Trans folks in the media – Singapore-style


Written by Estelle Ng, Change Maker

4eb57acf36bdbf74d07a9a6ed94cd75aIn December 2015, an article published in The Straits Times caught my attention. Entitled “Transgender man with 2 ‘wives’ admits sex with teenage girl”, it was an extremely uncomfortable and confusing read.

Here’s why:

  1. In short, it was a case about a man who is charged with having sex with a minor.
  2. The word “married” is placed in inverted commas – making it unclear as to whether he really is married. If they are legally married, there should be no reason why “married” should be accompanied by inverted commas. Furthermore, it is unclear if his marital status(es) matter.
  3. He was constantly referred to as “her” even though his gender identity clearly shows otherwise.
  4. It is unclear if his gender identity actually matters in this case. Think about it, would his gender identity and/or orientation be worth a mention if he was cisgender? “Cisgender man with 2 ‘wives’ admits sex with teenage girls”. If not, is there really a need to identify him as a “transgender” while at the same time denying his gender identity?

The choice of words and language used in the recent newspaper report reflects a less-than-dignified representation of individuals from the trans community. And my opinion is even echoed in an unpublished letter written by Sayoni to the Straits Times.

Talking about how the trans community is represented in media is important because it reflects how they are treated in society. More importantly, it also deals with any social biases and prejudices they face in society.

Surely, in this day and age, there has to be more respectful representations of trans individuals in Singapore. Afterall, trans individuals are just like you and me – we go to school, get a job and pay due taxes. The only difference is in the bodies we identify ourselves in: yet, don’t we all have a unique way of identifying our preferred gender and performance as well?

Having said that, how can we best represent individuals from this community? Let’s take a look at three note-worthy media representations!

  1. The New Paper’s Mum, Am I a boy or a girl? Singaporean transgender individuals open up about struggles

Shortly after the above mentioned case was made public, TNP made the effort to engage in conversations with a few trans folks. In the report, trans individuals were given a chance to narrate their life stories. It featured three individuals: Cheong who shared about how she had to live under her mother’s expectations of her as a boy when she was growing up; Khor who spoke about his transition; and Salamat who expressed her joy after becoming who she really felt like. Though featuring three individuals cannot wholly represent experiences that all trans individuals face, the article humanises trans individuals and treats them with respect by giving them room to share their stories the way they want to.

  1. Grace Baey’s photo exhibition, 8 Women

If a picture speaks a thousand words, Baey would have spoken a great amount by bringing them in the limelight in the way the featured 8 individuals were comfortable with. Entitled 8 Women, this photo exhibition highlights how trans folks exist in diversity – each one is unique in their own right.

  1. Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 11.55.02 amChristopher Khor’s upcoming film-documentary, Some Reassembly Required

In an upcoming documentary, Khor features trans folks in different stages of transition. But, really this documentary is about what it means to be human for some individuals in a “modern country with conservative Asian values”.

In sum, various media platforms have an important role to play in providing information and educating the public. It is essential that information is tactfully chosen and media works are thoughtfully crafted and presented. Being insensitive to a person regardless of gender identity or orientation is not only disrespectful but also serves to fuel discrimination that the LGBTQIA community is already facing in Singapore.

It is time to recognise that trans folks are individual human beings who deserve respect too. After all, identifying with a particular life experience or gender identity is only a part of one’s identity.

“I am who I am (which is the sum of my experiences) but being transgender specifically is not the centre of my being… I think it’s become so much a part of me that I would not be who I am without it, but does it define me? I don’t think so.,” he offers. “We really are just the sum of our life experiences, and being transgender is just one part of mine.”

– Christopher Khor in an interview with Contented.

estelleAbout the AuthorLiving by the motto permanent impermanence, Estelle realises that with every moment never capable of repeating itself, life is simply too short to be spent waiting for things to happen. She is currently a Sociology undergraduate who believes that the power of words and the arts can inspire conversations.


What Makes a Man

Written by Leow Yangfa, Change Maker, as part of our “What does being a man mean to you?” blog series. Submit your responses to [email protected]!

Being a son means I am grateful for my parents’ loving support, good health and continued presence. Being a brother means I am fortunate enough to have two women with whom I will have life-long relationships. Being a nephew means I have aunts and uncles who are there to remind me I’m part of a larger family. Being an uncle means I have relationships with five very different young women whom I will risk my life to protect.

Being of Chinese-Hakka-Peranakan heritage means I am connected to a long history of culture, language and traditions. Being a Singlish-speaking Singaporean means I can be uptight, eccentric, arrogant, kiasu, kiasee and patriotic, all at the same time.

Being gay means I have an awareness of what it means to be feared, hated, demonised…and different. Being a survivor of suicide and sexual assault means I know how it feels to be vulnerable.

Being vegetarian means I would like to practise kindness in my daily habits. Being an atheist means I only have this life to live. Being a social worker means I am self-aware and seek purpose in my life.

Being a man to me means….all of the above.

About the Author: Leow Yangfa is the Executive Director of Oogachaga, a community-based professional counselling, support & personal development organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender & questioning (LGBTQ) individuals, couples & families.


