Reflections from a transgender woman
Leona Lo is a principal consultant in a communications agency, and has chronicled her own life as a transgender woman in the 2007 book “From Leonard to Leona: A Singapore Transsexual’s Journey to Womanhood”. Her one-woman theatre production “Ah Kua Show” has been staged twice, once in Singapore in 2009, and again at the New York Fringe in 2010. Leona is also a founding workgroup member of the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network, and founder of the Sisters in Solidarity campaign in Singapore, which she supported with seed money.
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I’m not sure if I can be considered an activist since I don’t devote all my time and energy to championing transgender rights, and I’m not as indignant as most activists rightfully are. I would prefer to see myself as a transgender woman with a story and message to share, and that story is about the depressed status of transgender women in Singapore and around the world.
Why transgender women and not transgender men? Since I do not share the latter’s experiences, I cannot speak for them. Nonetheless, I am glad that this book will give transgender men a voice so we can understand their personal struggles better. I am of the opinion that transgender women, being more “visible” and occupying the zone between maleness and femaleness – in society’s eyes at least – are the most vulnerable to discrimination, silent or otherwise. Like gays and lesbians, transgender people are perceived as threatening the “natural” order of things. More than gays and lesbians perhaps, we are seen as striking at the very core of our patriarchal regime predicated on the male-female binary. It is clear all discrimination stems from misperceptions, so in order to achieve progress with our activism, we need to first demolish the myths and reinstate the facts. Before we can do this, we need to understand the socio-historical context of transgenderism in Singapore.
Singapore is famed as the clean and efficient Garden City of the Far East. With a post-independence history of only 45 years, Singapore has rapidly risen to become a global economic force to be reckoned with. Yet like most young, modern cities struggling to find their identity, Singapore is caught between the cultural heritage of its colonial past and the shifting values of modernity. This epic struggle was captured in the showdown between the “Old” and “New” Guards of AWARE – a prominent local feminist group – in May 2009, with the Old Guard eventually triumphant.
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The above is an excerpt from the essay contributed by Leona Lo. You can read the full essay, and others, in the book.