Pat is 27 years old and works as a financial consultant. He has completed his transition and now identifies as a trans-man.
A couple of years ago my mum asked, “So when are you going to change your name? Next time when you’re a man, are you still going to use the same one? It would be funny if you went around with such a feminine name!”
You see, I was given a very feminine-sounding Chinese name at birth. I had only just told my mother that I was starting my transition to become a man, and she was concerned that I should have a name that would reflect my gender more accurately. She laughed as she talked about this. I knew this was a sign that there was a change in her attitude and that she was gradually coming to terms with it. She was finally accepting me.
She even added, “You know, now I have to remember to tell people that I have two sons, instead of a daughter and a son.”
* * *
Even now, many of my friends still refer to me using the feminine pronouns – “she” or “her” – even though I’ve had my sex-change surgeries. I don’t really mind, and I don’t blame them either, since most of them have known me for more than 10 years, when I was still female. It’s a habit that’s hard for them to change, and I’m fine with it as long as they remember not to use it in the presence of strangers, which could be embarrassing for me. I now live with my girlfriend, whom I’ve known for 2 years. We met through a common friend, and she’s always known that I’m a trans-man. She’s fine with it.
When I was 22 or 23, I knew I had to make a choice. I was brought up to believe that you were either male or female, not something in-between. I believed that it would be difficult if you were to live your life any other way. I started searching online for information about transitioning and sex change, and learnt about terms like FTM, which referred to female-to-male transsexuals. I also found a lot of blogs, mostly American, by people who talked about their childhood and personal experiences. Most felt similar to what I went through. I eventually spent a whole year reading up about things like taking hormones and going for surgeries, before finally deciding that it was what I really wanted for myself, when I had the means to do it.
During that year I thought about many issues and had many questions. What would it be like if I went ahead with my decision? What if I changed my mind? What if the results were not what I expected? What if I was actually more comfortable being a woman instead? There were no easy answers to these questions, as there was nobody who could tell me for sure what was really going to happen. I knew there might be the possibility that even after taking male hormones, my voice might not deepen as much as it should; or that the hormones might cause side effects like acne, hair loss and even aggressive behaviour. Of course I had to consider surgery and the fact that, however small the risk, I might lose my life in the process.
I also had to think about my family. How were they going to take it? My mum would definitely be very upset; would she disown me? What about my friends? Would they see me as a freak? Or would they distance themselves from me? Those were all very real possibilities. I considered the reality that I might never find love, as it was hard for others to understand what people like me were going through. Because I loved kids, I wondered if I would be able to accept the fact that I would never have my own children. I might end up old and alone with no spouse or children. I went through all these considerations – social, emotional, family, financial – all by myself, and was beginning to fear for my own unknown future. Many of the blogs I had read talked about what a brave thing it was for them to go through the transition, and how wonderful the physical changes felt. But not many talked about life afterwards. What happens? Were they happy fitting in? Did everything just go back to normal? I’ve even come across some articles about people who made the full transition but regretted it, and had to go through the painful process of reversing it. Above all, I also asked myself: what would my life be like after the transition?
* * *
I went on to have my first “top surgery” – the bilateral mastectomy to remove my breasts – in 2008 in Bangkok. By then I had already been on hormones for two years, and my mum had plenty of time to get used to the idea. Her main concern was my welfare, and whether it would be a safe and reliable procedure. She however did not even attempt to stop me from going, as she already knew it was a matter of time anyway. With the hormones, I was already beginning to look more like a man than a woman. My second surgery – the “bottom surgery” – was performed in 2009, after about a year’s break.
The reason I’m sharing my story is because I’ve been fortunate to have been accepted by most of my heterosexual and non-transgender friends. When I came out to them they could have easily rejected me or cast me aside as a freak, refusing to have anything to do with me. But they did not. Instead they accepted me, because they knew me as a person first. The more they knew the less they feared. They accepted me.
Personally I think everything happens for a reason. I’m a happy-go-lucky person in general. I knew that worrying too much about what others thought of me would only put me into further misery. Despite everything I’ve gone through, I still have people I know, like my mother, brother, girlfriend and other friends, who love and accept me the way I am, which is far more important. As I grew older, my confidence increased. That was probably how I survived those most difficult times alone.
When it comes to transgender discrimination, I believe in education instead of depending on legislation alone. The first thing that I want people to know is we do not choose to become transgender. We don’t wake up one day and decide that it’s cool to be a trans-man. We all know that we don’t have a choice. Sometimes we are just made this way. That’s the thing that I hope people will understand, because with understanding comes acceptance.
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The above are excerpts from Pat’s full story, which can be read in the book.
Stefanie, who is in her fifties, is a retired civil servant. Although born male, she now identifies and socialises as a woman.
My wife and five children have never seen me appear as a woman, even though I’ve been married for more than 20 years and I’ve come out to them as a transgender person. I was granted early retirement from the civil service some years ago on medical grounds. On my last day of work, I went to collect my retirement letter dressed as a woman, and decided to come out to my colleagues. They were all very shocked, because up till then they had only seen and known me as a man.
