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Paint me like one of your Instagram girls

By Tricia Ferdinandt

I remember when I was younger and in primary school, we started to learn about puberty in Health Education and how girls and boys alike would see changes in their bodies as they grow up. I did not really think much of it and instead, I welcomed these changes as they made me feel like a woman and not a little girl anymore. I started getting these changes when I was 9; I remember that not many of my classmates caught on as early as I did. I wore a singlet under my clothes, but I didn’t look into it much. I still went about my gymnastic and ballet classes all the same.

Over time, as I transitioned into secondary school, I was not as lean and skinny as I used to be. I weighed steadily at 55 kg pretty much throughout secondary school, which was acceptable for my height. I never really gained or lost weight. We ran a lot during P.E. classes to train for our 2.4 km run. Other than that, I did not really look after my diet or health. That would go on to be something that I regret.

Members of my family would joke about my weight and observed if I had lost or gained weight at practically every family gathering. I did not look to them for their approval nor did I understand why they were policing the way my body looked as if it were of any concern to them since it was my body. I would understand their genuine health concerns for me as they advised me to take less sugary drinks and eat less junk food. Other remarks like how my hips would get more round in the future once I had kids of my own just fell upon my deaf ears. Honestly, I loved my hips. I had a small waist and I loved the way my rounder hips would complement my figure. Of course, that’s a different story now that I gained almost 30 kg in the last 4 years.

I have been struggling with depression and anxiety over the course of my adolescent years. I have difficulty coping with my emotions, leading me to sometimes harm myself and others. There have been many low points in my life, some of which I brought upon myself. Others habits include horrible eating habits, a disruptive sleeping pattern, and a non-existent exercise routine. Looking after myself was not important to me at all. As the number on the scales kept increasing, I chose to avoid it and run away, like I always do with my problems.

The comments from family, friends, and even partners kept coming. They were mostly hurtful words stitched together with good intentions. I would think a lot about what people said after, about the “burger going down to my butt” or oil creating more “moon craters” on my face. Not only did I struggle with my weight, I hated my acne-scarred skin. The acne on my cheeks, forehead, and even my back could be connected with a pen to create constellations. I was extremely sensitive about my body, weight, and the way I looked. Something as simple as someone staring at me too long could send me into a frenzy. I remember my boyfriend staring at my protruding stomach when I asked if we could have our lunch at my favourite American fast-food chain. Although he had no ill intentions and did not mean it in the way I interpreted, it scarred me.

I wished with all my heart that I could just be like the girls of Instagram, with the killer figure and perfect skin. Beautiful, stunning, but not realistic. While praying hard to look like someone else, I learnt the hard lesson of acceptance and self-love. We are all beautiful and unique in our own special ways. Ironically, it might seem like the grass is greener on the other side, but I can assure you that everyone has their own insecurities. People who pick on others’ flaws and faults and take joy in bringing someone pain are battling demons of their own. That is why instead of getting upset with a classmate of mine who made a rude comment about my weight or appearance, I prayed for him. He can make 1000 comments to bring me down, but I will not give him the permission to hurt me. These people in your life are nothing to you and one should never give them the power to make you upset in any way, shape, or form.

My goal in this journey is not about the numbers or seeking a thumbs up from  others. If I do this to seek approval from others, then I will never be happy. I am doing this for myself, to be the best version of myself. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have flat abs or a bubble butt. Girls on the covers on magazines have their bodies photoshopped and retouched. Love your love handles, muffin tops, and thunder thighs. Treat your body right and it will treat you right too.

Author’s Bio: Tricia Ferdinandt is your resident brown baby. Her hobbies include adding memes to her album collection and binge-watching makeup tutorials. When she’s not stuDYING in school, she’s probably at Starbucks trying to convince the barista she has 60 stars to redeem a free drink.

Featured image by Colleen Clark.

 

 

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Body Shaming: “Harmless” Teasing

By Jasmine Loo

When I was 12, I used to tease my best friend about her larger than average breasts. My nickname for her included adding the title “Big Boobs” at the back of her actual name. She’d tell me to stop, but I didn’t really think much of it – after all, it was just harmless teasing.