What does “being a man” mean to me?

Anonymous post, as part of our “What does being a man mean to you?” blog series. Submit your responses to [email protected]!

binaryBeing a man has been a complicated experience for me. I am a genderqueer person in a body that very much looks like a man’s. But I am not, and will never be a man, and it’s not for a lack of people trying to teach me how to be one.

The last time I fought with my father, I was leaning against the kitchen countertop glaring angrily at him while tears rolled down my face. He was standing in the doorway, clearly frustrated and angry with what was going on. “Are you going to cry like this in front of your army commander?” he bellowed.

The last time I attended a school camp, my sweat-stained face was inches from the dusty ground as the unsympathetic National Cadet Corps sergeant, just a year older than I was, revelled in his ability to wield power and control over human bodies. He roared at our cowed forms to suck it up and take it like the men we were, because we were late coming out of the crowded showers.

The last time I spoke to a boy who was once a dear friend, he told me that he could not live with the fact that I liked boys even after trying all this time. He recommended that I seek treatment for my mental disorder, and that he never wanted to see me again. The last time I accidentally let slip about a boy I was crushing on, I received a text message calling me a faggot and threatening to beat me up.

tumblr_mh36f6KoMG1s1s8rgo1_500I have not yet figured out how to look less like a man. On certain days when I’m feeling particularly dysphoric, every assumption that I’m a man makes my insides squirm. On other days the same assumptions simply bounce off my belly, leaving nary a mark. Most of the time, I find myself drawing a box labelled “Other” under the Gender section on some form. When neither box fits, you can only make your own. In spite of everything, these few months after my coming out as a genderqueer person has been so much more liberating than the years I spent being a man.

The inconvenient truth for many of the men that have come and gone from my life is that really, nobody has to take anything “like a man”. Toxic masculinity – the kind that exemplifies violence, aggression, power and control over the other – makes me very afraid, and if you aren’t already scared about the lengths that men can go to in asserting their dominance and privilege, you really should be.


The trauma of dominant masculinity in school

By Alvin Wong, Change Maker

Secondary school life can be an extremely stressful phase of one’s life. It is a period of coming of age; it is a period of self-discovery, and one finds that it is not just enough to do well in the end-of-year examinations any more. “Fitting in”, whatever that term means, suddenly becomes of great importance. Everyone wants to be part of the in-group, because the out-group is where the losers and nerds end up. Also of extreme importance: having friends. If you have no friends, you are nobody. If you do not “fit in”, you will have no friends. If you have no friends, you may very well find yourself bullied and harassed without any recourse or way out of your situation.

Programs_Military_Large We often think of dominant masculinity as one of the driving forces behind gender-based violence in all its forms. Dominant masculinity is about strongly adhering to the traditional male gender role – restricting expressions of emotion, avoiding being feminine, displaying toughness and aggression, focusing on achievement, being self-reliant and non-relational, being misogynistic and being homophobic. There is a clear correlation between masculine attitudes and gender-based violence; what may be less obvious, however, are the ways in which dominant masculinity is oppressive towards men in addition to women.

accompanying image 2I spent four years in a single-sex secondary school and for all four of those years, dominant masculinity never ceased to beat down on me. It was not just individual teachers making entire classes of 14-year-old boys do 20 push-ups in the parade square for not cleaning their classrooms well enough; it was my classmates uttering homophobic remarks directly at me as well as behind my back, being told to to “man up” and “suck it up”, my CCA seniors believing that physical punishment was the best way to fix problematic behaviours, my peers policing and taunting other students for feminine gestures and behaviours, the NCC sergeants subjecting their helpless juniors to endless rounds of push-ups and verbal abuse (which still counts as the smallest amount of power I have ever seen go to someone’s head) and my friend who engaged in self-injury for a time, partly because of the constant bullying he’d been receiving for not being on the bandwagon of dominant masculinity.

SafsongBan01ePerhaps you have fond memories of being in secondary school, but those are memories I would rather leave behind. In my secondary school, dominant masculinity was institutional – it was not just about particular individuals being aggressive and misogynistic, the entire school culture was poisoned by the apparent need to prove one’s worth as a man by behaving in supposedly manly ways. In many ways, it was a traumatic period for me as a queer boy; I tried my best to live through it, but the impact that those four years of exposure to dominant masculinity had on me is not up for debate. Five years may have passed since I walked out of that place, but the anxiety that I feel when being around gender role-conforming men will probably never leave me, and neither will my depression, onset by being forcibly drafted into the military, an authoritarian structure where dominant masculinity is rewarded with power and where one surrenders all personal agency and the ability to do what one thinks is right.

Secondary school gave me my first taste of how cruel and violent men can be. Secondary school made me question my identity and existence. Secondary school gave me a look into how a culture of masculinity breaks down special individuals with unique personalities little by little, day by day. Secondary school made me read up on gender theory and feminism because I could not believe that this was how the world was meant to be. We are more than just printed lists of personality traits that fit neatly into prescribed boxes. The enforcing of traditional male gender roles and stereotypes on a cultural and/or institutional level hurts everybody.