I grew up in the Chinatown area near Hong Lim Park in the 1950s and 60s, a long time ago in a different age. We were a large but poor Cantonese family of seven boys. I was different from my brothers and the other boys in my neighbourhood. I never liked playing outdoors in the park or getting involved with the various Cantonese, Teochew and Hokkien gangs. Even though I never took part in their activities, I was once attacked by someone from a rival gang when I was 10 years old. It was very painful but luckily there were no serious injuries.
Most afternoons after school I would sit by a window at home and look at the girls walking past on the street, with a secret wish to be just like one of them. Looking back, I now realise that it was not a fantasy. It was part of my mental state. When my strong desire to be a girl intensified in my teens, I began to find myself wandering the back alleys, incredibly frustrated at not being able to get hold of any women’s clothing to wear. Back then, it was common for people in the area to hang their laundry out over the alleys. That was when I discovered some of those clothing would accidentally fall to the ground. One night I found a pair of women’s panties on the street, and decided to keep it for myself. To me it was like a treasure. I finally owned something feminine that I could wear. Of course I was aroused by it; but unlike other boys, even after the sexual release I still had the desire to not just dress like a woman, but to be like one. That desire stayed and did not go away.
* * *
Job security and a stable income were very important to me at that age. So I had to hold on to the job and continue living as a man, even though it wasn’t easy. At 21 I met a young woman through some mutual friends; we went out for four years before we got married. The reason I married her was so that I could live as a normal man, and to be accepted by everybody as one. Every man was expected to have a wife and children in those days. I had already buried deep inside my heart the wish to become a woman, and wanted to keep it that way. I felt I was doing what was expected of me, and of everyone else in society at the time.
* * *
That night I waited till 10pm. When she didn’t return home I decided to go down to the hotel to have a look. I waited until it was very late, and saw them emerge from the club together, behaving in a very intimate manner. It was hard to bear. How could she, my newly-wed wife, make a fool of me like this? I was heart-broken but decided not to create a scene in public, and went home alone. Although they had a car, she still arrived much later than I did. As soon as she got home she started packing all her clothes into a suitcase. I knew then what was going on, and there was no turning back. Without saying a word, she left the house and walked out of my life, just like that. I never saw her again.
* * *
I had thoughts of committing suicide because of this. The easiest way was to jump down from the 10th floor, as most HDB blocks then were only that high. I even estimated that it would take around seven seconds to reach the ground from the 10th storey. I struggled with those thoughts. If I killed myself, how would my parents react? And my brothers? As I wasn’t formally divorced, I was also worried about how my mother-in-law would take the news. I knew everyone had such great expectations of me. I just couldn’t bring myself to take my life.
I had a very simple logic at the time: if I had the courage to go up to the 10th storey, why couldn’t I have the courage to live again? So I chose to live on, and to live a life that I wanted. It probably took me another seven or eight years before I finally managed to pick up my life all over again. During this time I kept myself really busy with work. Soon I met another woman, and started dating again. I felt I was ready to settle down for a second time, and that’s exactly what I did.
* * *
My second marriage was a happy one, and we had five children together, between age 12 to 22 years old. The two oldest girls are in university, and the eldest will be graduating very soon. My son is training to be an officer in National Service, while the two youngest are still in secondary school.
* * *
The hardest part was talking to my wife about it. I dropped hints for years before finally breaking the news to her. Instead of telling her directly, I had to feed her information in bits, as I knew it would be hard for her. For example, after a regular hospital visit to my psychiatrist, I would casually tell her what the doctor had said.
* * *
Of course, my family is the most important part of my life, and I would never do anything to hurt them. That is why I would prefer not to use my real name here. In some ways, my family still does not fully accept me for who I am. For many of my transgender sisters who do not have the support of their family, life becomes a living hell for them. Even though I am now taking female hormones prescribed by my psychiatrist, the physical effects are limited at my advanced age. I also realise there won’t be many advantages for me to go for a sex-change surgery. I’m not looking for a life partner anymore; even if I were to become a real woman, I doubt anyone would want me. What I regard as more important is to be able to cross-dress in public as a woman and be accepted by society in general. Dressing up for me is about doing so in a decent, ladylike manner. When I’m out, I wear a plain blouse and knee-length skirt, with flats. That feeling of being accepted as a person can be very fulfilling for me.
* * *
I would really like everyone to be open-minded about transgender people like me. We don’t go round breaking up people’s families. Not all of us work in the sex trade like the girls in Changi Village. Even the ones who work there do so for survival, because they lack acceptance from their families, or lack other financial means to support themselves. Please give us space to live and be ourselves. I think that is what most of us in the transgender community want, to gain acceptance from the general public in order for us to live our lives.
We do no harm to others, and simply ask to be left alone. That’s all we want.
* * *
The above are excerpts from Stefanie’s full story, which can be read in the book.