Wednesday , May 22 2024

Parents’ psychological battles in accepting LGBTQ children

Tran Thi Tham cried and tried to kill herself after a relative called to say her son was not straight.

The woman from the northern Hai Phong City, now 53, was “happy” and “proud” after giving birth to a son and a daughter

Le Kim Tung was a chubby and lovely boy while Yen Nhi had long, shining locks.

However, Tung was shy and preferred to play with dolls while Nhi disliked wearing skirts and preferred buzz cuts.

Friends and relatives commented that her children were “different,” but Tham believed they were just children whose interests would change as they grew older.

But as Tung grew older, he became more and more feminine.

Tham tried to ignore what people said about his feminine behavior and not let negative comments affect her.

Tran Thi Tham poses for photos with her son and daughter before and after their sex reassignment surgeries. Photo courtesy of Tham

Tran Thi Tham poses photos with her son and daughter before and after their sex reassignment surgeries. Photo courtesy of Tham

When Tung was 20, Tham learned that he was wearing makeup and skirts to perform in a drag show.

Shocked, she went into the bathroom to splash water on her face. But soon she was smashing her head against the wall to kill herself and instead passed out.

“I was attempting to commit suicide because I refused to accept Tung was gay. However, I was stopped by relatives.”

Many parents experience shock and pain and go into denial, as Tham did, when they learn that their children identify themselves as different from their birth gender.

Nguyen Thi Tam, a HCMC psychiatrist, says: “Some parents seek treatment for their children by taking them to a psychologist. But I tell them that they need treatment and not their children.”

There are no official statistics on the number of people belonging to the LGBTQ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) in Vietnam, but in some other countries they account for 5-10 percent of the population.

Huynh Minh Thao, an LGBTQ activist, says even in this day and age many parents like Tham believe that queer people are deviant and unnatural due to their lack of knowledge.

“This is exacerbated by society’s misguided attitude toward the lives and images of LGBTQ people. They are described as disorderly, having no future and so on.”

Tham and her husband used to spank their children when they were young to try and reorient them.

The latter often told Tung to “speak up and loudly,” because that is a “man’s nature.”

Tham once bought a new dress for her daughter, but she refused to wear it.

“I beat her and forced her to wear it. But she only wore it once.”

Thao has seen many parents use violence and physical punishments such as detention, beatings and starvation.

Some even take their children for exorcism in the hope of making them straight, he says.

“In HCMC, a woman even took her child for psychiatric treatment for 10 years until one day she came to accept that her child was gay. However, by that time the son began to experience serious mental health issues.”

According to a 2016 survey titled ‘Co Phai Boi Vi Toi La LGBT’ (Is It Because I Am LGBT) of nearly 2,400 people by the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE), an NGO that works for the rights of minority groups, more than 62 percent of LGBTQ people were forced by their relatives to change their appearance and gestures, and 13-14 percent said they were physically assaulted, confined or restrained or told to leave the house.

In 2011 the Center For Creative Initiatives In Health And Population and iSEE conducted research on violence against gay men, and found that in 13 out of 17 cases it was domestic and by a family member.

All 17 people in the study were depressed in some way.

Like Tham, Tran Van Nam and his wife from the southern Dong Nai Province were angry and upset when their daughter brought a girl home to introduce her as her girlfriend.

He cursed and beat her, and accused her of being disobedient and lacking filial piety.

Thu Hong went on to get married to a South Korean man to please her parents. However, two years of marriage was living hell for her. She was always afraid when her husband wanted to be intimate with her.

But she divorced him, and has had gender reassignment surgery.

Nam and his wife were disconsolate and disowned her for two years until Hong threatened to “die if you don’t let me marry the one I love.”

Nam says, “Well, it’s better to have a daughter-in-law than holding a funeral.”

Meanwhile, Tung (who has changed her name to Kim) introduced her mother to the LGBTQ community, hoping she would change her point of view.

Tham says, “It turns out that many mothers suffer in the same way I do, but believe that their children deserve to live with their true nature.”

Vu Thi Giam of the northern Hai Phong City and her husband had a son again after having one son and then four daughters.

The boy liked to wear his sisters’ high heels at a young age, but, like Tham, Giam too believed he was still young and would change when he grew up.

“When he got older I told him to get married, but he said, ‘I don’t want to get married’ and I didn’t think much of it then,” the 66-year-old says.

When she saw him work as a construction worker, carrying and installing heavy water purifiers in homes, she was unaware that he was saving money for a sex reassignment surgery.

He had surgery done in Thailand to become a woman and changed his name to Ha An.

Giam recalls: “I felt like the whole world was falling apart. I was stunned and heartbroken.” She says she did not eat or sleep for a week.

“I want all my children to marry and have children of their own. It appears to be a simple wish but seems so far out of reach.”

Vu Thi Giam (R) and her transgender daughter Ha An. Photo courtesy of An

Vu Thi Giam (R) and her transgender daughter Ha An. Photo courtesy of An

But thanks to encouragement from her daughters, she changed her mind and told herself, “What matters is that the child is happy.”

A survey by VnExpress earlier this month found 61 percent of over 2,700 respondents saying they are willing to accept their child’s gender as long as they are happy, 25 percent admitting they would be shocked and distressed but still accepting and only 14 percent refusing to accept their children if they are not cisgender.

Tam advises parents to educate themselves about LGBT to understand and empathize with their children, and allow them to live with their true gender.

She wonders why parents love and care for cisgender children while trans children are rejected, tormented and embarrassed.

“If this is the case, parents only love and respect themselves, and do not want the best for their children.”

Tham has gradually accepted Kim as a woman after learning more about the LGBTQ community. Kim invited her and some relatives to an LGBTQ event after her mother opened up more.

Tham was even invited to the stage at that event. At the podium, she burst into tears and said: “I was shocked to learn that both of my children are transgender. They are unable to bear me any grandchildren. But now that I know more, I have learned to accept them for who they are. Be yourself as long as you are content.”

She calmly accepted it when her daughter changed her appearance and began living as a man. She realized that when her children lived according to their true gender, they were happy and cheerful.

“I’m no longer sad or depressed.”

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