Personal Stories: Mike

My name is Mike*
and my father left us when I was 10. Shortly after my mother left for Australia to pursue her dream. All that's left was my sister, my maid and me in Hong Kong.

I was 13 and I had to be tougher and stronger
perhaps that's how it all started, me being a tomboy and feeling I had to take on the male role in the family.

I went to see a psychiatrist when I was 18 
the first session was two hours long, and after two hours she asked me, "So why do you want to become female?" What a good start, ha! I think she didn't read my profile, all the information was there and she got it all wrong. I love telling this story.

When I was at university I realised what was missing in my life
I went to a private gender specialist in London. He started me on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) after two sessions. The whole process took 3-4 months, it's quicker when you go private. A year later I went to Dr Charles Garramone for top surgery. I saved up for a year for that, which cost me about $15,000 at the time.

I didn't know if it was the right thing to do.. starting so early. But it was the best bet for me, if I wanted to pursue my career and do what I want in life. I wouldn't know if I had more of an advantage.. there may have been, as in being able to blend into society. If you already know what you want, just get it done. I always say if you don't get things done in 3 seconds, you're never gonna get it done. That's my personality, I like to get things done quick.

I used my university tuition fee to pay for my surgery
That year I slept on someone's couch and I worked part-time as a fitness trainer at a gym. That's how I saved up. I'm quite lucky in that sense because I had access to the funds.

I'm not close to my family
We haven't lived together since I was 13. I went to university in England when I was 18, then when I came back to Hong Kong I rented my own place. I've always been independent.

I didn't tell my family until I got married
They didn't know a thing. When they would ask what happened to my voice, I'd just say I have a very bad cold.

My grandparents and mother came to my wedding in July 2013 and they still called me by my old name. I understand it takes time for them to adapt. But they were surprisingly very supportive of me.. They're not traditional parents. My parents studied in the UK so perhaps that's why they were open about this. My grandparents studied overseas, too. They were rebels in China. My grandfather was jailed for 10 years for going against Mao at the time, so he's really open about all this.

I wanted to have my surgery before I started working
because I know once I enter the workforce I have to build a reputation for myself. The industry is small in both Singapore and Hong Kong and you don't want people talking about you. I didn't think too much, I knew what I wanted, went ahead and did it.

I felt amazing after the surgery. It felt like my life was pretty much complete.
I was covered in drains for the first two weeks, and it took me a couple months to recover. But I went to the beach topless after the first month already. After awhile the excitement wore out and I wanted more.. I feel like I need to pursue more surgery-wise to feel complete, so now I'm thinking what's next for me... be it fitness or more surgeries.

I never actually told my friends about my surgery
but I think they all knew. They all came to my wedding so that's how I knew they were supportive. I never discussed this with them because I think it's my own business. It's not like they wouldn't understand, but I just didn't feel the need to. We're still close friends, we still hang out, nothing has changed. For those who don't accept me, just let it go, you know..

The toughest part of my transition is getting my shots every two weeks
For the very first few shots, I think I spend 2-3 days in bed afterwards. It's quite painful for me.. I don't know if you guys have the same experience, I know everyone reacts quite differently. It's been a few years now and it's better although I still get a fever after my shot sometimes. I react to it quite badly. That's one of the worst things for me in my transition journey, not so much family or friendship issues...

The best thing about being on HRT is I got much bigger.
I gained about 20-30 pounds, and my body fat reduced significantly which was great.

The biggest change after transitioning was how differently I'm treated by the ladies and the guys. It's interesting to see how female colleagues treat me now. They were less reluctant to approach me when I was "female".. If I get close to them, they'll think I want something from them. Whereas my male colleagues are a lot closer to me now, they share inside jokes about girls and stuff, more physical touch and willing to share their world with you. I'm still trying to adapt to that.

The T has always been the minority in LGBT. We're the minority of the minority.
There are a lot of LGBT events in the banking industry. I go every month and I find it difficult to define myself. I hang with the gay guys I don't feel right.. I hang with the lesbians I don't feel right.. I feel alone in the group and I hope this can be improved in the future.

The thing I have to explain the most is why I didn't go through NS (National Service). I've built up an archive of good stories to tell. My favourite right now is I left Singapore when I was one, and they had a system change within the government so they lost all my records and never called me back. They had a major system change in the '90s where they converted all paper records to electronic. People seem to buy that explanation so I just go along with it.

My wife and I are applying to migrate to Australia, but our marriage isn't recognised there because I cannot change my birth certificate. So I've got to stay in Singapore a little longer.

*names have been changed to protect the individual's privacy


Personal Stories: Jacob

My name is Jacob*
and I am a 31-year-old nurse.