It certainly hurt me. I never wanted to be a man any more.

WP_20150505_20_32_18_Pro (2)About the author: A 21-year-old genderqueer person currently suffering from major depressive disorder, Alvin is in the process of piecing his life back together as he continues to face an uncertain future in Singapore. An independent writer and advocate for mental health awareness, gender equality and social justice, he hopes to make his mark on the world while he still can.


Crossdressing: Blurring the lines between genders

by Ming Gui, Change Maker

Generally, in Singapore, the idea of crossdressing is not widely accepted. Some people view crossdressers as weird or “gay”, insulting them online or offline.

0Why is society not receptive to crossdressing? Why can’t a man wear skirts and have long hair without people glancing at him judgmentally? Why can’t a woman have super short hair without people calling her a tomboy?

Perhaps speaking to a couple of crossdressers can provide a new perspective on crossdressing and societal views towards it.

Rain* is a woman who presents as a man every day for more than a year now. Most people are surprised and confused on how ‘convincingly male’ she can look. She was assigned to the female gender at birth, but feels that her gender identity can range from agender to male, and often confuses people in the way she looks. She feels that her women’s clothes are more like a costume and feels like she is a man crossdressing as a woman whenever she wears women’s clothes. When interviewed and asked about her view of crossdressing, she answered:

“The idea of cross dressing is largely defined by society. It is society that has decided what is male clothing and is female clothing, and it is society that has decided to view your gender according to your biology. Obviously I don’t agree that guys /girls must look a certain way. There are female bodybuilders and there are plenty of guys with long hair. The only reason why they are not common here is because of NS and reservice regulations. The subject of cross dressing gets a little more complicated when it comes to personal gender identity. If you identify as a girl despite having male biology, you will think of dresses as normal wear – something you should be wearing anyway, and not “cross dressing””

Dotz* is another crossdresser, who can look really convincing when he puts on his wigs and make-up. Reactions from others about his crossdressing hobby ranges from positivity to curiousity. He says:

“Regardless of the reasons, I think society generally don’t take too well to crossdressers. This bad rep is probably gotten from cases we see in the news (like that recent report of the guy who crossdressed to peep at girls in the toilet) or from the negative assumption that transgender folk are usually streetwalkers, ergo, crossdressers are too. Nevertheless, I think our society is slowly becoming more open towards crossdressers. I think fashion today is also blurring the gender divide as the style of clothing is becoming more androgynous. Then there is also the deluge of the Korean wave with male artists donning eye liner, make up and all that to perform (Visual Kei too, but I guess that isn’t as mainstream). So these are some of the factors that I feel are slowly influencing society to see crossdressing as a form of self-expression or perhaps even as a fashion choice rather than seeing it for negative things.”

When asked whether he believes in the unspoken rule that only men can wear men’s clothes and only women can wear women’s clothes, he says:

 “Since I am a crossdresser, I definitely don’t think that. But I think it is rather difficult for the standard male body to be able to pull off most female fashion nicely. If you ask me why, I will have difficulties answering why I feel this way. Perhaps it’s an effect of being influenced by society since young? Or maybe it’s evolutionary? Anyway, as I mentioned, fashion is gradually blurring the gender divide. Also, what wrong has a boy committed if he simply wears a dress? And of course, I think most people would probably give you the example of the Scottish kilt worn by guys. I think most people have their own preconceived notion of what others should wear, which I think is really selfish. I for one, am offended by people who wear sandals with socks, but who am I to judge right?”

Mihiko*, a male crossdresser who loves Lolita fashion, crossdresses both in private and at gatherings and events. He views crossdressing as a form of art and appreciation of ‘your other side’. He comments:

“My mom knows about my crossdressing and she discourages me from it. However, others such as those who are into subculture scene see me dressed pretty at events, compliment my dress up and hoped I could dress up more frequently. The will be objections to crossdressing, given a majority of conservative people in a conservative society here in Singapore. There are such a wide range of crossdressers that it is almost impossible to stereotype them as homosexual people. Some of them did it for role-playing (getting into the another gender role as similar to the character), and they have their own ethics or principles to draw the line between free love with the same sex. Therefore people assuming all crossdressers as ‘homosexuals’ are pretty ignorant, biased and downright disrespectful, and I hope that more can be done to change that.”

All in all, it all boils down to societal norms. It is society that tells you what a man should wear and what a woman should wear. It is society that tells you that girls wear pink and dresses, and boys wear blue and pants. It is society that lay out such rules. Even in schools, girls wear skirts while boys wear pants.

When someone wears an article of clothing that does not immediately correspond to their gender, it raises eyebrows.

a6b66e5c034416f231e127329636d2bcdb4c30a5Fortunately, the world is getting more and more accepting: there has been a rise in the number of people, regardless of their gender, trying out new types of fashion. There are many other people like Rain and Dotz, who crossdress and feel happy about it, regardless of what others may think. Indeed, the line between gender-appropriate fashions is blurring.

I leave an apt quote from Rain:

“I think everyone should be allowed to wear whatever the heck they want without getting judged.”

