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Mookey's Story -- Transgender Youths Find Support, But Challenges Remain

New America Media, News Feature, Video, Words: Carolyn Goossen//Video: Carolyn Goossen, Daffodil Altan, and Min Lee Posted: Aug 17, 2006

Editor's Note: A new generation of transgender youths is finding more societal acceptance and support than ever before. But hardships remain, particularly for young people from immigrant backgrounds. Carolyn Goossen, a writer for New America Media and Daffodil Altan spent time with Mookey, a 24-year-old Chinese-American college student just beginning treatment with sex hormones. Daffodil Altan is an editor at New America Media, Min Lee is an editor at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

SAN FRANCISCO--Mookey Goh's four roommates cluster around him in the bathroom, watching intently as he sits on the edge of the bathtub preparing to inject himself with testosterone for the first time. Mookey, 24, is a senior at San Francisco State University. Born Jessica, he is biologically female and identifies as a transgendered male -- or, in his terms, as a "gender f---." Mookey has not undergone top or bottom surgery (i.e., breast removal or sex-change operations) and doesn't plan to. He just wants the hormones.

For as long as he takes "T" -- which may be for the rest of his life -- Mookey will enjoy the benefits and deal with the consequences of having synthetic male hormones rushing through his body. The benefits, he explains happily, include facial hair, a deep voice, more muscles and a higher sex drive. Potential side effects include acne, body odor, increased aggressiveness and perhaps heightened risk of cancer and heart problems.

This is a streaming MP4 video - you'll need Quicktime 6 or later to view it.

"Look how scary this needle is dude! It's a f---ing inch and a half!" Mookey exclaims proudly, while slowly emptying the vile of "T" into the syringe he holds in his hand. His roommates giggle nervously and murmur words of support. "I can't believe you have to stick that in your own leg," one says appreciatively. "So...you're going to do that and then cook dinner?" teases another.

In this cramped bathroom, surrounded by loving friends, Mookey, with his wide, mischevious grin, smooth complexion and trim Mohawk, is positively beaming. It is no wonder. He has been waiting for this moment for years.

Mookey has never looked at himself as a girl, and was never totally comfortable with his female body growing up. He suffered from depression, which he says was linked to the gender issue, but also to the fact that he knew he liked girls. He started identifying as transgender when he first heard the term as a freshman in college six years ago. Now, thanks to San Francisco's system of community wellness centers, Mookey is able to access testosterone free of charge.

A decade or two ago, a person who identified as trans might undergo surgery and then leave town and try to "pass" somewhere else, says Lydia Sausa, a transgender issues lecturer at the University of San Francisco. Today, there is less emphasis on surgery, and -- with the mainstreaming of gay and lesbian rights -- less stigma and isolation. More people are coming out as trans, and chat rooms, personal blogs and support services are only a Google search away.

Mookey is part of this new generation of trans youth. He has a strong network of friends and even family who are anxious to support him and his decision to take male hormones, regardless of the medical risks.

This is not to say, however, that social stigma and institutional discrimination no longer exist. Many trans people are terrified to travel, says Sausa, for fear of being exposed when using personal documents that betray their biological gender. (It's a complex and somewhat costly process to have one's gender and name changed on personal ID documents).

Health care is also an issue. Most insurance companies don't cover hormone treatments or sex-change operations, and even routine health care can get complex. "We see people in transition who identify as a man, so they'll put an M on their health insurance. But then how do they get their pap test covered? It's tricky," Sausa says.

Dafna Wu sees a number of Asian American trans youth at San Francisco's Dimensions Health Clinic, where she is the head nurse. Many are, like Mookey, the U.S.-born children of Chinese immigrants. "There is a pervasive non-communication with their parents around their gender stuff," Wu observes. "When I say, 'How does your dad feel about your mustache?' the response is, 'We don't talk about it.' Many of them still live at home with their parents. It's painful, because it makes them feel invisible."

Cecelia Chung, deputy director of San Francisco's Transgender Law Center and a trans woman herself, emphasizes that, comparatively speaking, trans men have it easy. Particularly in Asian culture, she says, there is less stigma associated with transitioning from female to male than the other way around, and fathers in particular are more accepting -- "The family is gaining a son," Chung says.

Mookey was born Jessica Rushin Goh to Chinese immigrant parents in an upper-middle class suburb of Florida. Jessica began introducing herself to people as Mookey from the age of 15. That same year she came out to her parents as a lesbian. A few years later Mookey moved to San Francisco to go to college at San Francisco State.

mookey on beach

Mookey's Chinese immigrant parents have grudgingly accepted Mookey's decision. "She is our daughter. We need to support her," Mookey's mother says firmly. Yet she is emotional when speaking about her daughter's transformation.

"When I see her walking, I think...my child is so lonely. Because she is trans." Her voice breaks, and she begins to weep. A few moments later, she regains her composure. "I know she's going to do alright, because she's hard-headed, like me." She laughs and wipes her eyes.

Mookey doesn't consider himself lonely, but he longs to see positive role models of Asian trans people that he can point out to his parents. "A lot of what you see here are the male to female prostitutes on Polk Street. That's fine, but there's not much in terms of positive images of Asian transgenders."

Back at his apartment, Mookey finally injects the dose of testosterone into his thigh. As he emerges from the bathroom, his roommates take turns to hug and congratulate him. His girlfriend Eliza wraps him in a long embrace. Mookey lets out a deep sigh, and buries his face in the nape of her neck.

Also by Carolyn Goossen:

Beijing's 'Lala' Scene -- A Chinese Lesbian Speaks Out

Beijing Magazine Pushes Boundaries of Censorship

Internet Keeps Tiananmen Spirit Alive

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