I came out to my parents as transgender when I was 19. At first they thought I was just confused, but I have proven that I'm not, that this is something I want. None of my other relatives know about it, though.

It wasn't difficult coming out to my parents as I've always been open with them. I don't want to die without doing this. They are supportive of me. They say I've already done my part as a child, so this time they allow me to do what I really want with my life.

All I knew was that I wasn't comfortable with myself, that I wanted to change my body. I had no idea what transitioning meant or entailed. I started to learn slowly from American websites and mostly YouTube. There was only one other person in The Philippines that I knew of who was transitioning. I also learned about transgender community activities in Singapore through SGButterfly.

I wanted to connect my mind to my body
I got my first testosterone injection in September 2011. Within the first three months, I began to see physical changes. However, I still cannot grow a moustache till this day.

This was when I started to have problems at work. Everyone knew me as "female"... when my voice started dropping, my colleagues grew suspicious of me. Some treated me like a freak, some thought I might be ill, some suspected I might be on hormones... I was afraid to come out to them because I was afraid of rejection.

We have gendered uniforms at my workplace and that is a big problem. My patients see me as a guy and sometimes they ask why am I wearing a female uniform. I do feel disadvantaged at work by not being recognised as male.

I've yet to speak to my boss about my transition. I don't know how to approach the topic.. but I think I might have to talk about it when it's time to re-contract my employment. I don't think I will be terminated because of this because my performance is good.

I came out to my friends, and they understand. I think with friends it's like that, they understand you easily. Although, some of them still see me as female and tease me a lot.

I started a support group in The Philippines because of all that I went through. It's mainly to share our experiences, how we started and how we are doing. Back home, we don't have the kind of medical assistance that is available in Singapore. In Singapore, I have access to a doctor who can assess my health and see to my transition journey. I want to help more people like me who want to start transitioning... or those who are struggling with their gender identity.

I saved money and did my chest surgery in Manila in July 2014 for about $4000. I may get a hysterectomy done soon, too. I'm not sure if I will go for "bottom surgery" as I'm afraid I may lose sexual sensation down there... although I will admit it may boost my confidence all the more if I do go ahead with the surgery.

My parents don't know about my surgery because I didn't want them to worry. Although, I do have support from friends and also from the support group that I founded.

I've always been open about being transgender, and I'm honest with women when they ask. I've been rejected by women simply because I cannot give them children. Some are concerned about my health. I'm experimental when it comes to sex.

I was held at Singapore customs for a half hour because currently my face does not quite match my passport photo anymore. It was awkward. Then they asked me if I'm undergoing HRT (hormone replacement therapy), and I said yes and they let me go. I'm not sure how I will deal with this situation if faced with it again.

In The Philippines, there is no distinction between a transman and a butch woman
I try my best to explain that it's two very different things.. that transmen are men who are trapped in a body that they do not feel aligned with. There is also a stereotype that all transmen are straight men. This is why we need more awareness.. more education on the topic, especially on mainstream media. Some friends still ask me why I want to transition, because they are comfortable with me being a "butch lesbian".  Some lesbians think of transmen as a "higher form of lesbian".. and some transmen feel proud of that.

A typical day for me comprises going to the gym, meeting friends, eating, drinking, and meeting the girl that I like.

The girl that I'm courting said, "I don't want a lesbian, you're a guy, right?"
This was very affirming for me, to know that she perceives me as male. I've met her parents, and she says she will marry me if I'm able to change the gender marker on my legal documents. She doesn't want to be in a relationship with no legal status. I think she is afraid of being mocked... when we go out, we go to places where we won't bump into anyone we know. She's cautious of being seen by people here. My previous relationship ended due to the long distance.

Big dreams
Like most cisgender people, I want a family, a house. I want my support group to pick up and expand. I want to organise fundraising activities to support Filipino transmen who want to undergo surgery, or more like a donation pool especially for those who cannot afford surgery. I also want to set up a centre for the transgender community, a trans clinic and a trans-friendly centre.

My advice is to do your research before you decide to begin transitioning.

*names have been changed to protect the individual's privacy

Personal Stories: Halanna

My name is Halanna*
and my passion is orchids.

I've known since I was 7
It all started with my Mum's silk scarf. Guys didn't wear scarves then. It was like an awakening.. I like skirts and heels and stockings. I wasn't so much into bras and panties, it was more the external clothing, I was very attracted to the style. From thereon, I remember asking my Mum to teach me how to cook, clean, wash... you know, all the housewifey things. It all seemed to very natural to me.