*Names have been changed to protect identity

About the Author: Min is bisexual, and will openly admit it if anyone asks about her sexuality. However, she likes dressing like fairy princess. Her fashion style gains her judgmental stares whenever she walks down the street, but she does not care. She feels happier dressing that way.


Beyond The Binary: Ending Transphobia

by Kelvin Ng Jiawin, Change Maker

“My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s f**ked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

pic1transphThe last lines of Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note highlight what’s most heart-wrenching about her suicide: that it is not an isolated incident. Leelah Alcorn is one name in the long list of transgender individuals who have faced violence and hostility due to their gender identity, including Islan Nettles, Tiffany Edwards, Zoraida Reyes and Kandy Hall.

Transphobia is a unique form of gender-based violence that remains painfully under-discussed in mainstream discourse, but as recent events have shown, this is a necessary conversation to have – something needs to be done about the discrimination of trans individuals.

“Huh? Transphobia? What’s that?”

Let’s get some definitions out of the way, first.

  • Assigned sex: The sex you were assigned at birth and put on your birth certificate.
  • Gender identity: The gender you identify with; may correspond to or differ from your assigned sex! I can be assigned male at birth, and identify as a female.

For most people, gender identity has never been an issue. Most tend to simply take their gender for granted as they feel comfortable identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth. Individuals whose gender identity match their assigned sex are known as cisgender.

However, it is important not to universalize this experience: for many, their assigned sex simply does not reflect their identity as a human being. Trans individuals can identify as male, female or outside of the gender binary (i.e. neither male nor female, but as genderqueer, agender, non-binary*, etc.).

Simplistically speaking, transphobia arises from firmly conforming to concepts of sex and gender. Most of mainstream society tends to associate gender identity, assigned sex, gender expression† (and to an extent, sexual orientation) as synonymous concepts; this results in gender roles and stereotypes that affects cisgender, or ‘cis’, individuals as well (cis women, for example, are expected to conform to the feminine ideals of subservience and silence).

While society today, by and large, are more tolerant of cis individuals who don’t conform to a certain gender role, the discrepancy between a trans individual’s gender identity and assigned sex can be met with hostility due to ignorance. In reality, however, there is no one way to be human: just because something is more common doesn’t mean it is any more normal or natural, and it is perfectly normal to feel alienated in one’s assigned sex.

joelizTransphobia is also reinforced by the underrepresentation of trans people. Rarely do we see trans people being adequately represented in governance, civil society or the media. This creates ignorance: people tend to form stereotypes of trans people from whatever little they are exposed to – my first exposure to the word “transgender” came in the form of a disparaging insult toward how another person looked. Trans identities are relegated to punchlines about vacations in Bangkok and deemed perverted or unnatural. It becomes easy to demonize entire groups of people you don’t know much about, but the fact remains that trans people do exist and they don’t just come in the form of shimmying drag queens (they can, and there’s nothing wrong with that!) – they lead human lives as do all of us.

“But why should I care? It’s not like I’m actively persecuting them!”

Leelah Alcorn’s case has illustrated two important things: first, violence does not merely come in the form of in physical abuse or assault, but also (and perhaps more insidiously) in a disregard and disrespect toward a person’s gender identity; second, this violence can be inflicted by anyone – people like you and I, and in Leelah’s case, her very own mother. Hence, it is important to to be mindful of the effect our words and actions may have on trans individuals.

As a cis male myself, I find it essential to recognize the privilege I possess by virtue of my gender identity – while I try to do all within my means to be inclusive toward trans individuals, there is no denying that I myself benefit from a system that actively marginalizes them. Other than the misgendering and exclusion Leelah faced, trans individuals also face harassment, hate speech and violence in schools, at work, in public spaces or even at home. Employment discrimination continues to be rampant as ever against trans individuals, and trans people are still routinely excluded from gender-exclusive spaces as well as basic medical care. In Singapore, trans identities are not legally recognized until after transition, which can be an unaffordable luxury; this deprives trans people of the right to identify as who they really are.

“Transphobia sucks. What can I do as a cis ally?”

While it may be hard, and inaccessible for many, to push for legislative change on an individual basis, cis individuals can play a part as an ally by being more mindful to create a safer place for trans individuals.

The first step in doing so, undoubtedly, will be to respect and recognize a trans person’s gender identity and the terminology they choose. Use their preferred pronouns when addressing them and avoid misgendering them by using their name or gender pronoun assigned at birth. It is also important to realize that their narrative is no one else’s to craft but their own, and to respect their right to do so.

We also have to be respectful about boundaries; be fully aware about confidentiality and exposing a fellow trans person, unwittingly or otherwise, as this may create backlash especially in intolerant settings. (Not to mention the fact that invading someone else’s privacy is a completely asinine thing to do.) Avoid asking about a trans person’s “real name”, or genitalia, or sex life – not only can it be a trigger for unhappy incidences, you wouldn’t ask a cis person the same questions either!

