LGBTQ Project: Lex Ly

Name: Lex Ly 

Age: 38

How do you identify? If I’m being honest, I consider myself as a human. That’s it. All the rest of the other labels that society slaps on doesn’t faze me. It helps you understand who I am, but I’m not boxed in by it. But in society, I’m a trans woman…’cause at the end of the day when you meet me it’s like, “Hi, I’m Lex.” I’m not Lex, I’m the transgender girl or I’m Lex, I’m the Vietnamese Asian girl. No. I’m just Lex.

Pronouns: She

Where do you live? I live in Fayetteville, Northwest Arkansas. I moved here, actually yesterday made it 10 years because I moved here on my 28th birthday. I drove back from Miami, Florida. My mom had a stroke the year before so I was just getting everything over there back to normal before I made the move back home, so yeah I’ve been here 10 years. That’s crazy. 

What brought you to Northwest Arkansas? Family. I grew up in Fort Smith. I left when I was 14 to move to Florida and live with my aunt and uncle and to pursue my journey and my dream. Other than that, I love it here. I don’t care for Fort Smith as much because it’s not growing as fast as here. I like Fayetteville. I like the people. I feel like the mentality of Arkansas period could be a little bit more, you know, faster but it is what it is.

What was the dream?


Do you gave any pets? I do. I have Versace, I call her Satchi for short. She was a friend’s dog that he couldn’t take care of so I took her [when she was] 1 year old and then she has a little sister who I recently adopted last Christmas. She’s partially blind and deaf and she is an Australian shepherd mixed with a blue heeler. She’s smart for her being disabled so I call her Athena. When I first got her it was so bad because she couldn’t see, she was deaf, her tail was burned because the heater caught her kennel on fire and she didn’t know until it was too late. So I was like yeah, you’re Athena. If you fought through all that and survived, you’re the goddess of war to me, so there you go. Satchi is a schnauzer.

What do you do for work?


Do you have your own shop? I do. I have my own shop [Ink Therapy by Lex Ly and Associates]. I’m a very go-getter. I’m not afraid of things. Fear is not in my head. Fear is just totally an idea that I knock down whenever I want to do anything. I’ve only been a tattoo artist four years and I’m actually getting my instructional license within a year, so that’s my next goal. But after my apprenticeship, I worked in a shop for a month and then I just opened my own. I started from a little studio into the shop I have now having one to two artists who work with me, so it feels good. And we’re the only one in Northwest Arkansas that’s LGBT-owned and operated — from the whole staff to everything — so that’s something I’m proud of. That’s something I want to show the younger generation of the LGBT community that we can do what the f*** ever we put our minds to, regardless if you’re going into a field that’s dominated by whoever. Like tattoo is dominated by males. Women barely get the recognition as an artist. Now we’re getting it slowly, and being a trans woman too on top of that. I can do the same piece as an awesome male artist or a regular female artist, but people will devalue my artistry because of who I am. That’s the sad truth, but I look at it as their loss. So it’s a filtering system for me for people that view my art or view my technique like that. You don’t deserve to celebrate my art. So I don’t get hurt by it. I’m thankful for it because to me it’s a filtering system. 

What was your first tattoo? My first tattoo ever on me was actually two betta fish on my lower abdomen. I’m a Pisces and I’ve always connected with ocean creatures and fishes, and betta fish to me was one of the most beautiful things because they’re vicious, but they’re so beautiful at the same time. I get mesmerized when I see them swim. And also a lot of them come from the rice field — like a lot of people don’t know that — so I connect that with the Vietnamese culture too.  

Where in Vietnam is your family from? I was born in central Vietnam. It’s called Da Nang and it’s a beautiful city. But Vietnam, the whole country’s the size of California…we are along the coast just like California is, but we also have a big, big river running through it so we have fresh water and the oceanfront. I grew up as an ocean baby so moving to Florida, it was natural for me.

If you could wake up tomorrow with any talent or skill, what would it be?


What makes you, you?


What’s your favorite characteristic about yourself?

The ability to see the truth in things. I think one of the biggest [things that helps] with that is that you really have to be selfless, you have to take yourself out of the picture. That’s the only way that you can see the truth because it’s not about you. ‘Cause sometimes we get so self-centered that everything revolves around us. Everything that happens in life somehow we have to connect it with us — we don’t. We just have to watch it and hopefully we understand it’s not about us. For me, every day on this planet, in this lifetime is an opportunity to learn. We literally have a schedule. We have a time where we depart from this planet and we only have one life. We don’t have two lives, we only have one life and our life is here to do what? Monopolize shit? Make money? That’s not life. That’s living trying to survive, but that’s not life. What can you learn from this lifetime? What can you pass down? What can you share? Those are the riches in life that I value and I try to pass on.  

What’s your most treasured possession? My compassion. I don’t want to lose that. I feel like if I lose that I can become with the knowledge I know and with the skills of people watching, observation, I know if I don’t have that, I can do damage. I can do damage to this world and I don’t want that because it’s easy, it’s easy. If you’re smart, you can manipulate people, you can use people, if you don’t have that. That’s what I’m saying. That’s why some of the rich get rich, because that compassion level in their heart has been clouded with money and stuff like that. The poor’s going to stay poor, the rich’s going to stay rich because a lot of that reason. 

