I have three long-haired boys, and wherever we go in Cambodia, people are confused, certain they are girls. We are constantly asked, “Why?” The answer is simple: They like having long hair. My boys’ push against traditional gender expressions is perhaps acceptable only because Cambodians have come to expect odd behavior from foreigners.
Yet, it is a different matter for a Cambodian transgender individual with long hair. Transgender individuals in this setting face many acute challenges, and their unconventional appearance is only one of them.
Transgender individuals in Cambodia carry a high burden of HIV. According to a study conducted by FHI 360 in select urban centers of the country, transgender individuals have an HIV prevalence of 4.15 percent (compared to 0.6 percent for the general population). Despite this striking percentage, they have historically been left out of HIV prevention and care programs. When they were included, they were incorrectly targeted as men who have sex with men. This means that there were no distinct behavior change communications or services for this group.