Lastly, actively challenge transphobia – both internalized or otherwise. Growing up cisgender, it can be easy to disregard the existence of trans people. The fact, however, is that this willful ignorance does nothing for trans people – it doesn’t shift the status of their rights nor change the harassment they face on a daily basis. Challenge transphobia by calling out anti-transgender jokes and remarks in public spaces, by supporting gender-neutral language and facilities, and most importantly, by listening to trans individuals. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been problematic in the past – what matters is that we’ve learned from those mistakes and are consciously working towards creating a safer world for our fellow trans friends.

* Genderqueer individuals don’t identify as either male or female, agender individuals don’t identify with any gender at all, while non-binary individuals identify as a gender other than male or female.
The manner you express your identity, via mannerisms, fashion or behaviour. May or may not correspond to the former two categories; cis males who perform in drag adopt a gender expression considered feminine.

pic1About the Author: Kelvin Ng is a debater by training and part-time poet. His biggest accomplishment is remembering all the lyrics to Beyonce’s ***Flawless — both the original one and the Nicki Minaj remix — so that must mean something.


Some Reassembly Required: An Interview with Chris Khor

Interview conducted by Sing Rue, Change Maker

Christopher Khor is a transgender man who has been making headlines in Singapore with his upcoming documentary “Some Reassembly Required”. The film will document his reconstruction and is the first film on transgender men in Singapore. His team raised over $14,000 through crowdfunding earlier in the year for the documentary. We talk to Chris about his thoughts on transgender visibility in Singapore, and globally, gender diversity and what we can expect from the film.

Sing Rue: Can you tell me more about some of the misconceptions you intend to address in this documentary? What are some of the important things people need to understand?

Chris Khor: I think the biggest misconception about transgender people is that people can’t be transgender and gay/lesbian. I get that it’s confusing – I’ve had trouble explaining it to my family members myself. But it’s important to know that being transgender relates to your gender identity, and gay to your sexual orientation, so they’re very separate things. As for me, I identify as a straight transgender man.

SR: Recently, transgender women such as Laverne Cox are gaining visibility, but not so much for transgender men. Why do you think this is so? How do we bring about greater visibility for transgender men?

CK: I think the reality is that transgender men often can fade into the shadows. A lot of transmen that I know do not want to seen. Transmen are men, but there is still a lot of workplace discrimination, and there’s always that fear that someone will view you differently. I think the best way to bring about visibility is to create a safe environment in which they are willing to not be stealth, without having to fear jaundiced eyes and discrimination. Of course, then it’s up to them.

SR: As a gender non-conforming person myself, I am incredibly grateful to you for coming out in such a public way to share your story. What prompted your decision to do so? How is the response so far and how do you feel?

CK: We decided to make this documentary after a chance encounter with a transgender man in San Francisco. Geraldine tells this story better, but in essence, he was the first transgender man I’d met in person. And he’d just gotten married, and his wife is lovely. I think it gave me the first semblance of the life I could live, and that was encouraging to me on a personal level.

After that, Geraldine and I began talking a lot more about what being transgender meant to me, and we realised we had a great story. Still, it took me months after that to agree to being the subject of my own film!

It’s a privilege to be in this position, to educate and bring hope. The response has been overwhelming. I’m incredibly thankful for everyone’s support. But the best part has been getting messages from other transguys, looking for advice and sharing their experiences. It’s so important that we start to build a community that isn’t afraid to reach out to one another, especially since it’s so much easier to just “be stealth”.

SR: You seem to be very comfortable with your gender identity and who you are as a person. Is there anything you would recommend to people who are currently struggling with their gender identity and are not in such a good place as you are?

CK: Oh, it helps that I’ve always known I was a boy. There was never any doubt in that regard. I struggled a lot with not being able to accept the body that I have, even after surgery. The best advice I have, in this regard, is that you are bigger than your body. That your soul is more valuable that anything that people see. And you deserve to be loved. That’s going to sound cheesy, but it’s true. Sometimes, that self-love is the only thing we’ve got.

SR: There are some who have come to a place of self-acceptance with regards to their gender identity, but still face opposition from society. Do you have any advice for them? What were some support systems you had that helped you?

CK: I was very fortunate to have the support of my lecturers when I came out in university, and when I worked at a cafe when I was younger. I’ve found that support tends to spill down from the top. A lot of it, I think, is knowing your own worth, and realising that you can walk away from people that don’t treat you with respect. I’ve found that some of these relationships can be unhealthy, like tumours, and you should get rid of them, like…tumors.

SR: What steps do you think we need to take as a community to continue an open dialogue about gender identity, diversity and acceptance? What are some actions we can take as individuals for positive change?

CK: I think we need to talk to each other, instead of talking at each other. Dialogue can only be had if people are listening, and respectful. This applies for communities and individuals. Be kind. Give more love. Be slow to respond in anger. Be willing to talk, to understand different perspectives, and do not fear being wrong. This all sounds extremely airy fairy but it’s true. When we see each other as humans, rather than labels, then the world will be a happier place.

So, to put those things into practice: be respectful when talking to others. Make no assumptions because of people’s labels. Understand that everyone is different, and that’s okay. These are not battles to be won – these are people to be loved.

