June also became a sex worker. She did well enough for her GCE O-Level examinations and was accepted into a junior college. While her formative years were smooth-sailing, she began having doubts when she had to leave the cocoon of acceptance her secondary-school teachers and classmates weaved. Her gang of three was going separate ways too. “I didn’t even want to attend the orientation, which was mandatory. I wanted to avoid the giggling. On hindsight, maybe I should have stayed in school.”
Her earnings funded her sex reassignment surgery (SRS), which she got in Thailand when she was seventeen. Cisgenders are often fascinated with SRS, June says, noting that she often gets asked about how she felt on the eve of her SRS, and if she was afraid of the pain. A seemingly-genuine question borne out of curiosity, but it is one that belies one’s obtuseness, limiting the only things interesting about transgender individuals to their hormone therapies and sex-change operations. “You wouldn’t ask a pregnant woman going into labour if she’s afraid of the pain. Or, if she’s from a low-income family, if she’s worried about the cost associated with giving birth. These are the least of her considerations. She worries more about the health of her baby. Having a baby is something she wants. The SRS was something I wanted, and pain was the least of my considerations. I was worried if I was going to have a functional vagina or if there were going to be any post-operation complications. If you must know, I felt happy that I could be myself.
But I long for the day the conversation finally shifts: When someone asks about me, he or she wants to know me as a person, who I am, what I do, not a procedure I had some twenty years ago. Because with or without a penis, SRS or no, I am still June Chua.”