Sunday 12 September 2021

Interview with Saigon Le

Monika: Today I have invited Saigon Le, a Vietnamese-born former model, actress, and now aesthetics nurse from the sunny state of California, USA. We will talk about her amazing life experiences and challenges related to her transition. Hello Sai!
Sai: Hi Monika it’s a pleasure to be a part of this so thank you for recognizing your fellow sisters.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Sai: My name is Saigon, I am a transgender female from California. I’m the youngest of nine children but I feel because of my unique circumstances l have the oldest soul.
Monika: You can boast over 10 years of experience as a nurse. Why did you decide to become a nurse?
Sai: Well, first I’d like to emphasize that this career was not born out of self-belief. I had a very troubled upbringing and was on my own at age 17, I found a “tribe” of drag queens and queer club kids that performed at club ARENA and hung out, performed as well as lived together. I wasn’t very good on stage but I was just happy to be there. There was an electrifying and talented performer named Barbarella, she and I became very close. She was my drag mother and taught me how to wear eyelashes, corsets, and wigs.
Now fast forward to my 20’s, wanting to transition I needed money so I did it the only way I knew how…my body. An aunt initially turned me out. Traveling, modeling, and living for the moment with a “fuck you” attitude. Now I must admit in the beginning it was exciting but it was an empty existence. In the back of my mind, I had a longing that no man or money could fill. I was at a precipice, either I was going to live or die.
I left that life and went to college all the while still lost and having this terrifying longing for something profound. I found God. The idea of a Judeo-Christian God understandingly can be very polarizing to LGBTQ individuals. In my heart and soul it filled me with what I needed, it transcended space and time and also gave me a desire to serve. This newfound purpose was not motivated by money or materialistic things. I had found a way to a new life.

"Passing is not always the goal, the true
goal is to be a proud TRANS."

I worked in the medical field as a nurse for 10 plus years and was starting to feel burned out. I needed a change, somewhere I knew there was a position for me to do something much more glamorous. The night I got the offer to work in aesthetics I asked God to help me decide if I was making the right choice. I saw a shooting star scorch across the sky.
Monika: Now you work in an aesthetics company offering anti-aging services. I am a 40-year-old transgender woman. What can you offer to me so I will stay young and beautiful (smiling)?
Sai: Well, first of all, you are beautiful but since you asked here are my top 5 tips for anti-aging; 1. Spf50 on your face every two hours if outside. 2. Cell turnover. 3. Cellular/DNA Hydration. 4. Neuromodulators once or twice a year 5. Volume replacement and always aim for the golden ratio, symmetry. Let me add here that I do free online or phone consultations for the trans community at no charge.
Monika: Haha, you are being very kind and polite! Anyway, I have to try at least one of them! You were born in Vietnam. Did you have a happy childhood?
Sai: My childhood was deeply unhappy however my core personality is joyful. My family came to the US from Vietnam two days before the fall. We carried with us not only the trauma of war but a long history of dark memories.
To lightly touch upon some of it, my Grandfather was part Chinese and wealthy so he had two wives, my grandmother was originally the governess and then became the second wife. This was not a role that was highly regarded in society or by the children of the first wife. The drama and ill will be filtered down into the next generation. I remember not only dealing with the constant abuse within my home but at school. I tried hard to mask my feminine behavior and eventually completely buried the essence of who I was. I decided to not exist in order to survive.
Monika: How did you get on with your brothers and sisters?
Sai: As a child, I got along with them just fine because I was the baby of the family, with that said I was exposed to a lot of drama, emotional and physical abuse. It was a very traumatic time for everyone.

"I remember clearly one morning as I was walking to
school some kids in front of me turned around and
spit on the ground I walked on."

