Alden Boon

Co-founder of The T Project June Chua: Beyond Our Transgender Identity, See Us as People, as Individuals

05/05/2018

When June Chua was twelve, she was called “bapok”, a Malay word meaning “transvestite”, by a schoolmate. This label, said in jest, became a eureka moment for her. A moment of liberation. “I was assigned the male gender at birth. Growing up in a boys’ school, I always knew I was different from the rest of my classmates. I never liked football; I preferred cross stitching and playing games such as zero point and five stones. There was no Internet back then, so I didn’t have access to information about transgender identity. Someone had to put me in a box before I realised that I was in fact a girl.”

Then going by the name Ginger, she embraced her girlhood like a flower welcoming its first spring. She shaved her leg and donned high-waisted shorts. “There never was a dark moment in my life,” she recalls, adding that her parents were very supportive of her from the get-go. “I just wanted to be who I am, and I guess the fact that I was so comfortable in my own skin rubbed off on others.” Once, a group of impish boys threw water bags at her and two of her friends, who were also effeminate. The troika retaliated with a salvo of urine-filled bags. “When they confronted us and asked why we did that, we said: ‘Well, you started it!’ It was such a fun time,” says June, her voice inflecting with a note of joyful nostalgia. “We were never sad that we were being picked on; we just fought back.”

I didn’t transform into a woman; I became aware that I was one.

At the age of fifteen, June began her hormone replacement therapy. It was around this time that she was drawn to Singapore’s red-light district, which she says was a safe space where transgender individuals congregated. “Thirty years ago, there were no apps such as Grindr, Tinder or places such as gay bars. The red-light district became a place where I could mingle with other people just like me, to be safe and part of a community, to get advice from my sisters, and feel loved. It was a place where I was seen as who I was on the inside.”

Gay men and women have the choice of keeping their sexual orientations a secret, coming out only when they feel safe to do so. Transgender people enjoy no such luxury: They wear their gender identities on their sleeves, literally. The appearance of a man in woman’s clothes or a woman with a buzz cut is incongruous with what society deems as acceptable. When transgender children or teenagers get chased out of their homes because of their overt behaviours, they have to turn to sex work, because they have no other qualifications or skills. The sex industry is the only one that does not discriminate their gender identities.

But then a vicious cycle begins. When a sex worker is arrested and incarcerated for soliciting, her possessions are thrown away. The first night she is out of jail, she needs sixty dollars to pay for rental and food. To get that money, she has to slip back into sex work — it is the only way she knows how.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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