Identifying as a Transgender person has become increasingly dangerous around the world. The week of November 14-20 shined the spotlight on Transgender individuals and organisations, people and communities committed to being trans allies in the hopes of eradicating the senseless violence and backlash against people who exist beyond gender binaries.
Singapore has taken numerous steps backwards on how the trans community is treated today (which is ironic since as early as the 1940’s, the trans community was a vibrant, thriving part of Singapore’s population).
Overall, the LGBTQ community struggles with a great deal of homophobia, backlash from religious organisations, ‘concerned citizens’ and the government. They are reproached for being a deviance from the one man-one woman family unit.
A recent incident took aim at former American Idol star and musician Adam Lambert after a petition to ban Adam Lambert to perform during Singapore’s NYE countdown began circulating around the web. Lambert was cited as a performer who engaged in ‘lewd’ acts on stage such as kissing another man and an “active promotion of a highly sexual lifestyle and LGBT rights are contrary to mainstream Singaporean values”, as written on the petition.
Singapore’s Transgender Community
Despite Singapore’s homophobia, the city was once the hub for gender-reassignment surgery. These surgeries were legalised from 1973 and over 500 procedures were carried out over the next three decades. The ongoing paranoia about AIDS however and pressure from the government saw a marked reduction of the surgeries from the 90’s. This caused locals and foreigners alike to flock to other parts of Asia that were more amenable to gender-reassignment. Local moral police and religious authorities contributed to instilling a closed-minded view on the LGBTQ community that previously hadn’t existed.
Bugis Street, a popular tourist spot in Singapore, was famous in the 1950s for its flamboyant Asian Queens who caught the attention of Caucasian tourists and brought in a considerable amount of revenue for the tourism industry. They were known to give impromptu performances much to the delight of crowds and were left undisturbed by the police unless drunken brawls broke out. Major urban redevelopment in the area saw an end to this nightlife only to have transgender visibility conjured on the silver screen or as drag performances in clubs. The public onset of AIDS and the fear that followed between the 80’s and 90’s caused a stir of suspicion and hostility towards the LGBTQ scene, which in turn exacerbated the invisibility of the trans community.
Since 1996, post-operative trans people have had the legal right to marry in Singapore. While this may seem progressive, the legalisation is steeped in the notion to affirm heterosexual cis marriages as the norm as pre-op trans people or trans people marrying someone of the same sex are not given the legal right to marry.
While you’ll see trans people working retail and the hospitality industry, it’s uncommon to find trans people working in high-level positions in Singapore.
A huge misconception in Singapore is the assumption that all trans women are sex workers. Project X – a local organisation that speaks up about the marginalisation and discrimination of sex workers says this misconception places trans women at larger risk for sexual harassment and assault:
“this is one misconception that is so deeply ingrained in society’s collective minds that trans women often face unwanted solicitations for sex and sexual services that is tantamount to sexual harassment. While there are many trans women who are in the sex industry, many others are in other forms of employment.”
While Homosexuality is found in over 1500 species on earth,
Homophobia is found in only one.