Monika: Your mother must have been a personal heroine for you. It is not easy to bring up 9 children. Did she know about your female side?
Sai: My mother was a hero to many. She manifested her American Dream, became a successful businesswoman, married an American, and traveled the world the rest of her life. I don't believe anyone survives a war unscathed. My trans journey was very difficult for her. She felt extremely conflicted through it all but still managed to love me regardless of the circumstances.
Now I must note, even today my family has and most likely always will misgender me. They have never called me by my chosen name. My mother cast a wide net so others followed her lead. In the end, at least I proved to her that I was faithful to her despite everything, and that gives me peace of mind. I know who I am and I know my name, that is all that matters to me.
Monika: How about your school years? For most ladies, it is usually a very traumatic time when they have to deal with transphobia.
Sai: School was HELL. I've spoken to LGBT friends who had wonderful experiences. I lived in fear every single day. I remember clearly one morning as I was walking to school some kids in front of me turned around and spit on the ground I walked on. I was simply walking to school. I closed up inside myself and promised to always be aware of the danger that was in the world. I knew at an early age to be cautious and test people in order to discover what their true colors are.
Monika: How long did you do female impersonations on stage? Were you able to make both ends meet by doing those shows?
Sai: I didn't do it for very long, I must say I wasn't any good, but I was just happy to be around these glamorous liberated young people and become a family. Like most young trans in those days, it wasn't easy to find employment so we took to the streets hustling men. it became a way of life for a while, although in time it evolved into much more high-end companionship, and I even had my own website for a while before all the current adult social media platforms existed.

"I closed up inside myself and promised to always
be aware of the danger that was in the world."

Monika: Do you still keep in touch with Barbarella and other girls from Arena?
Sai: I am in touch with Barbarella, how could I not? She was a mentor and took this untalented Asian kid and helped her become beautiful. She never faulted me for not being skinny or not being a good dancer. Barbarella is now transitioned back into a gorgeous Man and married to his soul mate in Miami.
Monika: After your Arena shows, you started acting in the adult industry. Who or what introduced you to this business?
Sai: It was something I didn't want to do. I was very vulnerable then. A friend at the time introduced me to someone and he convinced me to start my own website, this was before all the current media platforms of today. I must tell you that it gave me the luxury of relaxing a little but it wasn’t a dream of mine.
I wanted to go mainstream but life threw me a curve and I just rolled with the punches. I was afraid of a lot of things but it’s all a part of survival. I made the most of what was given and milked it dry. It opened a different set of doors for me as well as fulfilling a much-needed urge to be loved and accepted. I use this experience as part of my powerful testimony.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Sai: HRT affects people differently. The most noticeable effect for me is fat redistribution, particularly my face and hips. Volume is definitely redistributed to my cheeks and hips. My skin becomes even softer and more supple like a layer of heavy cream. In this sense I am satisfied. The only drawback is the wave of emotions that overwhelm me.
Monika: You look like a million dollars, so this question may not be relevant for you. We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Sai: I sincerely thank you for the compliment however I used to experience being misgendered as well. At the time I didn’t pay close enough attention to my appearance because I was very much a lazy trans. The fact that I am Asian helps a little. I have a two-way approach to tackle the issue of “passing” in life and these tips have helped me.
The first is to know oneself. It’s very much like a drag performer. Study your face. Study the gifts that you already possess and build from there. Most importantly femininity emanates from within. 

"Others may find it a burden to do makeup but
I revel in it."

The second is to know where you stand currently in today’s standard of “passing”, which is to say that even if you are misgendered now, know that it is a little bit more acceptable. People only refer to you with what they see, so don’t be so hard on yourself if you fall short of your own expectations.
Monika: I have never heard a better piece of advice!
Sai: The current challenge is to try and get people to identify you in the right context. In other words, if you are dressing as a woman and they know you are trans they should be able to address you appropriately. Lines are blurred now because of nonconforming or binary individuals that will add a new dimension to the mix. So relax, take your time and have faith. The beauty within will always shine through. Your journey will always be an ever-evolving one. Passing is not always the goal, the true goal is to be a proud TRANS. Don’t be ashamed of it. Embrace it and have the compassion to illuminate others on your journey.


All the photos: courtesy of Saigon Le.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

1 comment:

  1. I never met Saigon and we were never going to meet. I lived many thousands of miles away, but her beauty was entrancing. Still is.

    We talked on the phone a few times and she was a very nice lady. A bit of a passion for French furniture if I recall correctly!

    I always wondered what happened to her and I am glad things turned out ok.

    She used to call me the ‘student with the office under the stairs’ :)


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