A transgender woman is happily chatting and enjoying drinks with her friend, also a transgender woman, at a popular nightspot in Clarke Quay. The bouncer approaches them and rudely asks her friend to ask her to leave (he does not know her friend is also transgender). She demands to know why but he cannot give a reason. She asks to see his manager. The manager finally emerges and says she should “know” the reason “herself”. He is “rude and indignant”, as if she has done something shameful. He then asks to see her ID, but she refuses to show it to him until he can explain why she’s been singled out. Finally he gives up and says, “Ok, not everybody knows you’re a man.” To which she replies, “So what’s the problem here?”. He says, “This is simply not their THING.”
- Adapted from Marla Bendini’s website
Marla’s experience is not unique to her. I have received similar emails from distressed transgender women. And they encounter exactly the same type of discrimination at nightspots across Clarke Quay, which is owned by Capital Mall Trust. What is chilling are the neo-Nazi methods used to persecute these women.
Let’s take a trip back to 1941, just before the Jews were deported to concentration camps.
“It wasn’t until nearly two years later that a decree, issued on September 1, 1941, issued badges to Jews within Germany as well as occupied and incorporated Poland. This badge was the yellow Star of David with the word “Jude” (“Jew”) and worn on the left side of one’s chest.
Of course the obvious benefit of the badge to the Nazis was the visual labeling of the Jews. No longer would the rabble only be able to attack and persecute those Jews with stereotypical Jewish features or forms of dress, now all Jews and part Jews were open to the various Nazi actions.”
Transgender women in Singapore are at that stage where we are persecuted on the basis of our “stereotypical” features (be it our height/large hands/large feet/prominent Adam’s apple or…sheer beauty). Our IDs are being used like “Star of David” badges which render us “ok” if we are post-op (even this is not guaranteed), but “worthy of persecution” if we are pre-op. The discrimination and persecution has gone on for a long time in the very backyward of one of the world’s richest and most ”advanced” country.
No other minority group in Singapore has to endure such discrimination and persecution. In fact, if the club management behaved in the same way towards any other minority group, their heads would roll. So why single out transgender women? Because we’re easy to target and bully?
As kids, we were bullied in school. Some of us were “merely” taunted by our classmates, whilst others were beaten up and sexually abused. We thought that if we could finish our education, we would be able to live life on an equal footing with everyone else and forget our traumatic past. Unfortunately the schoolroom bullies at Clarke Quay have not allowed us to forget our traumatic past – they are given free rein to hurt and abuse us like animals. Can we still boast of being a developed nation with these monsters in our backyard?
The rights of transgender women, indeed, of everyone are enshrined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is also enshrined in Singapore’s constitution. And the first declaration of the summarised text reads:
1. Everyone is free and we should all be treated in the same way
Does it read “Everyone but transgender women…”?
Are transgender women being “treated in the same way” at night spots in Clarke Quay?
Have our basic human rights been violated? Absolutely yes
What happens at nightspots is only the tip of the iceberg. I have personally encountered workplace discrimination, which led me to set up my own business. One transgender woman has also written about being thrown out of an education institution whilst transitioning.
These stories would have been published if not for the fact that none of the women who wrote to me were willing to stand up and speak out against the discrimination, which allowed the monsters to continue to abuse transgender women here. Until Marla Bendini of course. Marla’s experiences could very well be our Stonewall.
I appeal to you to stand in solidarity with us as we launch our campaign to fight discrimination against transgender women. You can log your support here or on our Facebook group.
Thank you for standing in solidarity with us.
Leona Lo (Ms)
Founding Working Group Member
Asia-Pacific Transgender Network