“I was a monk for four years. At the time, and because I am transgender, I thought that was the best way to understand and change myself, but it failed. The experience only reinforced who I am and what I will be for the rest of my life,” said Sam Sophea, 33, who lives in Preik Panao, Russey Keo District. For years, he battled with his identity in order to become a “good son” to his parents. When he was younger, his mother beat him almost every night because he was considered a disgrace to the family. His neighbours pitied him and they even tried to mediate between him and his mother just to stop the violence within the household, but this did not help the situation. The beatings only stopped when he left for Thailand to work as a cleaner of a Cambodian family who own a beauty shop there.
The beauty shop ultimately became the instrument that helped him to change his life. He recalled that, after he finished his chores, he used to observe the staff of the beauty shop at work and took an interest in the tasks they performed like applying make-up, doing hair styles, etc. Upon learning of his interest, the owner enrolled him in a beauty school and supported his school fees. When the owner’s daughter got married and they all moved to Korea, he decided to come back to Cambodia and restart his life.
On returning to Cambodia, he got involved with Khemara Club, the only MStyle Club in Russey Keo District, after learning from his friends that MStyle supports MSM, transgender and gays. At Khemara Club he started as a volunteer and later became one of the Peer Facilitators. Aside from being a Peer Facilitator, he also helps young MSM, transgender and gay people in finding jobs. He voluntarily trains them on how to become make-up artists and hair stylists and, through this, they can get off the streets and become productive members of society. Sophea says that he does not want them to go through what he experienced when he was a young boy; collecting garbage, begging people for money on the street because his family was very poor and had no food to eat.
In conclusion, Sam Sophea has this message to young MSMs, transgender and gays, “Don’t be hopeless. You should study hard so it is easier to get a job and support yourself. Time is priceless, we can never turn back time so we have to seize every day and make the most of the opportunities we have to improve our lives. Lastly, we must be committed to what we aspire to so that we can do what is necessary to reach our dreams.”