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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Purple: Singapore's Transsexual Scene

A survey revealed that most women cite red as their favourite colour while men cite blue. So then PURPLE must be a transgender colour, when red mixes with blue.

Oddly enough, when i was a girl, my favourite colour is purple but now i'm a woman, it is indeed red.

Transsexuals have always been the butt of mockery. The meanest prank a friend played on an irritating nerd (who was nobody's friend really), was to take him to Orchard Towers and pay a transsexual to take him home. It was the nerd's first time at Orchard Towers and thought it was his lucky night to get hooked up! Finding out must be extremely traumatizing.

When we think of transsexuals, our narrow minds think they are definitely in the sex trade. The large amount of social stigma pushes many over the edge, on the verge of suicide and cause misery. If only there is a campaign for acceptance like the Yellow Ribbon, it is difficult for transsexuals to find work they need not be ashamed of. I remember encountering a transsexual sales girl in Body Shop at Wisma. Its the first time i've seen such a hire by a well-known brand and honestly, it increased my liking for the brand. For a brand that advocates no animal testing, i'm happy to know they made an attempt in advocating equal rights too.

On Sunday, i watched PURPLE. A re-run of a sold out production in 1995 and 1998, it's an interactive 4 people performance staged at the new Bugis + (former Illuma).

Purple opens with 3 very loud Ah Lian-ish bordering Auntie bickering about an exhibit that takes center-stage. The entire hall looked like a Cirque Du Soleil, pretty purple and white ribbons draped around. The exhibit is then revealed, an impersonation of Maggi Lai Meiqi, Singapore's first transsexual who made it to Hong Kong's silver screen.

The circus concept suited the theme very well, how transsexuals were seen like animals, aliens or even monsters like the Chinese connotation 人妖
Selena, a Singaporean who resides in London offering services.
Taken from
History lessons bore me but Purple enlightened me about a history i never knew Singapore would have.

We would not have thought Singapore to be famous for something else other than our airport, zoo or econom. We would definitely think of Patpong, Thailand being the capital for transgenders. Little did i know that one of Singapore's most famous tourist meccas from 1950s to 1980s was Bugis Street, where there is a nightly parade of flamboyantly dressed trans women.

These Asian queens in full regalia will tease, cajole and sit on gawking Caucasians laps or pose for photographs for a fee, just like what you'll find in Bangkok.
Veterans recall that the notorious drinking section began at Victoria Street, and proceeded west to Queen Street. Halfway between Victoria and Queen Streets, there was an intersecting lane parallel to the main roads, also lined with al fresco bars. There was a well-patronised public toilet with a flat roof of which there are archival photos, complete with jubilant rooftop trans women - Wikepedia
In the mid-1980s, Bugis Street underwent major urban redevelopment but tourist and local lamentation of the loss sparked attempts by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board to recreate some of the old sleazy splendour by staging contrived "Ah Qua shows" on wooden platforms that proved to be failures. 
Bugis Street was immortalised in an English-language film of the same name, made, ironically, by a Hong Kong film company which starred Maggi Lai as herself, whom Purple is about as well.
Patpong, Bangkok today.
Based on the actual life story of a Singaporean transgender named Maggie Lai, the script tells the tale of how she survived childhood bullying, her careers as a sex worker, stripper and masseuse.

Shane Mardjuki plays Maggie, coming home, i had to Google how the real Maggie looked like.
She predicted to be dead by her 40s because transgender women don't live very long, but she is alive and well in her 50s and is now a getai singer during Hungry Ghost Festivals.

The only picture i could find was this.
Where in 2010, when the Jack Neo sex scandal was soon to be swept under the carpet, Maggie revealed that Jack Neo used her massage service at the end of 1988, a year after he got married to his wife. He wasn't as famous as he was then, but he was already a household name.

Maggie was wearing a mini-skirt while massaging a naked Jack and when she pressed his "sensitive spot", she asked if he wanted "special service" to which he accepted. He then paid her an additional $50 to have "intimate contact" while having the "special service"

Jack did not know then that Maggie was a "he".

One of the memorable moments of Purple was how they brought to life the whole painful procedure of a gender-reassignment operation. The males in the audience (my friend as well as Bobby Tonelli who coincidentally sat beside us with Joanne Peh) winced, mouth dry and squirmed ALOT. 

There is also a stomach churning Youtube video to be found of the procedure.

Little did i know that Asia's first sex re-assignment surgery was performed in Singapore! The world's first sex-change operation was performed in 1952 by Danish doctors, but Asia's first was in July 1971 at Kandang Kerbau Hospital. 

It was executed by the late Professor S.S. Ratnam who hailed from Ceylon who was quoted
He had been visited by an "attractive female" patient who shocked him by disclosing her true sex and begged him to transform her into a woman. Although hesitant, Prof Ratnam eventually relented. As part of his research, he would spent hours in front of a mirror, naked, looking at his genitals to see how they could be removed with minimal trauma to the rest of the body.
Since then, about 1,000 sex reassignment surgery were performed until 1987 when the authorities stopped it for fear of the exposure to Aids. The objection was lifted in 2001 but by then cities like Bangkok and Seoul had overtaken Singapore as the sex reassignment hub, thus Singapore is no longer known for the surgery that put us in the international limelight.
Late Professor Ratnam
Currently, the National University Hospital still offer such operation and between 2003-2008, 15 reassignments were done for $9,000 to change a male to female and from $15, 000 to change a female to male. Before sex reassignment surgery, transsexuals have to be evaluated by 2 psychiatrists and undergo real-life testing where they live and dress as their target gender.

Unfortunately, the highly educational Youtube video demonstrating a female to male have been removed.

If you wish, you can read about phalloplasty here.

In 2007, a statistical study indicated the male to female in Singapore is 1 in 2,000 and female to male is 1 in 4,000. This means that our little red dot is home to at least 1,500 transsexuals. 

I am surprised to find Singapore having fairly forward thinking and acceptance about transsexualism.  Since the 1970s, Singapore has allowed transsexuals to change their gender on identity cards and to marry since 1997. However, birth certificates will remain the gender at birth and therefore, if someone were to annul a marriage based on same sex marriage (which is not allowed), it will be valid. There is no definitive verdict on the marriage policy, definitely a catch 21.

These laws in favour of transsexuals do not banish discrimination against transsexuals. Like how they were denied entry into China One in 2007.
Art student was asked to leave.
Or in 2005, someone named Javier put up an online petition for SBS Transit to ban transsexuals on buses the way they ban animals.

However, the most important part of Purple, was the conversation between father and son. The acceptance and support of family was reinforced. Home, shouldn't be a song we only sing on National Day.

While my opinion stands at how men should not play God in reassigning sex, transsexuals shouldn't be judged or ridiculed. Their story is one about lifelong suffering, despair, courage and scandal in equal measure.
You may buy tickets to Purple at Sistic or at the door of Jayden Hall (level 7 of Bugis +), show times 3 or 8pm from now till 18 August. It was enlightening with creative ways of delivery. My only lament was the sound system was disappointing.


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