Back then, there was also a plump girl in my class. She was teased by everyone who called her mean names like “fatty”, “whale”, “fat girl”, amongst others. At that age, we viewed it as harmless fun… But was it really just that?

When I was 13, I started getting really bad breakouts. People started noticing and pointing it out. At first, I wasn’t really bothered by their comments. However, I started getting really upset when they constantly commented on my pimples. It made me feel very self conscious and uncomfortable in my own skin. I started getting pretty annoyed when people told me that I should “wash my face” or that I shouldn’t “eat peanuts or drink milk” because those food cause acne. Despite trying almost everything, my skin was still the same – disgusting, bumpy and damaged.

I really envied my classmates who had clear, blemish-free skin. I hated my own pimply and bumpy face.

Now, I’m 19 years old and still uncomfortable in my own skin. But, I’m learning how to love and accept it. I may not have clear skin, but it will not stop me from going out without make-up. The fact that I don’t have clear skin does not define who I am.

In retrospect, I should not have joined in on the “harmless teasing”. I should not have teased my best friend for having big breasts and making her less confident. However, I cannot change what has happened. The most I can do is to try and stop myself from making other people feel bad about themselves. I will strive to use my words to encourage others to embrace their flaws and be confident from here on out.

About the Author: Jasmine is an awkward teenager who wants to make a difference.

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Struggles with Body Image: It Begins with the Ones Closest to You

By Min Khoo

My struggle with my own body image began with the comments made by close family members and relatives.

I’m sure many Singaporeans have experienced the horror brought by family gatherings where, instead of talking about something mundane like the weather, conservations are started with comments like, “Ah girl, you’ve gain weight” or, “Ah girl, so many pimples why never wash face properly?” Instead of giving encouragements when we need it, parents tend to give what they call “tough love”.

Sometimes, it is difficult to delineate the line that separates “tough love” from bringing down your kid’s self-esteem. How many times do we need to be told that we are “fat”? How many times do we need to hear that our faces are full of pimples? Even when we’ve lost weight or managed to clear our facial acne, people somehow still manage to find a way to detect flaws.

As I grew up, I started to see the impact of my family and relative’s words. I had no idea how to handle praises given to me by others. I had no idea how to compliment others. I had no idea how to love my own body, let alone anyone else’s. It was really terrible when I reach adolescence. Along with other struggles in various aspects of my life, it seemed as if I had reached a low where I couldn’t spiral down any further… And I just snapped. I no longer wished to live the way I was living. I was tired of being uncomfortable in my own skin. I was tired of allowing others to feel like they owned my body. I was tired of it all.

At low points like these, most of us are able to find our own ways of channeling our energy into something more meaningful. For me, it was Harajuku Fashion. I decided that my body was no longer an object for others to critique as they pleased. My body became my own canvas, for me to paint as I wished.

As much as I could, I avoided toxic people who found joy in bringing others down. I surrounded myself with supportive friends who were capable of seeing others beyond their appearance. Even now, I remind myself that I look okay the way I am.

But of course, it’s not always easy. Sometimes, you fall back into that dark world full of self loathe. Sometimes, you can’t help but compare your body with others and start finding all sorts of flaws you’ve never realised before. Sometimes, no matter how much positivity you surround yourself with, negativity just has a way of sneaking up on you.

Today, I’m still struggling to find full acceptance for the way that my body looks, but it’s getting better. All I know is, no one else should be made to feel that way about their body. The words you say to others have more of an impact on their lives than you may think.

About the Author: Min is a psychology undergraduate at NTU. When she’s not busy drowning in assignments and deadlines, she’s busy playing games, choosing and coordinating her outfits, and volunteering for various causes.