My Mum knew but was in denial
When I was 12 my parents sent me to a psychiatrist for 'strange behaviour'. The report came out saying I have "stress disorder". No, I'm supposed to have GID, all this stress was because you refused to let me come out.

I started experimenting at university
I had read a book called "My Husband Wears My Clothes", and that triggered my search. Other than my own studies, I started my own research on men wearing skirts, wearing girls' things..

I've got a degree in horticulture
My dream was to be an orchid farmer but things didn't quite work out with the company I was with. I joined another company and became a nursery manager. I found it suitable at the time because I had wanted to hide away from people. While there, I started to get requests to do garden renovation and design. That's when I realised that I'm actually quite a people's person.

My boss didn't like the way I dressed 
It wasn't even flamboyant or anything, just very androgynous. He was very upset about it. He's Christian, I'm a Christian too but he didn't have to do that. He said it didn't suit our "company image" and that's when I got pissed off. What company image? How is it more important than providing good service and a very good product and making people very happy with what you're doing? That way of thinking is so old school.

I'm married (to a woman) and we have two children together
We got married right after university. We got to know each other in secondary school and had been best friends for 9 years before we started dating. I told her the second month we were together... I said, "Look, I'm going to tell you something because I don't want any secrets." Even though she's known all along, she never expected me to seriously transition.

We're both very different people
We have different tastes in clothes, makeup etc., although we are both into BDSM. We can talk to each other about anything. We've always gotten along. Things are a little tense now because of my decision to transition, but more so because of business and money issues. She once said, "I know you're a woman and I can't change you, that's who you are."

My wife identifies as a straight woman
but I think there's more to that. She doesn't want to admit that she's bisexual. Her goal was to have two kids. We've done that, so what now? I think now she's searching herself..

My kids call me Dad
and they don't ask questions.. because when they were born, I already started transitioning. I won't tell until they ask. There's no point in telling them information that cannot be processed.

Being transgender is only part of the package
It's not the whole package. People engage you not because of who you are but because they love your work. Correct? You go to a restaurant not because the chef is a nice guy, but because you like the dishes.

What Singapore lacks
is anti-discrimination laws. That's it! Having said that, whenever I go out and meet people, I've hardly faced discrimination. New clients are usually not used to it.. as in, how to address me. But I will tell my clients later on that I am transgender. Once I get to know them better, no problem. You know why? Because I'm a specialist in what I do.

People say queers are more talented
especially in creative fields like design, fashion, hairdressing, etc. Do you know why they say that? I only realised this in the last year or so... It's because they work very hard. We all have the same brain. But we work doubly hard to develop that skill. So that people will accept them for who they are, the work they do, and not their orientation or what they see in front of them. That's why I do what I'm doing now. Why I choose to be very specialised in this skill that very few people will have.

My advice to other cross-dressers/trans*people who do not specialise in anything in particular...
Go and find it. Find. Search. Search yourself, what you love. Put your whole body into it, your mind, your whole being into it. Be damn good at it.

To me, starting my own company, it's nothing but to top. Nothing but to be up there, very popular, high in demand, win awards. I've won a few team awards already.

It’s a calculated risk. Sometimes you gotta tahan.. you don’t get to go travelling once a year, Christmas you don’t get to buy things for others, or struggle to pay your bills. Because the project hasn’t come in.. and you haven’t got the funding, you gotta tough it out a bit. I’m going through that, still.. Hopefully after next year we won’t have this problem, and I can help pay my parents off.

If I wasn't married with kids, maybe I wouldn't be so aggressive in what I do. They motivate me. I'm the sort of fella if I don't have a kick in the arse, I'm a slacker. 

I'm on hormone pills, but a very low dose
because I'm very scared I'll go crazy, like cannot mentally function.. I cannot afford that now. I had mood swings when I first started. I've been on hormones for four years now, and I take one pill a week. I'm a bit scared, but I might want to up the dose soon. Maybe two a week. I buy the pills overseas. I know exactly what I'm after. I research before I buy it. I'm a science student [laughter]

The pill, it changes my body, changes my face shape, I feel better.. grows a bit here.. makes it much better..

I've got humongous homophobia 
because I got abused before. Tricked into sexual activities by classmates when I was 12 and 14. So I have humongous phobia of another guy's genitals. I don't think it'll go away. If it wasn't for those incidents, I would probably transition properly. But I'd probably still be into females. 

I don't really think of the past stuff. I just look forward. For me, the only way is up. 

I have written two books
and intend to release them this year, in 2015. One is called "Foraging", it's about finding food in urban places. And the other is titled "To Be Myself", which is self-explanatory. It focuses mainly on my transition, why I decided to start my own company... to be myself, to give the best to others and to use my talent really well. There's also going to be an exhibition about me, my life.The best part about all this is my parents still don't know of my transition.