SR: I can’t wait for your film to be completed! In the meantime, do you have an exclusive teaser to share with those of us who just can’t bear the wait?

CK: We’re in the early stages of production, so we’ve just started lining up interviews. Look forward to our web content though! It’s mad season at work, but we’ll have a video going up pretty soon!


Check out more information on Some Reassembly Required here:

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This piece was written for the Body/Language creative writing workshop, co-organised by We Can! Singapore and Etiquette SG. IMG_2737

There used to be a postcard on the inside of the door of my university dorm room. In black and white block letters against an eye-catching red background, it read: ‘WARNING: OPINIONATED FEMINIST’, and was pasted above the peephole of my door. A few months ago, a schoolmate who was in my room asked, “Shouldn’t this sign be outside? What’s the point if you put a warning sign and no one except you can see it?”

I didn’t know how to explain it to him. But I said, “I’m afraid I’d scare away the boys!”

He plopped down on my bed and laughed. “I thought I’m the one who’s into boys, not you.” He looked at me knowingly. “Are you even interested in boys?”

Maybe he thought I was only interested in girls but I don’t think he knew how much I used to hate them, especially the long-haired variety. Girls were a foreign species, too emotional, docile, and weak. So I observed the ways boys acted and tried my best to emulate them. ‘Top baby boy names in 2012’, I googled, then decided on a male name for myself – Sherman, which translates to ‘wool-shearer’. I became one of the boys when I cut my hair short in Junior College. Not pixie short, but boy short. It took me quite a while to master the art of styling short hair, but when I did, I thought I looked f**king fabulous. I shunned dresses and skirts, wore shirts and pants instead. I had never really wanted to burn bras, but I once contemplated setting my school skirt on fire in the middle of the school garden upon graduation.

Halfway through my last year of school, I struck off number 24 on my bucket list: wearing boy pants to school instead of the school skirt. That day, my friends said something I knew was a long time coming. They told me I was a lesbian long before I identified as anything other than straight. Others didn’t say it but I could see it in their eyes when they walked past me in school corridors.

78 judgmental looks and 21 unwarranted remarks later, I settled down at a small table outside the school library to summarise ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’ for a literature class. Chapter 6, the church finds out about Jeanette’s and Melanie’s relationship of “unnatural passions”. They are pulled up and accused of falling under satan’s spell.

I looked up from my book. Jacob, an ex-classmate, was walking towards me with a hotdog in his hand. He took a seat at a table directly opposite mine. We were less than 2 metres apart, a little too close for comfort. I tried to ignore him and focus on my book but from the corner of my eyes, I could see that he was looking at me. A bite in his hotdog, he stared straight at me. A few minutes, then another bite, his eyes still fixated on me. I put down my book. It was late in the evening and there didn’t seem to be any other students around. I started throwing my study materials into my bag, all the while keeping my head down. A couple of his classmates joined him at the table with their own snacks and I quickly left the area with my things messily stuffed into a bag that was not properly zipped, feeling his gaze trailing my back, burning a hole through those dreaded pants of mine.

My phone beeped. A text message from a friend who was at his table. “Jacob is asking us what the f**k is wrong with you, says you’re a lesbian who will grow up f**king girls.”

I ran straight to the handicap toilet and locked myself in. For half an hour, I sat on the toilet bowl seat then paced around in the tiny cubicle, too afraid to go out. At some point, I un-zipped my bag, took out a pair of FBT shorts and changed into it. But I felt like a coward for giving in so I changed back into pants. I unlocked the door and was about to open it when I heard voices from outside. School kids laughing and shouting to one another. I locked the door again. I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t walk out of the toilet like that. So I changed into the FBT shorts, waited until the coast was clear before I made a beeline out of school. The stares wore me down, and Jacob was my tipping point.

I fantasised about going up to Jacob on the last day of school in a complete male school uniform (a button-down shirt, pants and a tie) and telling him to his face to take his queerphobia somewhere else because who I am and who I end up sharing my bed with really is none of his f**king business. I mapped out the precise location he would be sitting at in the canteen and the company he would be surrounded by. I even scripted my lines. But of course, that never happened. Instead, I did the most instinctive thing a young, would-be queer could possibly do. I wrote an angry blog post about gender and sexuality on my WordPress website.

For the rest of the year, the ‘click’ of the handicap toilet door as it locked would become a familiar sound. I had few friends, sometimes I had no friends. And gradually, the handicap toilet became my best friend.

I bumped into Jacob recently at my school lobby when he came to visit his girlfriend who studies here. Our eyes met for a second then I quickly averted my gaze, ran back to my room and locked my door, taking deep breaths to calm myself. I looked at the postcard on the inside of my door. “WARNING: OPINIONATED FEMINIST”, it read.

I didn’t want to proclaim to the world that I’m a feminist because I have never felt particularly welcome nor safe in my own university. Once, somebody anonymously posted a letter publicly addressed to me on my university’s Facebook group:

“Dear Sherlyn
Everything seemingly misogynistic, rape-positive, sex-negative, anti-feminist, slut-shaming, anti-woman is NOT ALL THE S**T YOU THINK IT TO BE. PLEASE STOP YOUR PSEUDO-FEMINIST AGENDA. Get a sense of humour. If you don’t, the only ‘change’ you’ll create is your number of friends… closer and closer to zero.”

