She was the only woman soldier working in the guard room, surrounded by men who harassed and frightened her after she said she was transgender. She tried to ignore them as they opened up their shirts and pretended to rape each other, while beckoning her to join them.
And then one day, as Lune Loh stood under the searing Singaporean sun, one of those men took his rifle and tried to shove it between her legs.
She was a woman. She was not supposed to be here, because Singapore’s compulsory, two-year military service is required only for 18-year-old men. But under Singapore law, she was still considered a man, because she had not undergone surgery that would render her sterile.
Across the world, scores of countries still require transgender people to submit to such surgeries before their genders are legally recognized, a practice international human rights bodies have condemned as torture. These policies have left untold numbers of transgender people with an agonizing choice between their fertility and their identity.
For those who opt against surgery, the policies’ consequences can be severe, limiting their prospects for jobs, housing, marriage and safe passage through the world. Since their identification documents list their genders as the opposite of how they present in public, they can easily be outed, leading to everything from bureaucratic hassles to life-threatening confrontations.
For some, the fear of being outed is so intense that they withdraw from the world. Loh, however, has taken the opposite approach, becoming an unusually visible transgender rights activist in Singapore, a rigidly controlled city-state that only announced it would decriminalize sex between men in August.
Now 25, Loh is still healing from the wounds of her military past. And she finds herself grappling with questions about her future, like whether any company will ever employ her, or whether she will ever be able to have a biological child.
And so, though speaking out carries risk, silence for Loh is not an option.
“People are not getting housing, people are not getting jobs … that’s basically what we’re fighting for,” she says. “We just want to help people survive another day, another month, another year.”
At the heart of the debate over gender recognition laws is the importance of identity.
The legal documents that define our identity are crucial to navigating life and the world, from getting a bank loan to crossing a border. In much of the world, changing gender markers on identification documents remains impossible. Other countries allow such changes, but often with draconian prerequisites including sterilization, psychiatric interventions, and — for any married person — mandatory divorce.
By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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