*names have been changed to protect the individual's privacy

Personal Stories: Fionn

My name is Fionn*
and I am a transwoman. I love lip-sync as a hobby, and occasionally perform at private shows, mostly at gay & lesbian clubs. 

I first realised I might be transgender
in 2004. At the time, I didn't know how to go about transitioning, who to reach out to...

I thought I was just a gay boy at first
I was part of a dance troupe called Voguelicious, which comprised mainly flamboyant gay boys who dressed up as girls to perform at major clubs in town. It was during this time, and with the love and support of my friends, that I realised I'm not gay, I am transgender.

I was constantly bullied at school
Everyday. Not a single day was fun for me. But I think I got through it with positive thinking. I told myself that those are just words, and I won't let words kill me.

I was already flamboyant as a primary school kid. I had more girl friends than guy friends (even though some of the guys did fancy me). Amongst the effeminate guys, I think I'm the only one who transitioned.

In secondary school, I wore heels to school one time and got sent home. I wore heels again the next day and got sent home again. There was this overwhelming urge in me to wear heels, to be different... I can't explain it. I thought I might be crazy, but then again if I was insane I wouldn't be able to hold a job now, right? 

I was put in detention a lot and the school wanted me to go for counselling. I didn't go, of course. I pretended to be a guy for 3 more years.

Every weekend I had to wear a big shirt and sit like a guy
My extended family has a big cookout every weekend so I had to clip my hair, wear shorts... I tried not to speak because my voice has always been like this. I despised my aunts and uncles because they would always call me names... it would leave me crying in my room for hours. I would always ask if I could go out whenever I knew they were coming but my Mum wouldn't let me. I felt like a hamster trapped in a cage. 

I had to change & put on makeup at the staircase
I couldn't change into women's clothes at home, so I had to do it at the staircase of my block. I did my makeup at the staircase. When my boobs started growing, I had to put on a bra at the staircase. Sometimes people would see me, I'd just say, "Eh hi, you can just walk past." That's me in a nutshell. My mother used to always wonder why I had such a big bag. Inside got heels mah... hahaha

My Mum and Dad believed I belonged in hell because they are staunch Muslims. Not only were they religious, they were also very strict with us kids. You go to school, then you go home. You go to work, then you go home. No boyfriends, no girlfriends. Having said that, my mother has always been there for me even though she may nag incessantly. 

I never did sex work to prove my mother wrong.
I needed her to know that not all transwomen sell their bodies, that we are capable of holding full-time jobs outside of the sex industry. I'm the eldest of four siblings and was the breadwinner at one point. I've been more or less accepted in most of my jobs.

I needed my parents to see that just because I am transgender, does not mean I cannot have a future. I broke the barrier and I am still proving myself right till this day.

I only had my surgery recently because at my previous job, while they accepted my "flamboyance", were not completely supportive of my sex change. I loved the company and I loved my job, but the day I wore women's clothes to work, I was asked to leave within 24 hours. It was ridiculous because no one had ever complained about me, I never took sick leave, and it was the sort of job where gender did not matter. All my colleagues were shocked the day I left. I cried the whole day.

I've been with my husband for 9 years
He is not gay. We met on Friendster, this was way before Facebook came about. He was a mutual friend, and he knew I was "gay" at the time. He had just ended a relationship with a girl and needed someone to talk to, so we became friends. Our friendship blossomed and soon I had romantic feelings for him, but I couldn't tell him because he was straight after all. He surprised me one day by asking me if I would like to be his life partner. 

I broke down and cried. Because most of my previous boyfriends were gay men. I had never had a straight boyfriend before.

He's been very supportive and I am close to his family, too. His parents couldn't tell I am transgender. They simply thought I was a very tall woman; he and I are the same height. His sisters know though, because I'm out on Facebook. 

We have never quarelled
I swear to God! Maybe it's how we communicate. At home, I listen to him. If he doesn't like me wearing certain clothing when we go out, I'll listen. If he wants me to cook something, I say okay I cook. I just don't like to argue. He understands where I'm coming from. If I tell him - today I have a show and I have to wear this for the show - he'll say okay. He's not the jealous type. 

He's what I would call a "conventional" man. He goes to work, he comes home. He doesn't club, doesn't drink, he's not religious, very laidback. I think this is why we never argue. 

He respects me for who I am. In return, I'm grateful he has provided me shelter for the last 9 years. If I break this bridge of respect, where can I go? Which is why I don't want to lose him. He is not handsome, but love takes over everything. 

I always wanted a hot guy with a six-pack, who is taller than me so he can hug me. But I received a rhino instead. God gave me a rhino and I love my rhino.

