By Ng Wan Ching
Singaporean waiting for sex op says people like her face rejection at home and at work.
HER daughter calls her “Fanny-mummy”. That’s to differentiate her from the woman who gave birth to the girl.
You see, Fanny Ler is actually the girl’s biological father. Except that the 35-year-old is now a woman in the making, or in technical terms, a transitioning transgender (TG) woman.
She is on hormonal treatment and is awaiting sexual re-assignment surgery.
Fanny and the girl’s mother are getting a divorce – but apparently not for this reason.
Fanny claims the girl’s mother did not even know about it when divorce proceedings began after seven years of marriage.
The girl, now 12, loves and supports Fanny. So does Fanny’s family, especially her mother. But she says there is little support from society for people like her.
She told The New Paper: “Some Singaporeans will see you and then stare at you. Others will ignore you completely. Yet others will talk behind your back.
“While I don’t personally have to deal with such prejudice, I have many friends who do.”
She claimed many of her TG women friends have been rejected by their families and many who have been open about their situation find it hard to get jobs.
Other friends, who want to become women but don’t, remain stuck in marriages, for fear of being rejected by their families and children, she added.
Fanny is all for more education and outreach which will help people to better understand people like her.
“TG women are not freaks. There is a medical reason why we are like this,” she said. “We are not gay men. We are born into the wrong body.”
Life does not have to be so difficult for TG women, she said. It all depends on how society views them.
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Her friends try their best to ignore the stares and hurtful remarks, she said.
“Right now, we know we can’t say anything much. The more we say, the more problems will come up,” she said.
She realised that something was not right when she was 10. She kept wanting to wear dresses and play with make-up.
“Initially I did not know what my problem was. At that time I didn’t have any information at all. I thought it was just part of the growing-up process. It did not occur to me that I had a medical condition,” she said.
Throughout her teenage years, she felt she should be a woman. But she did not know what she was until mid-2007 when she found the sgbutterfly website. The website is Singapore’s first TG community portal.
“I started reading up about the medical terms and issues. That was when I finally realised what was wrong with me,” she said. In December 2007, she started hormonal treatment.
She never thought she was effeminate and behaved like a man till 2007.
She was an army regular, got married in 1997 and fathered a child.
“At that time, it was just what society expected of me. So much so that I went along with it. I fell in love, got married and we had a daughter in 1998,” she said.
She said the marriage began breaking down – for other reasons – in 2002.
She started divorce proceedings in 2004.
At that time, the girl’s mother did not know about Fanny being a TG person.
“I didn’t lie to her because at that point I also didn’t know what I was,” she said.
About four years into the divorce proceedings, Fanny enlisted the help of a counsellor handling her divorce case.
“During one mediation session, I just went into the room with the counsellor and announced to my ex-wife my intention to transit to becoming a woman,” she said.
That was in 2008. She said it was a complete shock to his ex-wife.
The divorce was finalised at end 2008.
Fanny’s daughter was the first person she told about being a TG woman.
The girl was then in Primary 4.
“I told my daughter in 2007. At that time, I hadn’t started any treatment yet.
“She said it was okay. She said that she had always felt, from the care I gave to her, that I was more of a mother than a father,” Fanny said.
“In front of my ex-spouse, she calls me Fanny-mummy. Otherwise she calls me mummy.”
Said her daughter, who is now in Primary 6: “As long as she’s happy, I’m happy. I just love her. She’ll just always be my father in my heart. I call her mummy to go along with her appearance and to avoid having people look at us.”
Fanny is currently working in an administrative job for Singapore Funeral Services. Her employers know about her situation and are all right with it, she said.
“I don’t hide because there’s no point hiding. I also realise that I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.
Her mother, who was told in 2008, is also supportive and now lives with Fanny.
Fanny hopes to go for the sex-change operation as soon as possible. “I want to fall in love with a man and get married again, this time as a woman,” she said.
No changes to birth certificate
FANNY Ler’s life-changing decision will impact many areas of her life.
But she will try to minimise the impact as much as she can for her daughter.
As she has started hormonal treatment, she no longer looks like a man, though she has not undergone sexual re-assignment surgery yet. She has been downgraded permanently in the army, she said.
“I am now under Reserved, which means I will not be called up for IPPT or reservist (duties),” she said. The IPPT is the Individual Physical Proficiency Test which fit NSmen have to take annually.
If she has the operation, she can submit a medical letter to prove the change for the Singapore Armed Forces to discharge her from reservist status, she said.
She is still listed as being a male on her identity card. After the operation, she will be able to change her sex to female and be officially recognised as a woman.
As for her daughter’s birth certificate, no changes can be made, she said. She also cannot change her own birth certificate.
“For my daughter’s school report book, I use the name Fanny as it is already my official name. But I state myself as being her father. This is what I had been telling my daughter. That no matter how I change, I am forever her father and my ex-wife is forever her mother,” she said.
So far, Fanny has not received any word from the Ministry of Education regarding her changes and how it will impact her daughter.
“I am still her father and when I enrolled her into her current school last year. I informed the school about my status and submitted my psychiatrist letter to the school. So far, everything is normal,” she said.
Once she has undergone the operation to become a woman, she may marry a man.
Said lawyer Amolat Singh: “For parties to contract a marriage, they must be male and female. If a person has undergone (the operation) before marriage, he/she will be regarded as being of the sex after the re-assignment.
Therefore, after re-assignment of the sex, there is still a need for both of them to be male and female.
“But the strict adherence to biological gender at the time of birth is no longer now the law.”
‘We are not men, we have unique needs’
IN A bid to differentiate themselves from gay men, transgender women from 10 Asia Pacific countries, including Singapore, have come together and formed the world’s first TG network.
The Asia Pacific Transgender Network aims to combat discrimination and marginalisation of TG women by reaching out and educating the public.
On Wednesday , the first of its sub-group meetings kicked off in Bangkok to discuss, among other issues, how to better utilise resources in reducing HIV/Aids among TG women in the Asia Pacific region.
Said Ms Khartini Slamah of the Pink Triangle Foundation, Malaysia: “For a long time, TG women have been represented among the men who have sex with men (MSM) sub-group. Now there is a recognition that we are a distinct demographic with unique needs.”
They want the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/Aids to stop clustering them under the MSM umbrella. Said Ms Khartini: “TG women are not men – we have different issues and needs.”
These include access to affordable, quality healthcare services such as lifelong hormonal therapy, sexual reassignment surgery and counselling for better social integration, said Singapore TG activist Leona Lo.
She is the Singapore representative for the network. Using TG sex workers as an example, she said you would not find them at gay cruising hot spots.
“In Singapore, TG sex workers operate together with female sex workers. If you want to reach out to them, you need to consider this,” said Ms Lo.
Currently in Singapore, there’s also no data on the risk of HIV/Aids infection among TG sex workers, separately from MSM or female sex workers, she said.
Said Mr Dredge Byung’chu Kang, a PhD candidate in the Departments of Anthropology, Epidemiology and Global Health at Emory University in Atlanta, USA: “TG women face discrimination that limit their life opportunities and increase their risk for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and other diseases.”
TG women often have limited job opportunities and often resort to sex work, he said.
He is conducting research in Thailand on Thai gay men and TG women.