A few months ago, we were studied about the Gender equality and equity. Our literacy assignment was to write our experiences or research on the gender in Cambodia. And this is my work.
Put Myself Inside Her High Heels
In Cambodia, there is only one word for people who identify as bisexual, gay and transgender – gay. There are no real names to identify the spectrum of LGBTQ. Due to this lack of language, transgenders are often negatively targeted and only recognized as “gay.”
The transgender community has faced discrimination and oppression as well as physical and verbal abuse. According to the survey from Cambodian Center for Human Rights out of four different provinces, 92% of the interviewee experienced verbal abuse, 43% experienced physical violence, 31% sexual assault, and 25% were raped.
Since I was born in a local community that has a large population of transgenders; I usually see them in the wedding establishment or in the market. I remembered one day when my mom took me to Takeo Market. I saw a 1.75m beautiful woman who walked confidently with her high heels, which is about 12 cm passing by the road. “See that gay person, it looks like a pillar,” said the seller, “I don’t know how much did that gay spend to change itself. How useless, there is no future for that person.” I heard those conversations from one of the sellers that sells me vegetables. And It keeps me wondering how the woman managed to hold her smile knowing the criticism from others in the market.
It is very agonizing that people don’t accept them. However, there are transgenders who are trying to break the gender stereotype. Popi or also known as Leang Sothea won the Crowned Cambodia’s first transvestite beauty queen in 2001 has become the first known transgender. Popi first realized that she loved man at the age of 8 and at the age of 16, she started to wear “women clothes”. She claimed in the Phnom Penh Post that before she became famous, “ [she] was in a real dilemma; men didn’t like [her], and women didn’t like [her].” But there is nothing wrong with her because “It is [her] inclination by nature” that she is born with a woman’s heart. In 2006, she did a sex-change operation and became a popular transgender MC on the television. Moreover she “enjoys reading fashion catalogues, “hair decor” and excursions to the seaside, she is not just another pretty face.”
Popi has the stamina to archives her goals, but there are others that have not had this chance. They need support and appreciation from their family, friends, and society to be able to step up and be proud of who they are. However, this notion is not yet popular in Cambodia. The process of acceptance maybe slow, but necessary. We must all put ourselves in her high heels and recognize empathy is the key to understand.