SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - At the age of 10, Leonard Lo was determined to become a woman.
Now 22 years later, Singaporean transsexual Leona Lo details the shame and anger she felt on her journey in a cathartic book that is raising eyebrows in this regulated city-state with old-fashioned attitudes toward sex.
Lo, 32, runs her own public relations company. She has an Australian boyfriend, polished nails and an engaging, slightly nervous, laugh. She has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital and attempted suicide. Her middle-class, conformist Singaporean-Chinese parents took several years to accept her.
Lo is not Singapore’s only transsexual, but one of its most outspoken. She has her own Web site (www.leonalo.com), speaks extensively to the media, lectured at universities and corporate functions, driven, she says, by desire to spare other transsexuals from a “difficult” society.
“From Leonard to Leona: A Singapore Transsexual’s Journey to Womanhood” is Lo’s first book but she is working on another — a woman’s guide to relationships.
Q: You’re very frank in your autobiography. Was this hard?
A: “I like to think of my book as inspirational, to show that no matter what life throws your way, you can choose to be happy. I’ve reached the end of the road, I’ve attempted suicide, but now I am excited about life. A lot of sweat and tears went into this book, but I feel I have to share my story because I don’t want another male child to go through the pain.”
Q: Was it difficult to grow up as a transsexual in a conservative place like Singapore?
A: “I am conservative! I do not sleep around, I do not lead a deviant life. The problem with Singapore is the culture of silence which is the most terrible thing in the world, of sweeping things under the carpet. There is discrimination against transsexuals, there is stigma, there is shame. What did we ever do to deserve this? It took a lot of anger for me to overcome my shame and to realize that in Singapore, we need someone to help other transsexuals come out, which is what I am trying to do.”
Q: Are you trying to be a role model?
A: “There is a lot of negative portrayal in most of Asia of transsexuals: they are all prostitutes or entertainers, people on the fringe. This is not the case in Europe or the United States, where transsexuals are respected professionals. I would like to be a voice for transsexuals in Asia. In some places like China and Japan, transsexuals are playing a public role, but in Southeast Asia, they’re “ladyboys” who entertain. Why can’t I become a member of parliament or contribute to my country?”
Q: You’ve been both a man and a woman. What’s the best part of being female?
A: “Vanity! A woman is such a colorful person, able to express herself in so many ways, to dress up, to dance like crazy, to let herself be. You get away with a lot being a woman.”