Rin Ninh: Skillful masseur and empowered individual
by Saophorn Phoeng, Linking, Learning, and Amplifier Officer, Voice Cambodia
Rin Ninh’s journey of self-discovery began with the realisation that his identity did not align with the gender assigned to him at birth. He is a transgender, 40 years old, and raised in Kampong Thom province. Due to economic hardship, he moves to live in Bokeo district, Rattakirir province. Society’s limited understanding and acceptance of gender diversity created additional barriers for Rin Ninh as he sought to live his truth but still found a way to overcome hardship within the workplace and life.
“From a young age, I knew my gender differed from my friend’s expectations. I felt I was homosexual, and nobody advised me that I was gay, but I recognised it for myself,” Rin Ninh said.
Here is a retelling of Rin Ninh’s story of overcoming challenges he faced:
He has had a short haircut and had a masculine style since he was young. From time to time he faced discrimination despite being capable of working. He was judged and discriminated based on his gender and sexual orientation. The biggest challenge for him was the deeply ingrained prejudice and discrimination against transgender individuals. For instance, he was denied working as a masseur and was not accepted by clients just because of how he looked.
Due to his family’s economic situation and parents’ divorce, he was not able to pursue an education even though he wanted to to help his single mother in raising his siblings.
“What we would do for livelihood is go fishing together from sunrise until dark. Our family does not even own a decent house, and having family members live together is pretty challenging. I remember that we only had a small hut and when it rains we had nowhere to stay; the rice goes wet and can’t even be cooked,” he recalled.
His mother’s reaction to everything, especially divorce, worsened her life. Se started drinking and thinking that action would help her to stay out of trouble and worries. Later, Rin Ninh relocated to his aunt’s place to continue supporting his family by fishing and working extra. However, his aunt didn’t even have compassion for him and his family. He then moved from his aunt’s house to Siem Reap province to study being a masseur. He learned the skills, gathered experience and got employed there. Life becomes a little at ease.
He experienced being employed as a masseur with an association in Siem Reap, hoping to open a business someday, but eventually moved to Borkeo, Rattanakirir province with his partner and earned his livelihood from working at a local restaurant. However, traditional and conservative values continue to result in limited acceptance and understanding of diverse gender identities. He continued to experience discrimination in the work place. Eventually, he decided to open a massage business with a partner, looking back at his skills and experience as a masseur.
“When I started my business providing massage services in Borkeo, people always wondered if I was a woman running a legal business,” he shared.
There were times when police would show up to investigate any possible drugs or illicit service activities. Despite obstacles, his unwavering determination to be true to his self propelled him forward. Rin Ninh carved a path for himself through hard work, dedication and refusing to settle for less than he deserved.
“I am transgender, and this has nothing to do with my skills and expertise. I am a qualified masseur. My expertise helps people relieve tension while improving their health and stress levels,” he emphasised.
When he got his business stable with his partner, someone approached them with an interesting invitation.
A self-help group leader, Ms. Sokunthea, invited him in joining a support group for LGBTI individuals. He expressed his interest to meet people from other communities who would have a similar experience or situation, at the same time help raise awareness about the LGBTI community. By attending meetings of the self-help group, he recognised its diversity and inclusivity, with people sharing the same problems and providing mutual support. He started to learn about disability, as well, or about people who are living with HIV. He grew resolute and firm, seeking out resources and support networks that could allow him to connect with like-minded individuals and learn from their experiences.
“I am fortunate and glad to have a mother who constantly encourages me and supports who I am and what I aspire to be. I once asked her, “Mom, am I wrong to have been born this way?” and she responded with “I won’t get angry at you; this is your right. Love and respect one another as humans, regardless of whether they are homosexual or heterosexual. Hate, contempt and prejudice are all unacceptable. Please be empathetic and kind to one another if you love someone. Love others like you would your family member. Keep your hearts open and your kindness high if you genuinely care about one another. Treat everyone as if they’re family.”
Rin Ninh’s resilience was evident in his ability to rise above the negativity and discrimination he encountered. Instead of allowing these experiences to break him down, Rin Ninh used them as fuel to grow stronger. He turned the pain into power, transforming experiences as change catalysts. His partner’s family and community have now accepted him. He is finally being his self and acknowledging who he really is.
“Let’s inspire others to celebrate individuality, embrace diversity and stand together toward a more inclusive and accepting Borkeo. Together, we can make a difference and create a society where all individuals are valued, respected and celebrated for who they are. I want to appeal to everyone everywhere to please not discriminate against LGBTI persons and accept us exactly as we are. This is our nature. We follow our hearts and passions.”– Rin Ninh