Alden Boon

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

05/05/2018

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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.”

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If you doubt yourself, people will know. If you are still conflicted about transitioning, it shows, and it makes others question if you are indeed a transgender person. What others say of you may be hurtful, but will you be happier if you can live your life as the real you? Love yourself first.

June remained a sex worker for twenty-odd years. Transgender sex workers are often synonymous with “cheap” or “HIV positive”, she says. But she bucked this stereotype: She was a financially-stable sex worker, and unapologetic about her past she makes no effort to bury it. “I am a former sex worker who has won awards for her advocacy efforts,” she says, pointing to a trophy given to her by AWARE, noting that she is the first transwoman ever to receive an award by the group. “In fact, I loved sex work,” she says, now punctuating her sentence with a pregnant pause and imitating the peal of incredulous gasps such a brazen answer would garner, before clarifying, “no, I didn’t like the actual work — my clients were old and not exactly the Tom-Cruise looker. I loved what sex work gave me: financial freedom and a flexible working arrangement.”

June was eventually able to afford her own house at the age of thirty-two. On her ability to get housing, someone once remarked that she was “lucky”, an observation that plunged her into bewilderment. “The bar seems to be set really low for us,” says June, her signature mordant humour showing again. “If we get a diploma, it’s not because we have worked really hard; it’s because we’re ‘lucky’. No, it was not luck that made it possible for me to become a homeowner. It was through sheer tenacity, prudent financial planning and twenty years of saving up, choosing Asia instead of European destinations for holidays, that made it happen. Even millionaires go bankrupt if they are not careful with their money. We are not magical creatures; we do not have any secret formulas — to achieve what we want in life, we go through the same rites of passage every other human being goes through.”

Most important, with the money she earned, June was able to fulfil her role as a filial daughter, showing her love for her parents through simple gestures such as bringing them out for nice meals. “My parents have never once asked me to not be a sissy or a transgender. They chose love; they love me for who I am.” She does note that, while society has become more progressive, there are transgender people who may not be accepted by their parents. “Our parents are cisgenders, so you cannot expect them to completely understand gender dysphoria. They just can’t. But is there more you can do to show that you love them? Spend quality time with them. Treat them well. Take care of them. Educate them without the expectation of getting them to accept you.”

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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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