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“They don’t hide themselves anymore.” On the first day of 2017, sexual reassignment surgery will be legal in Vietnam, and trans people will be permitted to change their ID documents to match their gender identity. Another law defining what conditions are needed to officially designate one’s gender, be it a simple declaration or an operation, has to be introduced and adopted first.Tung Tran, 43, director of ICS, Vietnam’s main LGBTQ advocacy organization, says the law will likely not be implemented until 2018.
He’s 5’2”, all muscle, and could pass for a teen idol, despite trading his spiky hair for a crew cut a fortnight ago. Blistering heat is vaporizing last night’s downpour on the streets of District 7, an upscale area southeast of the city center and popular with expats.Under the unforgiving lights of a gym so polished it looks barely used, Kendy rehearses the poses that he hopes will win him gold at Vietnam’s national bodybuilding competition in November.“When I was two or three, I knew that I was not like other girls,” he says. I did everything like a boy and I hung out with boys.” Being different at school did not make him a target for bullies, he says, perhaps because of his audacity. “So when I came out, people around me were not surprised.” At the age of fifteen, he took up karate, but his training came to an abrupt halt three years later when he fractured his arm during a competition.He moved to the more liberal southern metropolis with his parents, who had found hotel work on a fashionable downtown street, and his then eight-year-old brother.