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My Looks Don’t Need Your “Concern”

By Gwen Guo 

When I was in kindergarten, princess dresses were all the rage. I’d wear them not just for special occasions, but also on normal days. You could call me happy-go-lucky — everyday was a day to celebrate something and feel good about myself. Those were also the years when my parents enrolled me in swimming classes. The first time I felt conscious about my looks was when I was celebrating my 6th birthday, where I wore a fancy white princess dress.

Everything was great — there were presents, a cake and singing. Yet, some of the grownups felt compelled to comment about my skin, asking me why I was so tan and declaring that princesses look strange with dark skin. At that age, I didn’t think it was anything. But after looking at the developed photos of myself from that birthday party, I began to feel that something was amiss. Growing up, all images of princesses in movies, TVs and books were always fair-skinned. Maybe the grownups were onto something after all.

Eventually, I grew out of the phase of wanting to be a princess and picked up basketball in primary school. I’m fortunate that the all-girls’ school which I attended valued sports, so there wasn’t much pressure to be more “feminine”. After all, primary school is about play, fun and exploration. My friends and I even roleplayed as Amazonian queens during recess; we would climb onto rocks pretending to be scouting for enemies, or create imaginary ammunition out of pebbles. Being surrounded by children my age without interference from adults, we could aspire to be whatever we wanted to be without fear of judgement.

But things changed in secondary school, where one’s image and physical appearance holds more weight in society. Being an outdoors person, my tan skin had remained with me throughout my life, even till this stage. Even my mother was concerned about me developing freckles and blemishes, and would occasionally comment about my skin tone. At this point, I had become more conscious of other flaws like my jiggly bits, sparse eyebrows and thinning hair. I felt like I didn’t fit in for a plethora of reasons – I was socially awkward, liked sports but wasn’t particularly good at it, abysmal in my studies, shy, and hideous compared to everyone else. While everyone else was coming the streets of Orchard Road to shop for new clothes that were “in fashion”, I would wear my brother’s hand-me-downs.

Me during my secondary school days.

During this stage, I also picked up video games as a hobby. Going out to meet my all-male gaming friends in person was both exciting and terrifying. I could almost smell disappointment when these boys, who met me for the first time, realised that the “gamer girl” they’d been so eager to meet was just a tanned tomboy wearing her brother’s clothes. One even told me that my hips looked “too big” just because I was wearing bermudas.

Then, at 16, I met my first boyfriend through gaming. Having a boy like me despite the way that I looked was flattering, and I treated his opinions with great consideration. I thought he accepted me for the way I looked. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out so rosy – my boyfriend started policing my clothes, “recommending” that I wear shorter skirts, heels and makeup. Somehow, even my thinning crown became something he had to talk about. “I’m concerned about your balding,” he’d express. I’d buy hair tonic and desperately try to thicken my hair while trying on new makeup, just to appease him. But whatever I did to my appearance was never good enough for him. The only saving grace was that I genuinely began to enjoy applying makeup, but he still managed to find an angle for criticism. “Who the hell wears blue eyeshadow during the day?” he sneered.

The final straw that broke the camel’s back was what he said to me after finding out that I had suffered second-degree burns after irresponsibly playing beach volleyball without sunblock for 3 hours. “You look like a black piece of crap,” he snipped. For the first time, I decided to stand up for myself, and told him that his words hurt me. Predictably, he brushed it off by proclaiming that it was just a joke.

Harnessing the dignity that I still had, I finally left him after enduring unreasonable expectations for months. I went on with my life, more confident with the realisation that I was in control of my own appearance and that I had the power to say no. After all, lions should never concern themselves with the opinions of sheep. In Polytechnic, I experienced so much more freedom – I wore my makeup the way I wanted to, chose the clothes that fit me instead of forcing myself to fit into modelesque clothes… That positive energy was eventually translated into the outgoing person that I am today.

Me during my Poly days.

To be honest, there are days when I still suffer from low self-esteem. I didn’t dare to walk out of the house without makeup until I was 22, and I still feel conscious about my fluctuating body fat percentage till this day. But, as I continue to grow and form a deeper and larger identity beyond the surface of my skin, I know that these low phases will become shorter.

