While this is great news for Transgender people, one cannot help but feel it’s a pity that it takes such a severe event to get people to understand that Trans should be awarded the same rights as others. That’s why we were so happy to hear that there are smaller waves of progress being made to recognize and even honor the transgender community – and they’re right here in Singapore! For the second year running, Singapore is hosting its own online beauty pageant only for Transgender women - Tru Me.
TruMe is an online beauty pageant sponsored by Action for AIDS, (AFA) which aims to raise the profile of the transgender community by creating a platform for the public to understand that Trans individuals are humans like everyone else with hopes, dreams and family. AFA also hopes that the pageant will address the issue of self-esteem and empowerment within the Trans community and encourage Trans individuals to be proud and value their self worth.
Undergoing gender-reassigment surgery is not something to be taken lightly. Imagine feeling all of your life that you were trapped in the body of the wrong sex. You were forced to hide these thoughts and feelings from your loved ones, colleagues, and the rest of the world. Slowly you built up the courage to consult medical treatment and take the plunge. It is an incredible, immensely challenging journey to realise your dream and be who you always felt you should be.
Tracy, a Tru Me contestant describes her experience, “My proudest moment was when I finally transitioned to a woman…every year I celebrate my rebirth. After the surgeries, I didn’t even experience pain because my happiness overpowered my pain”.
Deepika, one of the participants for this year’s pageant explains, “People have a tendency to think that Trans people are no good but there is something positive in every one of us. It takes just a small step to show the general public that we are a community and we want to decrease any negative image or attitudes others may have about us.”
This sentiment is something that is very much mirrored across the viewpoints of the contestants – many of whom state their main ambition is to simply be accepted as a woman. Stat.
It is unknown how many Trans people exist in Singapore since no formal research has been conducted. Bryan Choong, Centre Manager of Oogachaga, suspects that this is primarily due to Trans and members of the LGB community’s reluctance to come out due to social discrimination.
“There is a need for more Transgender individuals who can come forward to start the dialogue with the other communities…the level of understanding of [the] Transgender community and the issues that they faced are very low, even among the LGB people”, says Choong.
According to Fanny, another participant, “I came across [a lot] of staring from people, they would eye me from across the room. Other Trans I know mentioned being pulled from job interviews, or being called ‘ah kua’ and thus being asked to leave the company as the boss is worried that colleagues will resign if there are Trans in the workplace”.
While there is currently no formal policy to prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, local organizations such as People Like Us are working to educate the public about these concerns.
But as with all education efforts, it has to start with us. We can start now by supporting and voting for those TruMe participants who are stepping forward for their community with a will of steel to stamp out discrimination by putting themselves forward in this year's pageant.
By Georgina Vass and Talya Stone
Georgina Vass holds a Masters degree in Human Sexuality Education from Widener University. She has worked alongside the Sexuality Information and Education Council to the United States, Planned Parenthood of New York City, Action for AIDS Singapore, and the Association of Women for Action and Research. She is also a member of the American Association of Sex Counselors, Educators and Therapists.
Talya Stone is a writer on social issues, Editor of the online lifestyle magazine City Nomads and volunteer and advocate with Action for AIDS. She is the founder of Le Flea Boutique, a bi-annual public fashion fundraiser to raise funds and awareness for the cause.