That was not an isolated incident.

In the wake of all these, I create a performance art piece cum public statement. In the school library, I print out all the anonymous attacks I’ve received on A4 sheets of paper. Each sheet of paper features one anonymous comment. No two sheets contain the same comment. I print out 16 of those. Then I print out another sheet of paper with all the comments and cut them up into smaller strips. I head to the nearest utility shop and purchase blu-tack, scotch tape and small table mirrors. During lunch break, I walk to the middle of the dining hall and arrange the printed sheets in a circle, sticking them to the floor with blu-tack. Behind each sheet of paper, I set up a mirror facing outwards. I stick the small strips of comments onto my back with scotch tape. Finally, I step into the middle of my circle and sit down. Some students ignore me entirely, others come up close to read the words. I invite them to take a stand by sitting with me.

In my head, no one joins me.

In reality, none of that ever happened and it probably never will. Instead, I did the most instinctive thing a young, angry queer feminist could possibly do. I left my university’s Facebook group and wrote a post on an anti-violence against women blog.

There used to be a postcard on the inside of the door of my university dorm room. It’s a sign that reads: “WARNING: OPINIONATED FEMINIST”. At some point this semester, I moved the sign to the outside of my door. When I look through the peephole, I sometimes catch students sneaking a stare at my door decorations when they walk past my room. Could any of them be the ones behind the personal attacks? In a school where ‘feminist’ is a dirtier word than ‘f**k’, where being queer makes you a walking target, what do you choose: hiding behind locked doors, or social suicide? I am tired of playing this game, and if there’s one useful thing that 14 years of schooling has taught me, it’s that you can’t win either way.

About The Author: Sherlyn turned 20 this Halloween. She likes insects and arachnids, and once had a pet snail named Fluffy that was unintentionally murdered by a schoolmate. She’s a second year student at Yale-NUS with plans to specialise in creative writing and work as an editor/writer at some place that won’t cen-sor her subversive “pseudo-feminist agenda”. She’s been quoted to “only ever wear social justice tees or gothic clothing”.


Beyond the Facade

by Change Maker, Michelle Shobana

It has never been a norm for my family to talk about issues of gender stereotypes, sexual orientation, body shaming and dating violence. Of course, this does not mean that these issues were not faced; it just meant that no one could ever talk about it in the house.

mich1Having spent my childhood around my elder sisters, I grew up quickly. At a young age, I observed in silence the issues they faced. When my sister was physically assaulted by her partner, I couldn’t understand why she still wanted to stay with him so badly. But I remember holding her hand and telling her she deserved better. The rest of my family preferred a different approach, hitting her as well as threatening to disown her. I know this is never a good way to solve any problem; my sister left him eventually and that was what they wanted.

During my own adolescence, I had to face my own issues. I became aware that my sexual orientation differed from other girls. I felt differently and could never quite find the words to say when they talked about boys, I just nodded and smiled. It was also around this time that I found myself comparing my body with other girls. I was always a chubby child and never though much of it until then. This was when things started to change.

I picked up the habit of vomiting after a meal. It never really made much of a difference to my body, but I always felt better after doing it. This was a habit of mine for three years. In addition to this, I started self-harming and did it every day before school started. Because I did not know how to, I never talked about these issues to anyone.

I knew my sexual orientation would never sit well with my family, because they had expressed such strong negative sentiments towards anyone from the LGBT community. This intensified my other issues, and my eating disorder and self-harming continued.

However, it started to become clear that my issues were affecting me.  I had constant headaches that would last for weeks at a time and had no medication that could alleviate it. My poor physical health affected my grades. My family found out about my bulimic and self-harming behaviour and called me attention-seeking. I was beaten up for my issues and because they saw my behaviour as an act of disobedience. They threatened to disown me if I did not fix myself.

By this time, I knew I couldn’t tell anyone else because being hit by your parents is used as a common “disciplining” tool in Singapore. When I voiced these issues to my family, I got hit even more and was told that I was not an “American”, but an Indian and I should stop thinking of freedom. This comment still affects me today because it shows how narrow their idea of my future is, without any consideration of individual expression or freedom.

mich2Gender stereotypes also play a part throughout my life. Till today, I am forced to put on makeup so that people wouldn’t be put off and will have a good impression of me. The shorter my hair got, the more makeup I had to apply. The more I was forced to apply makeup, the more I refused to do so. So caught up with what people would think and say, my family refused to see the possibility of actual happiness as a diverse family, with each member being able to express themselves freely and help one another achieve their dreams. I hated the idea of living in a box. That was not me.

I only stopped my bulimic behaviour and self-harming when I was enrolled in tertiary education, and I met the woman who put my life back on track. She threw away my blade and applauded when I finished my meals. She told me I look better without make up, and ensured that I always did my best in everything I did. We fell in love, which made me stronger than ever. It was then I realised I had to fight for freedom, no matter how small the scale.

