“I want to do what I love to do,” says 26 year old Kem Nirith, who lives in Boeung Tampon in Phnom Penh. Nirith graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in accounting and could have made a career in banking but, instead, chose to become an MStyle Club peer facilitator at the CSSD club. Although he does not earn much, it doesn’t matter to him because he is happy with the job he is doing. Being a peer facilitator has helped him develop his confidence in communicating with people about safe sex, HIV, STIs and other sexual health issues. Because of this ability, he has been able to encourage many people to join the MStyle clubs and support them in undergoing blood testing. Nirith joined MStyle because he knows that it helps and supports MSM, transgender and gay people; it does not discriminate against people and it is a great place to make new friends and access health information.
Nirith disclosed that his family disapproved of his dressing as a woman when they first saw him wearing a dress for a party. It seemed that they found him dressing as a woman more difficult to deal with than his sexual preferences. However, after he reassured them that he does not feel that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body and feels comfortable dressed as a man wearing jeans and shirts, they seemed a little more accepting of his story. Despite this, Nirith’s father died still not accepting him as MSM. Whilst this lack of acceptance still hurts Nirith, he understands his father’s apprehensions; not wanting him to be laughed at, taken advantage of (especially by foreigners) or discriminated against. As Nirith says though, all these things are just part of life. He is happy and he knows he can take care of himself and he knows his family has no need to worry about him. He added that at work, he is also more effective wearing jeans and shirts because discrete MSMs are more likely to confide if they think he is no different from them. For him, dressing as a woman was merely a way of raising the issue of being gay in a way that Cambodia often associates with being ‘gay’. He acknowledges that there is massive confusion in Cambodia about the difference between a gay man (someone who feels, looks and dresses like a man but who is sexually attracted to other men), and a male to female transgender (someone who was born into a man’s body but feels 100% female).
Nirith was chosen as one of our MStyle heroes because he believes he is good at communicating with, and supporting, people in the community, especially those within the target groups. He also has good at building relationships with staff at the other clubs because he listens to their advice on how to be more effective in his tasks as many of them have been doing this work longer than him.
Nirith concludes our interview with this message, “If you know that you are MSM, gay or transgender, you don’t have to hate yourself. Instead, accept yourself and be proud of who you are. There is no point in hiding because the world is beautiful and has a lot to offer to all of us. You should strive to get a good job and earn people’s respect so that you can represent MSM, gay and transgender people, yourself and your family in a positive light. To do this you have to first respect yourself and others.”