We are priviledged to have someone who is transsexual to share her story with us. Dorothy is a post-op MTF transsexual and she is also bisexual.
I always feel that there is a large community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ( LGBT) out there but they remain very silent and withdrawn – maybe due to the lack of acceptance from our society.
Their stories are often unheard and their struggles misrepresented.
I don’t have many transsexual friends so after adding Dorothy on my Facebook about a year ago, we chatted on and off online over the past few months.
We chat abit on Facebook last night and after some persuasion she decided to write out her struggles as a transsexual living in our conservative society.
Transitioning: Can you please state your age, marital status ,educational qualifications and your job specifications?
Dorothy: 34, Single, Master In Technology, Software Developer doing in-house development work at an Insurance Company.
Transitioning: You have told me that your sexual orientation is different from the norm, can you tell us more about this?
Although I am a post-op MTF transsexual, but because of my social constraints, I have to live and work as a guy and not changing the gender on my NRIC.
I am bisexual and fine with partners of both sexes, as long as they can accept me as a friend.
Transitioning: Do you face objections from your family members and friends?
Dorothy: No, I don’t face much objections at all from them. At first, they will be surprised and confused, but over time they will get used to it, and treat me like a special friend. The reason they give is that I am uniquely different, and they wish to know more about my lifestyle.
They look at me as a human being who is being frank about my gender identity. I can tell that they are concerned about me. Sometimes when no one else is around, they will ask me whether I can cope with work and my life. They hope that I can settle down with a soul mate, but I know that is impossible. I think it is my long term working relationship and rapport I have been building with my colleagues that give me the support and encouragement to pursue my life goals as who I truly am.
My family members and friends are fine with me coming out to them, but they will prefer me not to wear female clothes in office because we need to deal with customers, or at home because neighbours know my mother well. My mother is a popular household wife in the neighbourhood. If they know about me and what is going on in my family, my mother will find it hard to converse face-to-face with them next time. “You will hear nothing, but gossips.” That is what my
mother told me. She is still unprepared for social discrimination against my family.
My mother hopes that I keep my issues behind close doors and not speak of it to anyone in future. I don’t wish my parents to be disappointed, so I obey what they tell me to do. My parents help me to wash my female clothes, iron them nicely, and keep in the wardrobe for me when I couldn’t do it due to my long and busy work schedule.
I came home late, usually at 11pm after work. We sort of complement one another as I have been contributing majority of the household allowances.
Transitioning: Do your colleagues know about this and how do you deal with them?
Dorothy: No. They don’t know about this. I only tell those whom I trusted, or worked with me for years. I told them that my issue has to be kept separated from office work, and I will deal with it myself. They will do me more good if they don’t gossip about my status. But they will still gossip to others about it in the end. My company director from my previous company knew about it. He told one of the managers that he will not be used to it if I turn up in dress one day.
I am mentally prepared that some people will not be comfortable with the change. So till now, I am still working in guy mode. I have to respect the people’s views in the company I work with. After all, I am a middle level executive and there is no labour law protecting LGBT members yet. So I have to think carefully before I do anything now. My rice bowl will be at stake if I make any rash decisions.
Transitioning: Do you think that Singaporeans should loosen up on homosexuality/lesbianism and give them more space and acceptance? Why?
Dorothy: Yes I think everyone needs to have human rights in Singapore, and no one should be discriminated just because he/she is a LGBT member. The subject is unknown to so many people in Singapore, but yet the world is accepting it with open heart. There are anti-discrimination laws in many western countries now. In fact, my ex-company which is an MNC, has anti-discrimination corporate ethics for sexual minorities back in US where their HQ is resided. LGBT employees are protected over there.
But in Singapore, there is no such corporate ethics, even though we welcome immigrants from overseas. Among the immigrants, there are LGBT members as well.
I hope the schools, medical institutions, social workers and government bodies are well-versed in LGBT issues and understand our difficulties. Everyone has needs, just that ours are different from the norm.
