My name is Sai and I am the youngest of 9 children. I moved here with my family from Vietnam. I realized when I was very young that I was not the girl I wanted to be. In fact I was a boy, and I was devastated. There were days when I was alone in my house. I would wear a towel or t-shirt on my head and pretend for just a moment that I was a beautiful girl with long flowing hair. Growing up, these were some of my favorite days.
The bullying started when I was in kindergarten and continued through high school. The other children hated me and made me feel so alone. At the end of the day, I would go home to my family and they would do the same thing. They couldn't understand why I was so different, so female. All I wanted was friendship and love. At night, alone in my bed and under the covers I cried so no one could hear me. I pleaded with God, "Please let me be a girl when I wake up." I don't think he could hear me either.
After high school, I ran away from home and to streets. Life was much harder but at least I was able to be me. To live, I worked as a club performer and survived through sex work. At the time, this life gave me the love and affection I longed for. For the very first time I felt validated and safe to express who I was inside. I befriended the other club kids and transgender women - together we formed a family, our little band of survivors.
My life began to change and I was surrounded my wealthy men. I modeled professionally and was for the first time financially secure. Everything in my life had changed and yet I still felt alone and trapped. During normal everyday interactions I was constantly making excuses and lying about my past. I was not emotionally or mentally capable of sustaining long–term relationships even when the men I was with knew of my transgender status.
There was great shame that came from being under the financial control of men - especially when those men are terrified of the world of finding out they love transgender women. My life was dangerous. I was unable to go where I wanted without being monitored. I was being threatened that if I left I would, “end up on a slab with a toe-tag”.
And so for the second time in my life, I ran away.
I escaped my life of sex work and cut contact with everyone I knew. I went back to school, got a job, and found my way back to God. I am now a registered nurse with health insurance and a home. I belong to nobody but myself. I realize now that maybe God did hear me all those years ago crying under the covers. I think back on those days as a child pretending to have long flowing hair and I smile when I look into the mirror. I am now the woman I always wanted to be.
The world is beginning to catch up and I have noticed that my conservative little town has become more accepting of who I am. I fully embrace my life as a beautiful and unique transgender woman and I rejoice in the knowledge that we as a community continue to thrive not only for ourselves, but also for each other.
Sai [last name omitted]