|A doctor at the Men’s Health Center provides free counselling to a trans woman. Photo courtesy of Men’s Health Center|
HCM CITY — Eight years ago, a 24-year-old man from the Mekong Delta Province of Đồng Tháp, who identified as gay at the time, decided he wanted to change his gender.
But he didn’t know where to turn for advice.
“I felt like a girl inside. Psychologically, that’s how I felt,” he said last Sunday during an interview at a signing ceremony for a new health clinic for the LGBT community in HCM City.
“I could easily buy hormones from people who had visited Thailand for sex-change surgery. Hormones and that kind of surgery are still not available in Việt Nam,” he said.
Changes in the national law, however, are expected to occur within several years, as the Ministry of Health’s legal affairs department is working with several government agencies to compile a Law on Gender Transition.
The law is expected to allow sex-change surgery under certain criteria and include more detailed provisions about transgender people than what is in the current civil code. It will be submitted to the National Assembly next year, but may not take effect for another two to five years.
In 2015, the 24-year-old from Đồng Tháp, who now identifies as a transgender woman, chose to have cosmetic surgery on her face, nose and breasts at a private beauty salon in Việt Nam.
Prior to the surgery, she began injecting hormones from a 0.5-millilitre tube every week for one year to help develop breasts, shrink muscle mass and reduce body hair.
“After the cosmetic surgery, I continued to inject hormones, but only one tube every two weeks. I did not have any health problems from the injections.”
“However, my friends, who had gone through gender transition, had problems from overdoses because they did not go to a doctor, but just listened to advice from friends,” she said.
“They had vomiting and spinal pain, and at times felt dizzy. Others even had bleeding after returning to Việt Nam from Thailand where they had sex-change surgery.”
Many of her friends did not want to go to Vietnamese health facilities because they felt uncomfortable, facing “inquisitive eyes”, she said.
Dr Trà Anh Duy of Bình Dân Hospital in HCM City said that such unsupervised practices by people who fear discrimination are dangerous.
“They can overdose or use substandard hormones, or those without clear origin. They also may not be using hormones in a hygienic way,” he added.
However, with a new dedicated centre for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, people who need counselling now have a place to go.
Though based in HCM City, the new centre will offer counselling to anyone in the country.
Patients in the LGBT community and those who have HIV can call the centre to receive counselling and monitoring of their health while taking hormones or after sex-change surgery performed outside the country.
The agreement to co-operate to provide counselling services was signed last Sunday between the Men’s Health Center and G-Link, a social enterprise providing comprehensive health care and communication to improve society’s awareness about transgender women and men who have sex with men.
The clinic will offer free counselling about therapy, examinations and treatments, all of which will be offered at low cost, to the LGBT community and people diagnosed with HIV. Foreigners who live and work in the country can also access the services.
The Men’s Health Center will provide free HIV tests and free screening for sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhoea and syphilis. For those who test positive for HIV, G-Link will offer treatment assistance by connecting them with public health facilities which provide antiretroviral therapy.
Many people in the LGBT community have already called the centre and contacted staff via its website at www.menhealth.vn, and its Facebook fanpage at www.facebook.com/trungtamsuckhoenamgioi/
A 23-year-old man, who identified as MSM (men who have sex with men), said the “clinic will be very useful and convenient for us.”
According to the UK National Health Service’s guide to hormone therapy for trans people, blood tests must be taken to assess a patient’s health before hormone therapy. Doctors regularly test patients to see if they are absorbing the medicine and monitor any health problems. Hormone treatment can be adjusted or additional medication may be prescribed.
The Ministry of Health estimates that Việt Nam has 270,000 to 300,000 people who want to have transition to another gender.
As part of the country’s Civil Code issued in 2015, the Law on Civil Status addresses gender transition rights and the definition of transgender people.
Accordingly, individuals who have gone through gender transition have rights and responsibility to register their gender change. “They have the right to redefine gender in case of congenital defects or indeterminate sex at birth and have medical intervention,” according to a provision in the current Law on Civil Status.
The proposed Law on Gender Transition, however, is expected to extend those rights and will contain detailed provisions about citizens’ access to hormonal treatment and sex-change surgery.— VNS