We were unwinding in our editorial office recently when we looked up and saw Laura standing in the doorway, uncharacteristically quiet, waiting for us to notice her and invite her in. When we finally did, she said, “You guys, I have to tell you something, but this just between us. I don’t want this ending up in In Touch, okay?”
We promised her we wouldn’t print it, even though we knew we would because we run a gossip magazine, and that is what we do. She went on. “I know everybody at Kalani thinks this is who I really am, this beautiful woman from Boston you see before you now, but this isn’t who I’ve always been. I’ve been keeping a secret, and I don’t want to leave Kalani without at least somebody I trust knowing what it is.”
Oh my god! Is she in the witness relocation program? What!?! What is it!!! What!?!? The suspense was killing us! When she finally continued, we almost passed out from shock.
“You guys,” Laura continued, tossing a photograph on the table in front of us. “This used to be me. I had a sex change. I used to be a man.” What?!? Laura? A man? Impossible! Then we looked at the picture in utter disbelief. It was of an elderly Vietnamese man. Did this used to be Laura? Had Laura gone through a sex change operation, and that much plastic surgery, and that much voice training to develop her New England accent? “I used to be a Vietnamese software developer named Duong Pham.” Yep. She had. Needless to say, we were stunned, absolutely stunned.Speechless even.
“I’ve really only been a woman for four months now, that’s one month before I came to Kalani.” She said. “When you lived your whole life as a man, learning to be a woman can be difficult. You don’t always know what to say, or what to do, or what kind of body language to use, or how to walk proper even. I’m telling you, it’s tough! So that’s why I came to Kalani. I figured I could figure out all that stuff while I was here, and if I messed up on any of it, nobody would notice.” And that is true. Nobody ever did notice when she messed up on being a woman, which she did a number of times, because actually, some people did notice, but they were too nice to say anything.
If you watched Laura over her months here, you probably noticed her amazing transformation. From her clumpy, manly walk to her more feminine glide as she emulated her gal-pal kitchen hoozies. From her boisterous and boyish shouting to be heard, to her more gentle and dignified vocal expressions. From her awkward and strange attempts to pee standing up, to her acceptance of the more biologically appropriate way for a woman, Duong Pham’s transformation into Laura Hartung came to completion here at Kalani thanks in no small part to the ohana’s acceptance of her and their willingness to let her make the mistakes she needed to make while she figured it all out.
We hugged Laura/Duong Pham with tears in our eyes, and marveled at what a brave soul she is as she walked away. So beautiful. So brave. So honest- that’s our Laura, the former Duong Pham. We watched her walk out of sight, and then we went online to watch Richard Pryor videos on Youtube, because sometimes that’s just what we do.