My Story

It’s a tropical midnight and I’m sitting on a raised stool at an outdoor bar in the Soi 4 district of Bangkok. I watch as beautiful Thai ladyboys in short dresses walk the narrow, lantern-lit streets, catching the eyes of Western men but passing over me, an unnoticed Asian female body.

When I traveled to Thailand in the summer of 2011, I became fascinated with ladyboys: men who present completely as females, but are known as Thailand’s “Third Gender.” I think about why I was drawn to them. I am someone who took the long road in becoming comfortable in my own skin. I bounced bipolarly from crude tomboy and hyper femme as a child, recalling days of refusing the Barbie happy meal in favor of Hot Wheels, only to turn around and play with my mother’s makeup. For someone who for so long never felt comfortable with my own femininity and my own body, I had never seen examples of Asian sex and gender ambiguity—until meeting ladyboys.

This project is personal to me in its subject matter and its medium. Ladyboys are a sexual minority in a culture saturated in sex—sex trade, sex trafficking, and sexual repression—yet they live their lives in open ways that the gender-nonconforming community in America is still unable to do. I want to learn if our struggles with our bodies are similar, or if the cultures we live in make them wholly different.

I’ve also become engrossed with film as a medium for storytelling. I identify as many things—a writer, new media journalist, freelancer—but primarily, I am a storyteller. I have never taken a filmmaking or documentary class, but learned to make/edit all my own videos through casual exploration. My videography often borders on too creative for the objective journalism work I do. The artistic documentary is a chance for me to explore my love for telling stories in a new way and evolve as a storyteller. The journaling aspect is crucial to the project; during my teen years, I’d buy a hardbound 300-page notebook and fill it by the end of the year working out my thoughts and feelings. This is something that, since coming to college, I’ve stopped doing, but I feel that during such a transformative experience like this, it is almost necessary to resurrect and can even provide material for my filmmaking.

I’m hoping the Dale Scholarship will bring this project to life; it’s a little too artistic for a journalism scholarship, too amateur and personal for a film scholarship, but it’s a project very close to my heart, mind, and body.

Vivienne Chen


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