An open letter to the Straits Times on their discriminatory representation of trans people.

On the 7th of December 2015 the Straits Times published this article, contained in which were a slew of discriminatory remarks and representations of the trans community. 

In response, Pavarne Shantti wrote an open letter to the Straits Times to clarify some of the offending points in the article. Her open letter was not published by the Straits Times. 

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the article “Transgender man with 2 ‘wives’ admits sex with teenage girl” (December 7, 2015) by Selina Lum.

Gender dysphoria is a mental disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Treatment includes counselling, hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery, and social and legal transition to the desired gender. Singapore has long recognized gender dysphoria and in 1973 Singapore legally allowed transgender people who have undergone full surgery to change their sex marker on their identification cards, a move that was considered very progressive at that time.

However, Lum’s article goes against the State’s willingness to recognize transgender people. The article that was meant to report on a transman’s sexual offence went on to give a voyeuristic and sensationalistic description of his gender dysphoria and details of his transition. To go into details regarding this man’s transition in the same article that reports on his crime suggests that being transgender is somehow linked to the crime and that all transgender individuals are dangerous to society. This is blatantly untrue.

Furthermore, the wrong pronouns were used repeatedly for a person who has long identified as a man. Ignoring a person’s lived gender implies that you know someone better than they know themselves. It is abusive because it suggests that their identity is not real. The man involved has committed a grievous crime but that does not mean that transgender people should be shamed and mocked.

In addition, outing a person for their gender identity and their mental health status is damaging and dangerous. Studies have shown that individuals suffering from gender dysphoria have significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. Outing him prior to his incarceration could make his stay behind bars violent and abusive.

A study carried out by Trans Murder Monitoring Project, reported that over 1,700 transgender people were killed in just 8 years worldwide. There are many more cases that go unreported. With 155 killings in 16 Asian countries including Singapore (Jaime/ Abdul Khalid Othman, murdered in 2008), it is evident that transphobia is an issue affecting every country.

However, there are ways to combat transphobia. For starters, transgender individuals should be treated with dignity and be entitled to their privacy.

The Straits Times has a duty to report matters in the public interest, and I trust it can do so without resorting to mockery and harmful sensationalism.

Pavarne Shantti Sivalingam V M

Resources and links:

Project X Submits Recommendations to the Penal Code Review

The Government announced in 2016 that it had intentions to...

An Interview with Charmaine Leung, author of 17A Keong Saik Road

As part of a sex workers’ rights organization, we very...