In a conservative society like Singapore, the transgender community is still not as widely accepted. While it is human nature to resist things that aren’t the norm, we fail to realise that our irrational hatred causes hurt to these people.
Yes, transgenders are people too. I witnessed this first hand when I paid a visit to T Project, a support service which offers shelter to the transgender community who have lost a place to call home.
At the helm of this noble endeavour is 46 year old June Chua, who strongly believes that the transgender community should express themselves freely instead of living in the shadows of society. I was honoured to have an opportunity to sit down together and let her tell her story.
The actual shelter dorms were not accessible due to the privacy of the residents there. Hence, we met up at Alicia Community Centre, a place where counselling services are provided ranging from sexual orientation dilemma to personal family problems.
T Project is a social service support for the transgender community in Singapore. They provide a shelter to house homeless transgenders as well as counselling services. The project also leases extensively with many other stakeholders to provide support to this group of people in need – it ranges from Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Tan Tock Seng Hospital and even Singapore Changi Prison.
“The people that come to me come from all walks of life. There are some with mental and physical health issues, criminal records and also family issues. However, please do not be confused as T Project merely houses these people and provides counselling. We are not a charity organisation.” T Project provides free housing and counselling.
Though T Project is not strictly-speaking a charity organisation, it certainly feels like one to me but with a noble conviction driving it. Free housing, counselling and support, I can only imagine the pressure June is facing to sustain it.
June, the founder of T Project is a transgender woman and is a firm believer for the transgender community to live as their true selves.
“For me, I love myself too much to hide in the shadows and I urge people to do so. I discovered myself back when I was 12 years old and has proudly embraced it ever since. I have been called names such as ‘ah gua’ many times throughout my life. In fact, I actually love these remarks and it reaffirms who I am.”
I was really impressed by June’s confidence. Unlike a couple of transgenders I have encountered, June was really upfront and determined to stay true to her nature.
“During upper secondary, I did not wear long pants like all the other guys. Instead, I wore shorts and had long hair. In fact, I was lucky as everybody around me were all very accepting. During PE lessons, the teachers were understanding and did not force me to join in football with the other guys.”
It definitely takes courage to stand up to societal scrutiny and judgment. Fortunately for June, she grew up in a very supportive environment, which is a luxury many transgender individuals do not have and something she wants to enable others for.
June believes that there is a lack of care for the transgender community. She also believes that transgenders are more vulnerable to public attack as compared to lesbians or gays due to how superficially different they look.
“A gay or lesbian can blatantly lie about their sexual orientation and there is no way for the society to realise that. However, a transgender can never ever hide from scrutiny because it is obvious in the way they look. If a transgender woman steps onto an MRT train, all eyes will be on her because of the way she looks. There is nowhere to run.”
“I went to many LGBT workshops and realised that they are mostly catered for the gays and lesbians only, which is rather contradictory. Furthermore, transgenders are more vulnerable as compared to gays and lesbians. A gay or a lesbian person can choose not to reveal themselves by simply lying about their sexual orientation. However, this privilege does not extend to transgender as it is obvious in the way they look.”
“Transgenders are severely disadvantaged be it in the workplace or at school due to the discrimination, and I wish to help them.”
“Because of the inability to be legally registered, we have no choice but to get our funding from the public. My biggest contributors are individuals that are more mature in age. Say mid-30s to 40s.”
Though June didn’t elaborate on the reason for donors mainly from these groups, the reason could be that parents with children at hand usually understand what it takes to love someone unconditionally despite their gender/sexual choices. Sympathy towards the widely chagrinned transgender community could also be a propelling reason.
Because of the non-profit nature of T Project, I inquired June about how she was able to sustain the expenses of the residential area.
“I am lucky to have this shelter loaned to me by a CEO I met at one of the talks. She provides the residential space while I focus on managing it.”
The exact shelter location is kept a secret to protect the identity of those seeking help and will only be revealed to those who truly need it.
Sustaining a transgender shelter is certainly not a job you see every day. Hence, I asked June to elaborate more about her job scope and everyday life.
“A regular day at the office for me is quite mundane. I answer tons of emails regarding funding, counselling and potential residents at the shelter. The challenging part is definitely the funding. And I am constantly fighting for it.”
It is a relentless battle for June every day. A battle for funds, welfare and betterment for the transgender community. And this battle will almost certainly never cease. All I can say is she has my utmost respect for her cause.
June firmly believes in not hiding her true self and she urges everybody out there to do so. There is no shame in revealing who you are, but most often it is the bullies of society who are the oppressors of identity freedom.
“Whenever you talk to transgenders outside, they are always facing the ground looking all scared and unconfident. And that really annoys me. Come on, just keep your head held high and be proud. Bullies only feed off your fear, just stop doubting yourself and the bullies will not bother you.”
Society might frown upon transgenders but know that you are not alone and there is support available. If you are a transgender with residential issues, or simply need help with sexuality concerns, you can seek help via T Project’s Website and Facebook.