For those of you reading this, please understand that your body choices are a personal right, and nobody can take this right away from you. Go forth and face the world, whether you are fat or skinny, made-up or bare-faced, tattooed or not, bald or hairy, firm or flabby! If people comment negatively on your appearance, a simple reply would be, “Thanks, but I don’t think my looks need your concern.”

Me today!

 

About the Author: Gwen is one of the three co-founders of IMBA Interactive, a startup which provides audio services to video game developers. Being an avid gamer and lover of internet memes, she hopes for a world where games and game communities don’t shy away from inclusivity.

 

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Bald = Beautiful

Written by Michelle Shobana, Change Maker

My hair has always been a big part of my life. As a young child, around the age of 4 or 5, I was already spotting wavy hair that went all the way to my knees. My mother loved styling my hair, and as such, I had various styles: braids, scorpions, pony tails, huge locks. So when she had to cut my hair because I got lice when I was 7, I was devastated. I felt the short hair made my face seem so round and unsightly. The growing process did not make me feel any better, as my hair grew out thick and rough. I always had it tamed into a tight ponytail, despite the headaches.

1bb As soon as I started secondary school, I started to straighten my hair every 2 years and never allowed a pair of scissors near my head for almost 4 years. I took so much pride in my hair as I thought it showed everyone the type of person that I am. I felt that modifying it in any way would change me internally. Even till last year, the changes I have made to my hair were either very subtle, or were made to complement my body shape. I always felt that my hair was the most beautiful feature about me, and without it, I just wouldn’t be ‘me’.

About a month ago, I was scrolling through  social media when I saw a colleague of mine post about her registering for Hair for Hope 2015. It intrigued me, and I read about how she felt joining this movement and making a statement would be another way of supporting the movement, especially since she couldn’t afford to donate a substantial amount. It sparked something in me, and I immediately started to research more. The more I read, the more I wanted to register for the event. Something I wouldn’t have even imagined doing 24 hours ago, seemed more real to me than ever at that moment.

I didn’t feel the need to ask anyone permission, but I decided to ask my close friends and family what they would think if I did it anyway. And to my disappointment, those closest to me were very much not interested in the idea. My sister’s engagement was set to happen a month after the event, and some of my family members were concerned with the image I would portray. I was asked, “You want to be bald? And wear a sari?” as if doing so would make me a spectacle. Some made me feel I would regret my decision the second I had done it, while others made me feel like they would be embarrassed or unwilling to handle being around me.

3bbThe reaction that I received was not something I was anticipating, but it gave me great insight into the social stigma that came together with shaving your head, especially as someone whom identifies as a woman. Femininity is usually portrayed or identified with hairstyle, causing hair to be seen as an important element of someone’s personality, attractiveness as well as a great indicator of their femininity. Though they are present, it is rather hard to find active representation of bald women as a norm in media. It is even harder to find representation of bald Indian women in media, especially on local television. Perhaps this was a reason for my initial thoughts about my own hair as well.

As advocates for a better and more accepting future, we must show everyone around us that being bald is not different from any other hairstyle, and that you are never alone in your fight. Children should be brought up in a social environment that does not ostracize anyone, especially for appearance.

Bald is Beautiful.

2bbAbout the Author: Michelle is a third-year student in Republic Polytechnic, doing a course in Information Technology. She aims to be a teacher and hopes to help individuals in their education through self-awareness. She sees a future where she and her partner can live happily, without being called out for being different. In her spare time, she listens to rock music and takes things one day at a time.

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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.

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#InstaWorthy

by Nicole Seah, Change Maker

woman-low-self-esteemI think it’s safe to say that Instagram is the most addictive app I’ve ever downloaded. I’m addicted to staying in the loop. The nationwide obsession with Instagram is definitely on the steep incline, with most of my friends posting almost daily, obsessing over their Instagram feeds, and finding out which ‘vsco’ edits to use for their selfie. Despite Instagram making me feel bad about myself, I still continue to scroll through the endless pages of impeccable compositions and perfect bodies. I double tap often, begrudgingly admitting that I ‘liked’ their photo.

