Lose To Win is a series of inspiring success stories that arose from life-changing sacrifices.
Believing that she was a girl trapped in the body of a boy, Mia Nguyen spent her adolescence and teenage years wanting and dreaming of becoming who she really is. When she turned 25, she finally found the courage to leave Vietnam and seek answers as to how she can live authentically.
More than 10 years have passed since that significant day. Today, Mia is a counselor, a lecturer in human sexual behavior, and a journalist. Her appearance on the talk show Bar Stories with Dustin Nguyen and Lynk Lee a while back also opened up a conversation about the transgender community.
Vietcetera sat down with Mia to hear her talk about the biggest transition of her life.
When did you realize you were “assigned” the wrong gender at birth?
I struggled with it throughout the years and didn’t have an answer until I was 25.
Ever since I was a student, I used to observe peers around me and realized that, somehow, I was different. I wanted to be treated as — and seen as — a girl. I loved it whenever I was told I looked or acted feminine, like a girl.
Back then, the Internet was still an unfamiliar platform, and the world did not have an open mind on the concept of gender. Everyone who tried to redefine gender would be grouped as “gays”.
Society lacked the vocabulary to describe the kind of person that I am. And this confusion followed me throughout that part of my life.
Can you tell us about your journey in defining yourself and your gender identity?
It started where I grew up, in Ben Tre back in 1980. And it ended in Australia in 2007.
Ben Tre, back then, was stuck in generational poverty. My family only had the money for food. I was also raised by a single mother. When I went to Saigon for university, I became my family’s breadwinner. With the financial pressures on my shoulders, I halted my questions about gender identity to focus on helping my family.
However, a part of me never stopped questioning who I was, or what I was.
This was when my friends made me realize that the world is so big. And they told me that given the opportunity, I should move abroad and find myself a community where I could truly feel a sense of belonging. So I started saving up to go study abroad.
In 2007, I embarked on my journey to Australia. When I was exposed to a community that was diverse in terms of ethnicity, race, color, body types, gender, and sexualities, the bubble I was trapped in bursted. I was able to navigate my way through the idea of a gender spectrum, and the woman I always have been just came out of her shell.
What did you leave behind when you went to Australia?
Everything I’ve ever known. My career. My family. The societal molds and expectations I had to conform to. The unknowns about my own identity.
When I arrived in Australia, I only had enough money for the first two months of my new life. I knew that the financial aspect would pose an issue, but I still went for it. I had to. I had to step out of the only place I’ve ever known to find the answers I never received.
Looking back now at 40, I truly think I was brave (and oh so deserving). Back then, fear was not in my lexicon.
What does finding your gender identity truly mean to you?
It feels like coming home, after being lost for twenty-something years. Before that moment, it was as though I was lost in a dark forest, stumbling through patches of light, but the path was always uncertain. Finally, it’s like I’ve found truth after living a life of ambiguity.
What’s something in your journey that’s the most difficult to put into words?
I used to be silent. I could not utter my feelings to those I loved most.
A heterosexual person is more comfortable in opening up about their feelings to others. For us in the LGBTQ+ community, there’s so much fear: fear of discrimination, fear of being ostracised… We were silenced — and silent. Silently questioning. Silently maturing. Silently loving.
What has been the most endearing thing someone has done to show you their support?
A few of my closest friends realized my gender identity before I did. When I left home, I was a man. When I returned, I was a woman. I remember them looking at me and saying “This is who you really are.”
I was lucky enough to be able to live in a safe environment, where everyone saw and accepted me for who I am. There are places where discrimination pervades through every particle of air. The life of those in the LGBTQ+ community is not one without struggle and pain. Many of us are refused an education, discriminated against, and are never sympathized with. I empathize with all of them.
What’s something you wish people understood about the LGBTQ+ Community?
Don't marginalize the LGBTQ+ community with isolationist words like "they’re living in a third world". Although we differ in gender identity and sexual orientation, we all live in the same world.
Focus on similarities instead of differences: we all grew up in the same country, and we all want to protect our families. Being rejected when coming out and living as our authentic selves, that’s painful. And not all of us will look how you want us to.
When we see ourselves in others, we can exercise compassion and empathize with each other.
In an ideal world, how should those in the LGBTQ+ Community be treated?
Like anyone else. The media would no longer look at them like a foreign species or an alien. The public would not see their differences as a disability. They will not be defined and limited by their gender identity, sexual orientation, color, or ethnicity.
For instance, I would be seen as a counselor, a lecturer, a mother. Not as a transgender person. Transitioning, to me, is simply a milestone, not the defining moment of one’s identity.
To you, is Vietnam a compassionate country to those in the LGBTQ+ Community?
Although discrimination and prejudice prevail in Vietnam, I have always felt a sense of hope for the future of our country.
Every country has its own story, and strengths. I believe in the Vietnamese people’s adaptable qualities. We grew up in times of war and poverty, which has taught us compassion. Our adaptability and yearning for compassion, when coupled with an appreciation for different cultures, a different sense of identity, will help us push society forward in the right direction more quickly.
We also need to facilitate more diverse conversations. We need to talk to our children about sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expressions, race, body types, ethnicity, and so much more. We need to see what burdens we have been carrying on the road to finding our authentic selves, and how we can help take that burden away.
Translated by Dieu Linh