My husband is fat but he is very good at designing small aquariums. We have a small side business where he deals with the fish, corals, and I do all the paperwork. I hope we can have a small shop one day. I want to be my own boss.

I have more support from my in-laws than my own Mum and Dad
Last year my husband, his family and I went for a month-long trip to Japan. It was during this trip that I decided to come out to his parents... because I didn't want to lie to them anymore. My husband said, "If you are ready, you tell. If you are not ready, it's okay because I am still here for you." Encouraged by his love and support, I approached his mother first. I told her my "secret", that I was assigned male at birth. She was a little bit shocked but she did not cry... she held my hand and said, "You have been with my little boy here for 9 years. If you can take care of him until you die, then be with him. You have my support." I couldn't ask for more. I have her blessing. His father doesn't talk much but I know he is okay, too. 

What would I say to my 15-year-old self?
I'd say don't worry what others think of you. Words are just words. It's your life. If this is who you truly believe you are, go all out, don't stop halfway. If you want to take hormones to become a woman, don't stop halfway. It's your self, your gender, your life. Believe in yourself.

*names have been changed to protect the individual's privacy

Healthcare: Hormone replacement therapy by Dr Alex Fok

Dr Alex Fok is a physician and endocrinologist who runs a private practice at the Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, Singapore.

Trained as a reproductive endocrinologist, bio-identical hormone replacement therapy and osteoporosis are Dr Fok's other interests.

The clinic treats individuals who are undergoing gender reassignment ("transitioning"), and is able to prescribe and assist in hormone replacement therapy for both male-to-female and female-to-male transgender persons.

The nurses / receptionists are friendly and knowledgeable of transgender issues, and you can be assured of privacy and confidentiality with both the doctor and his staff.

Alex Fok Endocrine Practice
Address: 3 Mt Elizabeth, #07-07 Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, Singapore 228510
Tel 67346116
E-mail alexfok@ymail.com
Website http://alexfok.com


Healthcare: Transgender counselling and support by The Relational Counselling Studio

The Relational is a private practice specialising in counselling for a wide range of needs. They have a multi-cultural team of counsellors with different specialities, which includes gender issues.

As this is a resource page for transmen, we will talk about the counselling of gender issues, although you may also seek The Relational counsellors for help with any other issue(s) that they may specialise in.

The Relational has a friendly, cosy, discreet location at Tiong Bahru, and are also available over Skype.

When you contact them, you will most probably be attended to by Andrea as she specialises in gender change issues, amongst many other things. After which, she may continue to be your counsellor, or refer you to a colleague who is equally if not more equipped to see to your needs.

All in all, we've found The Relational to be a professional and welcoming place for transmen, that provides the highest standard of counselling care. If nothing else, it is a place where you can talk to someone without fear of judgement.

Their rates are on a sliding scale, which will be decided upon your first meeting with the counsellor.

The Relational
Address: 22 Eng Hoon Street, Singapore 169722 
Enquiries are welcome by phone, SMS or e-mail:
Andrea Mayrhofer
+65 94373705
General e-mail:
Website: http://www.therelational.com.sg

It takes a lot of courage to open up to a complete stranger. But for transgender people - whether you are just starting to transition, or already many years along - seeking a professional counsellor could be one of the best decisions of your life.


Healthcare: Transgender counselling and support by Oogachaga

Oogachaga Counselling and Support (also known as 'Oogachaga') is Singapore's only community-based organisation providing counselling and support for the LGBTQ community.

Oogachaga's core services:

  • Oogachaga Hotline 6226 2002 / Whatsapp 8592 0609

Lines are open every:
Tue, Wed, Thu 7pm-10pm, and
Sat 2pm-5pm

  • Email Counselling

CARE is an email counselling service by Oogachaga for the LGBTQ communities. Like their hotline, this service is managed by trained volunteers. It is for those who need someone to talk to but are not ready for face-to-face counselling. They aim to reply within 72 hour upon receiving your email. Write in to them using this form.

  • Face to face counselling

E-mail contact@oogachaga.com to make an appointment, or call 62249373. 
Current counselling rates are $60/hr for individuals, and $80/hr for couples/ families. 

  • Transgender Resource Guide

In 2013, Oogachaga put together a 48-page resource guide to transitioning for transgender people. It includes information on sexual, emotional and mental health during transition, legal issues related to transitioning, hormone replacement therapy, sex reassignment surgery and a summary of useful resources. View the resource guide here.

Address: 57B Pagoda Street, Singapore 059216
Tel 62249373
E-mail contact@oogachaga.com
Website: www.oogachaga.com