Although we are silent, it doesn’t mean we do not have problems. In fact, I have 2 LGBT friends who passed away due to suicide 2 years ago. They never told anyone what were their problems, and the next day they jumped off the buildings. When the police found my friend lying motionlessly on the ground floor below, they found that she had tied her hands on her own, with thick ropes. I knew that she wished to tell us that she was in life bondage and couldn’t get out of it.
We know they have years of chronic depressions, and no one was there around the clock to look after them. When someone passed away in the community, we will not be able to take it as we lose a dear friend who has been with us for a long time. I still kept my friend’s photo with me for remembrance. Since that incident, I seldom talked to anyone, even from my community.
Transitioning: Many people with different sexual orientation have chose to leave the country, are you also considering that? Why so?
Dorothy: Yes I have thought of that. But I have my retired parents to look after. If I leave the country, who will help me look after my parents? I can’t see them working long hours for “peanut” salary, without minimum wage. My salary is enough to sustain them, so they don’t have to work. Another reason is that I am not sure whether I will have better life living outside Singapore.
I will just have to bite my lips and cope with the competitive working lifestyle in Singapore. It seems that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I do worry about my retirement. One day my savings will be depleted, and I have no adopted children to look after me if I am still unmarried. As some of my savings are locked up in my CPF, I couldn’t retrieve any of it for my surgery. All my surgery bills, amounted to ten of thousands of dollars, have to be paid from my
savings which isn’t alot, due to the high cost of living. There is practically zero heathcare coverage for us for overseas surgery. Government treats it as cosmetic surgery, but to us, it is important, and gives us the sense of well-being.
There are so many issues facing Singapore right now, and that worries me. You can feel that everyone is having a career burn right now, and keep jumping from one job to another. Last time, you see 1 year turn over rate. Now you start to see 3 months turn over rate. There is no sense of job security anymore, especially in IT industry. Everyone feels squeezed. All these issues do affect us. I have given up on marriage, and now intentionally single.
Transitioning: How would you judge your own community with similar sexual orientation? Are they pretty united or isolated by themselves?
Dorothy: Most of us are isolated and focused on our own daily job, and stay stealthed in order not to let anyone discover. Many participate in online forum to share ideas. A few programmes were organised in the past. But now things are back to normal, and everyone has to go back to work. It is the Gay and Lesbian community which comes up with the idea in organising big events, like the recent Pink Dot at Hong Lim Park, that attracted 10,000 participants from all walks of life.
Transitioning: There is of course this risk of having HIV with unprotected sex, what is your view on this?
Dorothy: HIV with unprotected sex is not restricted to just LGBT community only. The mainstream community cannot be avoided too. As long as one individual engages in promiscuous sex, he/she will affect his/her partner. Most LGBT members are educated, know the consequences of having HIV with unprotected sex and will try to avoid it. AFA has been going around educating the LGBT folks to be extra careful, and giving away free condoms. They have done a very good job.
I think we should never link HIV with LGBT community as there are no longer any studies to prove that HIV is restricted only to LGBT community. It is a bad stereotype coming from within the society and should be erased from memory. The public needs to clear up the misconception.
Transitioning: Lastly, are you happy with your current sexual orientation and what is your advice for those facing similar struggles with their own identity?
Dorothy: I am happy that I have accepted myself as who I am. It is because of this condition, I am able to sympathise with those who are underprivileged and need societal help. Many of us are working in community organisations, helping the needy.
I think it is a phase which all of us have to go through, particularly the coming out period with our close ones. Initially, there may be rejections. But it is expected. We should be brave to face with it, just like any other ordeal that comes into our life. I think we need to let people know about our inner troubles, and make more friends. Along the way, we may lose friends, but we will gain some. We have to be positive in life and focus on our life goals. After all, we are just as important as anyone else in society, even if we are uniquely different.
Gilbert, thanks for interviewing me, and giving me the chance to share with you how it is like to be an LGBT member in Singapore. I hope that my account can give valuable feedback to those who intends to help us. I believe strongly that the LGBT community will certainly repay back in kind if any organisation wishes to help us. We treasure valuable friendship from the mainstream communities.
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