Wanting to build his physique, he joined a gym where his work ethic gained the admiration of bodybuilders.“I had short hair back then,” he recalls, “but I still looked feminine.” One of the bodybuilders who’d gotten to know Kendy, aware of his desire to transition, asked Kendy if he would like to train professionally, as a male, sparking a keen “yes.” Vietnam has enjoyed some moderate success in bodybuilding since the turn of the century.The report noted that some are forced into psychiatric treatment, and have little chance of work promotions, meaning they frequently occupy poorly paid, low level jobs.

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“I feel confident about the competition,” Kendy says through a translator. If I meet a strong opponent, I may lose, but what matters is that I see myself as a winner.” Kendy claims the title of Vietnam’s first openly trans man bodybuilder.

He’s 5’2”, all muscle, and could pass for a teen idol, despite trading his spiky hair for a crew cut a fortnight ago.

(In Vietnamese culture the family name comes first; ‘Nguyen’ is the most common name in the country, and ‘Trang,’ his given name, is that of a female.) Since coming out as a trans man, he goes by just one name, ‘Kendy.’ With his position on the city’s bodybuilding team, Kendy has become a role model in the local LGBTQ community, which is facing a turning point in the fight for equality.

“Since I came out, some transgender people I know have been more open,” he says.

Simultaneously, the trans community has become more prominent, joining pride marches and fighting for recognition.

Kendy has over five thousand Facebook followers who consume photo updates of his workouts, and ask him for exercise advice.Kendy stands at the crossroads of two Vietnamese communities – LGBTQ people and bodybuilders – in a patriarchal and conservative society where obedience is often expected of women above anything else, and homosexuality is discouraged.Having taken some years to accept his true gender identity, Kendy’s family is still far more progressive than the Vietnam Bodybuilding Federation, which hasn’t even broached the subject yet, instead barring Kendy from competing in the men’s division.The 27-year-old bodybuilder and personal trainer turns to his side, lifting his front heel, and flexes his calf muscles.He inflates his chest and curls his arm, stretching the tree of life tattoo imprinted on his deltoid six months ago.“It doesn’t matter if I am a trans man or not,” he says with a smile.