At 38 years old, Vivienne is a completely different person than she was many years ago. She is comfortable with herself, happy, and surrounded by friends who love her. She enjoys the freedom to live and do the things she loves without fear. But as a transwoman, she had to build that life for herself. She chose to make her life not just normal, but extraordinary.
But here’s how she “came of age” …
At 11 years old, a best friend went against this certain transsexual girl because she was girlish and tried to drown her in the school swimming pool. The discipline master at that time was also in charge of swimming lessons, thought she was a “problem boy” and basically did nothing as he believed she was lying.
At 12 years old, her body was severely violated by two men when she was walking back from school.
At 14 years old, she was brutalized and beaten up in high school on a weekly basis for a few years for being effeminate. The worst happened when she was dragged into a toilet and had her head crashed against the wall until she fainted. Teachers took no action, but blamed her for “provoking the boys”.
At 15 years old, she was mentally poisoned by the church opposite the school for being in “sexual bondage”. She began to blame her mother for making her this way and stopped speaking to her for many years. She also blamed herself for her great sin which could not seem to “repent” from.
At 16 years old, she turned to gangsterism when she changed schools, as a way to hide her identity from her previous school, and also as a step forward to try be more masculine for the family, friends and church members. She started drinking, and got into vice. She barely scraped through her SPM (school leaving examination) level studies.
At 17 years old, she was excommunicated from her church for allegedly sexually molesting a deaf girl. Her innocence was known the same year; the church offered neither apology nor compensation.
At 18 years old, she was taken as a “toyboy” by a 40 year old woman. The church blamed her again. Ashamed to go back to her parents and with no friends, she decided there was no point being a boy.
At 19 years old, she went to Kuala Lumpur and began her first transition. There she befriended a businessman, who later “rented” her to other men for a few months. She attempted suicide for the first time. After surviving the attempt, she escaped to her hometown Ipoh, vowing never to appear as herself ever again.
At 20 years old, she tried to be a complete “he”, back in college with a girlfriend and part-time job at a paging centre. “He” was also a pirated video CD seller, and at night dealt with synthetic drugs for discos. This went on for several years until “he” started to get tired of the nightlife and wanted a way out.
At 24 years old, “he” started work as an international student coordinator. “He” became a womanizer and slept with countless women for a few years until “he” eventually got exhausted and being fed up with life with triads, decided to go clean. “His” conquest on women continued, even while being with a girlfriend.
At 27 years old, “he” became a computer lecturer and decided to go serious and faithful with a lady.
At 28 years old, “he” met “his” dream fiancée and wanted to be the best “man” in her life. After leaving “him” with credit debt amounting to over 20,000 ringgit (approx. US$ 6,000) and cheating “his” parents as well, she broke up with “him”. The girl said she felt she was sleeping with a woman. “He”, later survived a second suicide attempt.
At 29 years old, “he” decided to be totally out as herself, who she is, sacrificing everything and started to settle into Petaling Jaya (a city close to the Malaysian capital) permanently. She lost all her friends but a few, and her entire life as a person. As she transitioned, she was unable to get a job. Not being able to hold on to her rented room, she became desperate.
At 30 years old, she ended up as a call girl for an escort website. While she had a few good clients, violent sexual abuse usually happened, and she was forced to submit. After a bad incident at a hotel in Damansara town, she called it quits, ending up in a mama-san Karaoke bar in Ipoh Street as girl no. 7.
At 31 years old, she started her first job being a proud woman, as a salesperson at a frame trading company. She later stopped being a karaoke girl, and started to be an advocate for the transsexual and gay community. She was once arrested and brought to a police station on suspected prostitution while hanging out with sex workers. Her car was also vandalized by transphobic elements near her home.
At 32 years old, she got married to an Australian man who promised her the world, and she left her whole life in her country to be with him in Darwin, only to be dumped by him with nothing a few days before her sex reassignment surgery in Thailand. She returned to Malaysia and had to start life all over again. With the help of some people from the local LGBT community, she had some funds and went into NGO work.
