There were always thoughts of changing my face, my identity, and becoming somebody else entirely.
I thought of myself as a female a lot and all through my teenage years, I wished that I would wake up in the right body one day.
It took me a long time before I realised that I may be transgender.
Battling My Inner Conflicts
Looking back, I’ve always known. I just couldn’t put the words to the undercurrent of discomfort, couldn’t make sense of the thoughts and feelings I had. There were so many previous beliefs and assumptions that I had to discard before I could understand what it all meant.
For one, a highly heteronormative view we all have is that your gender must be concretely tied to your sexual orientation, that a man must be sexually attracted to a woman and vice versa.
However, I’ve learnt that your gender (male or female) does not have any bearing on your sexual attraction. I may be biologically a male who identifies as a female, yet still primarily attracted to women. For me, it doesn’t exclude an attraction to men as well.
“I would spend my entire life trying to suppress these feelings of being in the wrong body.”
Then, there’s religion. If I had accepted the religion I was brought up with, I would spend my entire life trying to suppress these feelings of being in the wrong body.
As the Good Book says in Deuteronomy 22:5, “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”
Having brought up to internalise these beliefs as the norm, it was that much harder to accept myself and my thoughts.
“I confessed… to my fiancee.”
Coming out was a long and hard process. I spent a year thinking about how much harder life would be, about getting accepted by society, presenting as female, and what all of that would entail.
In the end, I knew that I had to at least try to become the person I wanted to be, even if it’s an uphill struggle. I finally came out as a transgender woman four years ago, at 21.
While I have been fortunate to not face much discrimination from the public, it wasn’t that easy back at home.
Firstly, I was engaged to my girlfriend.
She was the first person I came out to as transgender. And as difficult as it was for me to come to terms with myself, it was equally hard for her to acknowledge that her long-time boyfriend is coming out as a female.
The only thing she said back then was something like, “I’ll… do my best to understand.”
After a challenging 6 months, she accepted me as transgender. We eventually made a commitment to support each other, be it emotionally, financially, or physically – even if it meant scrutiny from others. We are now adjusting to this ‘new reality’ and also continuing with our plans to get married. For all of that, I am grateful.
With her support, I came out to some of my closer friends as well.
The Hardest Hit
However, I never intended to come out to my parents, unless I had absolutely no choice.
I had already been treated with scorn when I told my highly religious parents that I am an Atheist, and sat through three hours of a pastor (a friend of my mother’s) explaining to me why I ought to give God a chance.
I had already been called a disgrace and the family disappointment when I left junior college to study theatre arts at LASELLE.
I had already been called ‘disgusting’ when I confessed to them about being bisexual.
What other painful remarks would they make if I told them I am transgender? I didn’t want to know.
“In my mother’s eyes, I was a rebellion against God. In my father’s eyes, I was a rebellion against him.”
The truth came out when my mum discovered that I was taking estrogen pills. Needless to say, they didn’t take it well at all.
My father constantly reminds me that my “life choices” will eventually ruin me and almost daily, my parents will remind me that because I am born a male, I will always be a male.
My father also loves to say that I’d end up, in his own words, “不像人，不像鬼”, which loosely translates to mean that I’d end up neither a human nor a ghost – implying that I’d never truly be female and never fully a male.
They don’t seem to understand that all those words are extremely hurtful, furthermore so as they come from family. And (I think) they sincerely believe that they are leading me back to the path of righteousness.
Living An Authentic Life
It was a long time and many nights of crying alone before I finally accepted the fact that my family would never be able to accept me wholeheartedly. Eventually, I stopped bothering.
“I’d just smile and agree with them instead of arguing because it’s so much easier than fighting, and far less painful.”
Today, I’m not living as female as yet because I’m not fully comfortable with the way people may respond. To strangers, I’m still entirely male.
However, being transgender for me has mainly been about living the most authentic life I can under the circumstances of Singapore’s extremely anti-LGBT laws.
Learning to accept my own body, and coming to terms with the fact that it will never be an idealised female form was the most difficult, but I am so much better as a person now. I am calmer and have a clearer sense of who I am.
Most importantly, I feel so much more comfortable with being my true and authentic self in front of my loved ones.
Life is not about pain, suffering, and renunciation, and it should never have to be seen as such. Despite all the obstacles I’ve faced and am still facing, these words from my favourite author, Ayn Rand, pushes me to live a fuller life every day: “Learn to value yourself, which means: fight for your happiness.”
– Clara, 24