It has been six years since the day Pham Van Hiep, a male educator in the southern Vietnamese province of Binh Phuoc, had a sex reassignment surgery and became Pham Le Quynh Tram, a female teacher.
Tram told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper after teaching a class in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, one day with an inspiring, charming voice that she is living the happiest days of her life and has both love and passion for career.
Asked whether she is upset since her name is always associated with the sex reassignment surgery, Tram said it is a way for her to remember the journey of transforming from a man to a woman.
“I was the youngest child in a family of eight children. My personality has been like a girl since I was only eight years old. I often played with my sisters and really liked people who wore lipstick. I was not sure about my gender until I entered the 7th grade,” Tram, who is now 40, said.
The dream of becoming a real girl always inspired Pham Van Hiep, although in the 2000s having a sex reassignment surgery was still a strange concept and society also had rigid gender stereotypes.
Hiep felt guilty, and was suffering and deadlocked.
“If I kept living that way, I would become a ‘gay’ person who was always mocked by other people and would have neither knowledge nor position in the society. I knew the only way out was to study hard and become a good student so people would not despise me,” Tram said.
She was able to enter the Banking Institute, which is now called the Banking University of Ho Chi Minh City, and also the faculty of law of the Dai Hoc Tong Hop (Combined University), which is currently the Ho Chi Minh City University of Science, thanks to her hard work.
She fell in love with an American of Vietnamese origin and decided to begin tutoring to make money for a sex reassignment surgery in Thailand, instead of continuing her studies.
After six years, Hiep had finally earned enough cash for the operation. He managed to go to Thailand by himself and did not tell his family about his decision, joking that nobody would know if he had died or not.
“I still remember the night of April 26, 2008 when I came back to my home. My mom sobbed after seeing me transformed to a woman. My father was so seriously ill that I did not dare to see him. People started throwing stones at my house. Children shouted every time they saw me. They perceived me as something that was not a human,” Tram said, asserting now she is not scared of anything as she already overcame the most terrifying moments of her life.
The biggest consolation for Tram was that she was allowed to change the information on her personal papers from a man to a woman. She started to teach individual students after a long time with nothing to do, as she was good at tutoring.
“I taught them mathematics, physics, and biology and told their parents I wouldn’t take the money if the results were not good. There were only a few students who went to my class in the beginning. They passed the university entrance test and I gained trust from their parents, so the number of students also increased,” Tram explained.
Many students who have graduated from university still keep in touch with their teacher.
“My life is fulfilling enough. Life has smiled at me many times, so now I will also smile at my students to bring them an initial, favorable step to enter their life,” the teacher said.
Tram added that her class is always full of laughter, day and night. Besides teaching, Tram also shares daily stories with her students and treats them very well.
Ngoc Quynh, who has studied in Tram’s class for free for four months, said: “I currently have a job but I want to take the university entrance test once again to change my life. After listening to my story, Tram decided not to take tuition fees. She is a conscientious teacher. It’s really comfortable attending her class.”
Tram said she plans to visit the U.S. early next year to see her lover, whom she calls “hubby.” They have a decade-long love story but never meet each other and only keep in touch via the phone and Internet.
“Like any other woman, I dream about a husband and a child. I try to nurture my love every day to make my dream come true,” Tram said, adding that she is grateful for his honest love that has helped her surmount many obstacles.