What sparks joy in your life? Truth. Seeing people living their truth is the most beautiful thing. It’s simple ‘cause to me there’s nothing more glowy when you live unapologetically and you live proud of who you are, know that you’re doing good in this world and passing it [on]. It’s beautiful to witness and I’ve been blessed to witness through my friends, some of that, because they took big risks in their life and changes in their life, they have to. Ultimately that’s one of the most, even like if my kids when they go through some shit — when I say kids [I mean people] I mentor –  if they go through struggles, just [seeing] them get up, that’s the most beautiful thing a parent can see because a part of you helped that kid get that strength to do that. 

What do you do for fun?


When are you the happiest? That’s a hard question. I’m so selfless that it doesn’t take much for me, honestly. I’m generally always a happy person. l find happiness in everything, I choose to. If you think of it, every morning when I’m up and alive and awake, I’m the most happy. I mean I might not be awake, but I’m very thankful and blessed I’m still here today. So I guess that and I just use that energy to start off my day.

What brought you to Northwest Arkansas? Family. After my mom had a stroke I realized that she has allowed me to live my truth at such a young age. My mom didn’t move with me when I was 14. I moved to my aunt and uncle’s just because I knew I wanted to get out of Fort Smith and I knew Florida was an opportunity for me to live in a big city. When she had a stroke I knew it was time for me to be back, just live closer. I didn’t want to regret anything. 

What’s your favorite spot in Northwest Arkansas? Lake Fayetteville. The pier because when I first moved here I was very, I wouldn’t say alone. I was seclusive to myself because I needed to find my footing here in Northwest Arkansas. And again, 10 years ago, things were different for trans women too. So I needed to make sure I was paving my pavement right so a lot of it — in order for me to do the right thing — I needed to not let others influence me as much. I would go to work and after work I would have my fishing pole and I would go to Lake Fayetteville at the pier and just spend, I never caught one damn fish there, girl. For three years of going, I never caught one damn fish, but it was very therapeutic for me just watching the breeze and lake water, nature, alone. So I did a lot of my future planning to where it’s going today at that pier — just thinking where I want my life to go, what I wanted to be and what was the purpose that I moved back in town. Yes, I know it’s my family, but you’re back to where you started as a kid, what is the purpose in that? Like I said, I find happiness in things that, when you look like at life as a blessing, everything else you see is going to be a blessing. So I try to surround myself with that so if you look at a positive thing, you’re going to create positive.  

What’s one place in the world that you haven’t been that you would like to visit? India. I think a big part of it is that I’ve seen a lot of struggle in Vietnam and witnessed a lot of unfairness of life and India has a lot of that too. And I really want to learn the Buddhism way through Indian culture because it’s not a religion for me, it’s a philosophy of life. But I want to know where that comes from. I really want to go to the roots and just experience that ‘cause I believe in that philosophy of life that I want to understand the roots where it comes from. It had to come from a country that’s very poor. If I’m ever, not if, when I’m financially stable enough to not worry about finances period, I would love to travel and learn and learn, absorb as much as I can, this little sponge brain of mine, and pass it forward. 

What trait do you value most in your friends? Loyalty and honesty. We all make mistakes. I can forgive as long as you show me you’re loyal. And we make mistakes because it’s meant for us to make mistakes to grow. There’s no growth without mistakes so I’m not hanging on to anyone’s mistakes, but I’m hanging on to how you move past it…We are meant to learn lessons while we are here on this planet. Any lesson we refuse to learn or we let it anchor us, we are bound to repeat it unless we pass it — relationship, career, friendship.

Do you think representation matters? If it’s genuine, yes. There’s a lot of representation, but it’s not genuine. It’s like I said, you’re listening not to understand, you’re listening to reply. That’s the same way as that. If you represent something that you’re not a hundred percent that, then you’re giving a wrong representation. So to me, the only representation that I hold dear to is kindness because if you can show that in you, that tells me a lot of selflessness you have within yourself and the only way that you can be compassionate, be kind is you take you out of the picture.

Growing up, did you have any members of the LGBTQ community that you could look up to? Yes, I did. She was pretty much like my first drag mother to be honest. We fell apart over years, but again, lesson learned and I forgave.

Do you still do drag? From time to time. I’m really busy now with work, so it’s hard, but from time to time I like to just express that. It’s fun because the younger generation and drag is very different from where I grew up too. I’m more burlesque drag because I’m trans so it’s easier for me to wear certain garments. So I’m more of a burlesque drag than a full on transition drag queen. 

What advice would you give a young person of color who’s decided to come out? 


What’s one thing you’re looking forward to this year? Nature. I miss being outdoors so much because of winter and then COVID and shit like that, so I’m like, take me to a lake. I have to connect with water. Every year I have to do something water-related. I try to make a trip to the beach at least once a year, just kind of centering yourself again and recharging because for an empath person sometimes it’s hard to get what we need to recharge from humans and a lot of it is that we need to be reminded how small we are. And to do it the easiest way is to be at the ocean because when you realize that, then you realize your purpose is a lot bigger than what we think it is. We’re just here for the experience. All this money you can make, it’s just going to come with problems. It’s going to pass on. You can’t take that to the next life. So I take my riches in other things.

Any final thoughts?