years to be exact.
Just give yourself time to figure it all out, don't give up. Things were bad before but you don't know what will happen tomorrow if you give up on your journey. I went through many “best friends” to have my true best friend - a soulmate. I got cheated by my ex-boyfriend for nearly 2 years, and desperately waited for a guy that would never come to me despite all those honeyed words, before meeting my wonderful partner whom I want to spend my whole life with.
Remember, you are valid, my dear. Let's not compare yourself to other trans women, or even compare yourself to me (yeah don't do that, I’m like the last person in the world for you to look up to LMAO), but look at the past and see how far you have come. Follow what your heart desires, not what other people expect of you.

"If any foreign ladies out there in Ho Chi Minh city want
some make-up and probably a meeting with me, just give
me a shout-out, I would love to meet you in person."

Monika: Trúc Quân, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Trúc Quân: It was my pleasure too. I heard you said that you haven't interviewed any trans woman from Viet Nam so I hope that I can share at least some useful information for all you girls around the world. Thank you for the interview. I enjoy this a lot even though I didn't have too much time to answer all these questions on time, but I’m really thankful for having me on this blog of yours. Love to you and all your girls.

All the photos: courtesy of Nguyễn Hoàng Trúc Quân.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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