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Vietnam's trans community relies on the black market for hormones

Many trans people in Vietnam buy their hormones illegally from Thailand and self-medicate, but they're hoping the government will change its laws soon

Vietnam's trans community relies on the black market for hormones
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An estimated 270,000 transgender people can now change their gender marker in Vietnam.

Many of Vietnam’s trans community are turning to the black market to buy hormone medication.

Hormone replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery are not legal in Vietnam. Many trans people have resorted to buying bootlegged drugs from neighbouring Thailand.

Huynh Nha An, 21, self-prescribes and injects hormones to stop her facial hair growing back. Every month she must decide whether she will spend her minimum wage on hormones or food.  She relies on advice from her friends about how much medication she should take and how often.

‘When I don’t use hormones regularly I turn back into a boy, I’m no longer smooth like a girl,’ she told the AFP.

In 2015, Vietnam updated its laws to recognise the true gender of people who had undergone gender reassignment surgery. But the surgery is still banned in the country, so many travel abroad to have it.

For 10 years twins, Truc Lam and Truc Linh have taken multiple morning-after pills everyday in the hope they’ll grow breasts. The right hormones for their transition are easier to come by now. But they hope the law will soon change in Vietnam.

‘We did it secretly and by ourselves,’ Lam said

‘I wanted my transition to be quick, I wanted to be beautiful.’

‘It’s good to have someone who could supervise us in using hormones, it could assure us about our health, but it could cost us more money,’ said Linh.

‘I hope the government can help on this.’

New law provides a new hope

The Vietnamese government is now drafting legislation that will allow people to officially change their gender. But the law is unlikely to come into effect until 2019.

Its health ministry is also weighing up whether to legalize hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery as part of the law. People who do not undergo hormone therapy or surgery would not be allowed to update their gender legally.

‘We have to assess what medical facilities will be compatible to do hormone therapy or surgery for trans people,’ Nguyen Huy Quang, head of health legislation at the ministry told the AFP.

‘There would be some legal barriers as well as psycho-social and traditional cultural barriers.’


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