At 33 years old, she got deeply involved with the Seksualiti Merdeka (sexuality rights) movement, and became one of the faces of the transsexual population. She also finally hit blessings with her first corporate job as the licensing agent for one of the biggest cartoon brands in Asia. At this time she promised herself to never go down in life again regardless of circumstances. Her battle with herself and clinical depression began.
At 34 years old, after a conversation with her mentor regarding her “incriminating” relations to the Seksualiti Merdeka movement, and taking advantage of a gay Muslim friend attempting to play her out, she burned bridges with the movement, losing most of her LGBT friends, realizing separation was the only way to advocate for them, especially when she was starting to get noticed in straight public circles. She also made her first conscious choice to fight for a better tomorrow and attempted to step out to take part in society.
At 35 years old, after being cheated by the gay Muslim friend whom she trusted to leave her career and work with, she was jobless. Keeping the promise to her mentor never to be associated with negativity since she had a corporate profile, she took the best job in the worst situation, a pub DJ in Damansara town on a minimum wage equivalent to foreign workers’. She had to depend on tips for meals.
At 36 years old, one of her copywriting clients gave her a call, and entrusted her as the marketing manager of his company. She landed a few high profile accounts, increasing her corporate clientele. Her former clients also engaged her for writing. Her social life among straight people grew abundantly.
At 37 years old, she started to clear her rising debts, spending time only with meaningful people, learnt to be at peace while being alone and most importantly, gained the respect of the general public. This was evident when she was never disturbed by any authorities during pub raids and roadblocks.
At 38 years old, she has been a MarCom Manager for more than 2 years and has other offers as well, but chose to stay with her company. She is winning the battle with clinical depression, earned a great amount of straight privilege, learning from great gurus and has inspiration with support from straight pals, some whom she had to take time to win over their scepticism. She is erasing her credit card debts. Though she still has debts to pay and demons to fight, she will get better in time and at least she can finally see her future.
She feels comfortable and is consistently jovial today, with friends who love her and who she can love, finding solace in herself, doing the things she loves to do, freedom to move about without fear, the majority recognizing her as a woman and a climate she has built by simply representing herself well, and most importantly, straight people accept her with pride, honour and dignity she deservedly earned.
This is probably a boring story to some, as when one reads through it, one reads about happiness and no more victimhood at the end. Everybody has feelings. Sometimes there are people who choose to look at the sexual violence and brutality they’ve suffered. They feel so used that they internalize those feelings. For some, it is the only way to survive, because without it, they cannot drum up popularity and funds.
A normal life seems unattainable, and many need their sufferings to gain attention. They become defined by their actions as victims; take away that and they become empty shells. They are putting themselves exactly where society wants them to be. Perhaps some will find happiness in that box they’ve marginalized themselves into.
But there is more to life than that.
She is now a very different person than she was many years ago. And all that took were just 11 principles that seems easy to digest, but in reality difficult to do. These principles changed the lives of the people who inspired her and made her the survivor she is today.
We have only one short life. Make it extraordinary. If we remain in the pits, refusing to accept what we could and should do, our lives will stagnate, being in an endless loop. Nothing would ever be accomplished.
The 11 principles:
1) Never be a victim
2) Own responsibility
3) Cut off toxic people
4) Never blame anybody
5) Make the right choices
6) Live life with no excuses
7) Mix with the right people
8) Know how to carry oneself
9) Always experience new things
10) Do not let anyone be a shadow
11) The present must not be the future’s regret
She only realized these at 36. Only then life began to progress.
Well, better late than never.
photo credit: “The End of the Tunnel”, Nicolás Cabrera via flickr, cc
Vivienne “Yuki” Choe is an ex-gay survivor, transsexual feminist and lone advocate. When she is not talking loud on the need for separation of transgender people from drag queens and shouting to expose the sexual obsession with popularity contest of the Malaysian LGBT movement, she is quietly watching Manchester United matches and silently taking trips to some hillsides for a relaxing hike.