Kara Tran is a popular transgender makeup artist in Australia’s Vietnamese community. Her transformation, which challenged her family's cultural beliefs, ended up bringing them closer together. The family, living in Victoria, shares how love helped them overcome hurtful gossip within their conservative community.
Kara Tran is a transgender woman, a successful makeup artist and considered an inspiration within the LGBTQ+ community. Her YouTube and Instagram accounts each have thousands of followers respectively.
“From an early age, I knew I was not a man but a woman. But I felt confident enough to come out with my family when I was 22,” she told SBS Vietnamese.
“As a child, I always liked playing with girl toys, loved long hair. Whenever my mum took me to a barbershop, I would cry a lot. If someone says I look like my father, I'd cry, I’d say I want to be like my mum.”
Kara’s journey to recognise her gender was not an easy one. She recalled looking at herself in the mirror and wishing she could be a woman. But she concealed these feelings in fear that she’d “look very ugly” as a female.
“After every night, I’d remove the wig, wipe off my make-up, I looked back at my body, I was still a man, I felt really miserable. I discovered I am a transwoman. I wanted to look like a real woman.”
Her father, Tran Hoang Son, said he remembered the emotional day his first-born child, Kevin, announced to the family that he wanted to become a female.
“About 10 years ago, Kara was a teen boy, from appearance, attitude, voice, to style. At that time, I never thought that Kara could be a girl,” he said.
“On the day Kara came out, I felt like the storm of life came. Listening to Kara say that she is not a man, but a woman living in the body of the man, the sky fell down.
“I had severe asthma, when I listened to Kara, my asthma went up immediately, within seconds. My emotions were extremely confused, angry, sad, and painful.”
After the “typhoon” of emotions finally passed, Hoang Son said there was only love in his heart for his daughter, and sympathy for the battle she had fought and continues to fight.
But it took years for him to come to this point.
“For me, it took three and a half years to accept the reality of Kara. Meanwhile, my wife only needed three days. The mother had realistic emotion, so my wife took it easier, my wife loved and welcomed Kara sincerely,” Hoang Son said, fighting back tears.
Kara said she could feel pain in her father’s eyes: “He always tells me ‘do anything, as long as you're happy’. But I can see something very sad deep inside his eyes.”
Different from the stereotypical conservative father in the Vietnamese culture, Hoang Son put Kara's dreams and happiness first.
“While I was still sad, Kara told me ‘dad I was born with the body of a man and soul of a woman’.
“This sentence went deep into the mind. It was a push, pushing me very quickly to the goal to empathies and accept Kara. From there the affection came very quickly. Until now I don't feel Kara is a boy, but a very cute girl.
“When I knew that Kara was not a man, I imagined all the curious nasty and questions from family, friends, and neighbours. I have asked myself these questions to find ways to protect my daughter.
“I told them that I always wish to have two children, a boy and a girl. The first son, Kevin, was an accomplishment. The second, Jason, is a boy. Now I have Kara as a daughter, my dream is completed.”
Hoang Son said people would say hurtful and heartbreaking things to him like, “Kara is a boy, why don’t you help him to be a man, but you help him become a woman, that is unnatural, unjustified, and unacceptable”.
"Our family has a great love for our children, surpassing the vision of people who consider our family is fighting against God,” he said, admitting that the hurtful words took a toll.
“I cry every night, so does my wife. The hardest thing is facing a relative.
“When I looked at Kara, I remembered the memories when Kara was a boy, Kevin was very cute. Now becoming a girl, she also has her own beauty.”
“Kara played with a group of three people; all were transgender like Kara. A Middle Eastern friend who took an overdose of medicine to kill himself because he was lonely, nobody shares empathy for him. An East Asian Transgirl, two years later, jumped in front of a train at Sydenham and died.
“When I heard these sad stories, I love Kara more. She luckily has the empathy from the family; her mum followed her very closely. If not, Kara would probably be dead. If not, Kara would be like her two friends.”
Kara said she felt closer to her father: “My dad is very strong, confident, always support me.”
She said she’s very grateful for what her parents have done for her, which provided her with the motivation to remain positive despite the challenges.
“Other families cannot do as my parents did. My mother shows everybody my photos, proudly said that her daughter is a beautiful transgender,” Kara said.
“My younger brother, Jason, if any friend at his school ask him if I am man, Jason will tell them right away, no, my sister is transgender.”
Hoang Son said his affection for his daughter was very deep.
“Today, I am extremely proud of Kara. Kara is not only a great woman at work but also a very lovely daughter at home, loving and respecting her parents,” he said.
“I prefer Kara at the state of being a woman. I love Kara now more than when Kara was a boy. Kevin was naughty, vulgar, and sometimes insolent with his parents. Because she was very frustrated, as a child, living in a boy's body reluctantly.”
Kara underwent painful and lengthy surgery in the United States to alter her face and change her physique.
“Two years ago, my father gave me money for plastic surgery, facial reconstruction, and breast implant. It was very expensive,” she said.
“I always tell dad that I didn't like my face, this bone was so big. My dad said he would try to save and give me money to fix it."
Later, her mother and younger brother travelled to the US to look after her during the most painful period.
“I feel it's my right to give back. Because I’m so grateful for everything I have, my family and my friends have been so accepting. I could not live in the dark, and just pretend to be just a naturally born woman. I want to be true with myself, educate lots of people. The more I tell my story, the more I can help people.”
More information about mental health is available at Beyond Blue.