There is little to no talk about gender stereotypes, sexual orientation, body shaming and dating violence within families. Any attempt to discuss these is met with awkward excuses, negative comments or even violence. As Change Makers, we need to break the taboo and make it communicable to individuals from varying backgrounds. Violence is not necessarily physical, it can be emotional abuse too. Victims face all sorts of emotional turmoil when unable to communicate their feelings to their family.

I know because I have been there.

michelleAbout the Author: My name is Michelle, doing my 2nd Year of Information Technology in Republic Polytechnic. I aim to be a teacher, to help individuals in their education academically, and through self-awareness. I see a future where my partner and I can live happily, without being called out for being different. In my spare time, I listen to rock music and take each day at a time. 


“That’s So Gay”: A Crisis of Masculinity

by Alex Tan, Change Maker

During our brief two-week stint at AWARE, my friends and I were tasked to produce a short video on the societal construct of masculinity and the pressures it exerts on youths. We went around to different places to collect responses from male students of various secondary schools. One of our questions was “Have you ever called any of your friends ‘gay’?” Overwhelmingly, all the people surveyed said yes. We then asked what actions provoked or warranted the use of the word ‘gay’. I divided the public’s answers into three large categories.                                                 

Firstly, there were students who used the word ‘gay’ on friends whose behaviour and mannerisms were considered effeminate and unmanly. There were also students who would use the word to mean ‘homosexual’ upon seeing displays of affection or intimacy between two male friends. Then there were those who did not seem to have reflected on the true significance of the word at all, or the potential implications it might have on the people around them; they used it casually, unthinkingly.

1alexThis range of reactions simultaneously worried and angered me, stirring reflection about the deeper causes behind our careless use of the word. I realized that it had become so commonplace in my life that I had never spared it a moment’s thought. Even though I never felt the inclination myself to label other people as ‘gay’, I rarely called my friends out on it. My silence, therefore, made me equally culpable and complicit in the oppression.

The way the word ‘gay’ is hurled tactlessly as an insult at others is indicative of continuing homophobic attitudes. Nowadays, it almost seems to be interchangeable with ‘bad’ when people criticize things as being “so gay”. Its negative connotations imply that homosexuality is incorrect, somehow less valid than the norm of heterosexuality.

Also, when people use the word ‘gay’ against actions that are deemed unbecoming of a man or uncharacteristic of how a man should behave, it reveals a flawed assumption that being gay is equivalent to being un-masculine. Such a conflation of sexual orientation with gender identity is a sweeping generalisation, uninformed by logic or science.

It is even more problematic because it suggests that society’s conception of what a man “should” be is fixed and immutable, and that deviating from that standard is wrong. We end up policing our own gender identities, and stifling our diversity. It is sad that society’s gendered expectations have become so normalized that we never take a step back to see the bigger picture or think of how we have been consumed by the system.

2alexRecently I saw a scribbling that read: “Argue less about the language of oppression / argue more about the material basis of oppression / or just do something about it.” Peppering our speech with such words may seem inconsequential in comparison to the material struggles against oppression, but our world views are arguably influenced by linguistics.

In my opinion, being more aware of how our remarks could victimize others – whether intentionally or not – increases the likelihood of a shift in our thoughts and actions, which could pave the way for greater social change. Altering how we speak and, by logical extension, how we think does constitute “doing something” about oppression. A project founded on a similar basis is the “Spread the Word to End the Word” movement, which aims to end people’s use of the word “retarded”.

 4alexI write about homophobia and gay rights because it is closely linked to gender equality, which adopts inclusiveness and intersectionality. These are issues marginalised groups struggle with in the face of discrimination and oppression. As Leow Hui Min writes in her recent blog post, the support for the LGBTQIA+ movement “emerges from the recognition that it is not only cisgender and heterosexual women affected by anti-woman sexism, from the understanding that many oppressions overlap, and from the principle of solidarity that should be at work in all progressive movements.”

More relevantly, I feel that it is a crisis of masculinity and the struggle to conform to what it means to “be a man” that leads to the power imbalance and gender inequality in our society. Partly it is through establishing dominance over women – traditionally regarded as the “weaker sex” – that enables men to gain an inflated sense of identity. Violence against women, sexism and misogyny can therefore all be said to be encouraged and perpetuated by the crisis of masculinity in our society.

3alexWe often feel inadequate and paralyzed after reading about sexism, misogyny, homophobia and other forms of oppression. We imagine that our efforts will be limited and therefore ineffective. But our actions need not be measured by how wide an impact they produce, as long as we are sincere in our intentions and tactful in our execution. To quote the closing line of David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’, one of my favourite books: “What is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”



alexblogpicAbout the Author: Alex likes many things, like Virginia Woolf, Welcome to Night Vale, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Arcade Fire, blogs that criticize what’s problematic in pop culture, articles about the tensions of postcoloniality, any form of media that subverts narrative tropes and long words (e.g. omphaloskepsis) that he probably will only ever use once in a pretentious poem that he has yet to write. Oh, and he is also a feminist.