Instagram, that sneaky little app, now makes me obsess over the number of ‘likes’ I get on a picture. If it doesn’t go above a certain number of ‘likes’ in 20 minutes, I seriously (no joke) consider deleting the photo, or ponder incessantly about why so-and-so scrolled past the well edited, square-cropped photo of my lunch.

Embarrassingly, I have yet to mention the amount of ‘fitspiration’ and ‘fitness gurus’ that I follow on Instagram. Sporting long, lean legs and a flat, toned tummy, their bodies are tapered and sleek, fit for a Victoria’s Secret Model. I follow around 40-50 fitness icons and supermodels, just to sneak a peek into their glamorous lives, prodding my insistent insecurities and questions: What can I do to achieve that body? Those legs? If I starve myself for a couple of weeks maybe it’ll reduce the size of my thighs by a couple inches so it can look like theirs?

Sometimes, when models post food photos I get insanely jealous: if they can eat that and stay so thin why can’t I? Life is so unfair! I’m sure this resonates with a number of people. Instagram is like the alcohol of social media: we know the stigma attached to being obsessed with this sort of app, but we do it anyways.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 9.51.26 pmInstagram can also promote jealousy and negativity. Many comments on popular pages nowadays range from snide to outright disrespectful. Girls anonymously say hurtful things to spite others, such as ‘she’s too fat’ or ‘she’s too thin’ on photos of strangers beaming in bikinis. Shouldn’t girls be respectful to other girls? Be supportive of other girls? Rather, the ideal girl has been portrayed so many times on Instagram that everyone develops a “critical eye”. Social media, coupled with the patriarchal society we live in, pits girls against each other, waging a war with the number of followers they have, what kind of edits they used, and their life in general.

Just my reminder to ANY girls – or boys for that matter – who are reading this: Instagram, or social media in general, is all done by choice. People are hidden behind a shiny iPhone 6 and glamorised by good lighting and layered effects. ‘Perfect’ people on Instagram only show you what they want you to see.

I am not saying delete Instagram, because many people (including yours truly) find it a nightly guilty ritual, scrolling through the colourful pages. But be aware. Be wary of what is real and what isn’t. There is always an angle, a backstory and a flaw. We are human beings and we are stitched with flaws, they’re what make us who we are. Teenagers are arguably at one of the most rocky and most raw parts of our journeys towards self-perception, and nothing hurts more than society telling us that other people are “better than you”. Believe me I know. Remember to be proud of what you are.

You are worth more than a hashtag, or 1000 likes. Do not let Instagram – or anyone else – determine your worth.

About the Author: Nicole is a professional sloth, yoga enthusiast and avid bookworm who has no sense of direction whatsoever. She likes to surprise people with her audacity and her supremely horrible puns, and is a little too obsessed with frozen yoghurt.

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The Art of Growing Up

by Lishani Ramanayake, Change Maker and Body/Language creative writing workshop participant

Here’s an urban myth-
If your second toe is longer than your first,
you’ll be a dominating wife.
When you are 12, your grandmother will tell you that when a nice doctor with a car and a house
comes looking for your hand,
Your sari should always cover your feet,
because who wants a wife that will tell you what to do?
This will be the first time they teach you womanhood.

When you are 13, your aunt will tell you to eat less,
That cute boys don’t date fat girls,
That there are a 100 calories in a banana,
That you are unpretty until told otherwise.

When you are 14, your English teacher will tell you that he’d like to see your hips in a sari,
You will want to take your thick anthology of poems by Rudyard Kipling
And shove it down his throat
As if doing so will erase the indelible mark he left on you
As if doing so means that you can drape silk on skin and not have it feel like an unwelcome touch
As if doing so means you will forget
But instead, you will smile and glance away, uncomfortable, apologetic, because good little
Ceylonese girls are always meant to be seen and not heard.

When you are 15, your mother will tell you not to cut your hair,
Do not listen.
When she says that girls should have two tight braids hanging down the length of their spine as
they sit straight, legs crossed at the ankles like the ladies they- YOU- are supposed to be,
Do not listen.
Cut your hair. Run with scissors in your hand. Do not listen.
When you are 16, you will meet a boy
with eyes the colour of a bleeding sky and a smile that tastes like Sunday mornings.
You will think you’re in love.

When you are 17, don’t do it.
When he tries to take your shirt off instead of teaching you how to drive,
Don’t do it.
When he says you’ll do it if you love him,
Don’t do it.
When he breaks up with you, you will feel like cutting out every part of you he’s ever touched
As if salvation can come from the sweet kiss of a razor blade,
As if bleeding your veins dry will take away whatever is left of him inside you,
Don’t do it.

When you are 18,
You will think you have the whole world figured out,
You’ll think you fit in their boxes,
You won’t fit in their boxes,
Fuck their boxes,
Make your own box,
Make your own circle if you have to.

About the Author: Lishani Ramanayake hails from Sri Lanka, but has made Singapore her adopted home. She has been many things- an imaginary pirate, a tree climber, a freelance journalist, and an undergraduate at Yale-NUS College.

 

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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!

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Check out more information on Some Reassembly Required here: http://www.somereassemblyrequired.com/

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Categories
Blog

Boyhood

by Kelvin Ng Jiawin, Change Maker and Body/Language creative writing workshop participant. This piece was performed at the Singapore Writers Festival in November 2014. 

Dear 12-year-old Kelvin,

You are more than a simple three-digit test score, so
Don’t quantify your existence as a numerical term,
Don’t reduce yourself to a statistic that says nothing about you,
And don’t force yourself to see your image in white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight men;
Also, you’ll learn how to say “fuck you”
In a B-grade horror movie starring a white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight man;
But it’ll take you much longer to learn
How to say “fuck you” judiciously.

Dear 13-year-old Kelvin,
You came from an all boys primary school
Masquerading as a missionary boarding school with its fancy art deco facade,
And this may seem like a major revelation to you, but:
Men are not from Mars, they’re from Planet Earth;
Women are not from Venus, they’re from Planet Earth;
So stop trying to be a pseudo-Martian and just, you know, be yourself.

Dear 14-year-old Kelvin,
Just because everyone around you has a girlfriend,
Doesn’t mean you have to have one.
Take some time off, and get to know both herself and yourself better.
Also, banish the word “friendzone” from your vocabulary;
Expel it, exile it, extradite it altogether,
Because friendship should never be an insult.

Dear 15-year-old Kelvin,
You catch yourself stealing glances at the James Franco-lookalike in class,
And you catch yourself playing Born This Way on repeat a little too much;
Now repeat after me:
One: That is entirely normal,
Two: That doesn’t say anything about masculinity;
And three: What is masculinity, anyway?

Dear 16-year-old Kelvin,
You don’t have to take an all-science course just because you’re male,
You don’t have to force yourself into a sport you hate just because you’re male,
You don’t have to install DOTA2 on your laptop to get street cred just because you’re male.
I wish I could go all Butler on you — and read her, you’ll love her —
You literally don’t have to do anything just because you’re male.
(By the way, yes, I mean literally — check your privilege.)

Dear 17-year-old Kelvin,
You know what people say? That eating disorders are for girls only?
You’ll learn how insidious that twisted illusion is,
You’ll realise that there’s no point starving yourself and tasting the acidic tinge of your bile every recess,
You’ll discover that there’s so much more to life than trying to look like the Abercrombie and Fitch model gazing down at you, disapprovingly, when all you’re trying to do
Is to get to Kinokuniya across the street.
You learned the word “fuck” five years ago, now say:
Fuck body standards, fuck anyone who thinks you’re too fat, fuck anyone who thinks you’re too thin.

Dear 18-year-old Kelvin,
You just watched Boyhood,
And you can’t help but feel slightly alienated;
But remember:
You don’t have to see your image in a white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight man.

Sincerely,
19-year-old Kelvin.

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.