Transgender activist June Chua of the T Project tells us what’s changed for transgender people in Singapore since she was growing up
Shortly after we interviewed mama Sunita Shahdadpuri about her experience parenting a transgender child, we were introduced to Singaporean activist June Chua, who founded The T Project (the “T” stands for Transgender) with her late sister Alicia in 2014. The T Project’s shelter is the only social service in Singapore that exists specifically to cater to the female transgender community and transgender people living with HIV. It also provides suitable referral support to residents to help them meet their employment, social, healthcare and emotional needs, and offers psycho-social programs in collaboration with registered social workers and counsellors.
June won AWARE’s Champion for Gender Equality & Justice Award, and was also named Promising Advocate of the Year by The Working Community 3. In addition, she participated in the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program in 2018.
Last year The T Project expanded to create the Alicia Community Centre to provide a safe space for transgender/gender-non-binary individuals of all ages, but in particular, youth. The centre provides peer counselling services for the marginalised, as well as a non-judgmental place for LGBTQ youths to meet up and get social support. In honor of the International Transgender Day of Visibility, we caught up with June to learn more about her story – particularly how things have changed for Transgender youth since she grew up in the 80s, and why Singapore needs a resource like The T Project.
When did you know that you were a woman? In what ways did you acknowledge this to yourself and to those around you?
I became aware that I was a woman in secondary school, when a student used a derogatory Malay term – “Bopak” – on me. From that moment on, I totally embraced that “label.” I became the only girl at an all-boys school! I encountered no bullying in school, as I was so comfortable and showed no cracks in my veneer as a woman, so that everyone just left me alone. Perhaps I was just seen as a “lost cause” to them.
Growing up in the 80s, did you have any awareness of the term “transgender”? When and how did you start to learn more about the transgender community?
No, there were no smartphones in the 80s and owning a computer was only for the rich and privileged few. I learned about the transgender community when I visited them in the Red Light district, as at that time, that was the only venue were you would be able to meet like-minded trans individuals.
When did you officially come out to your family? What was their response?
When my mum saw me in a dress. For the transgender community, there is no “coming out” as our gender identity is so up front. We don’t have the luxury to choose when to come out or hide our gender identity if we choose to transition.
If you were a transgender child or teen today, what steps would you suggest parents take to support their child? What resources are there online or in Singapore that they should seek out?
I do see more examples of parents today affirming their transgender children by bringing them for hormone therapy, or seeking counselling to support their gender identity. Parents nowadays are more educated and informed.
What prompted you to establish the T Project? What does the “T” stand for?
To create safe spaces for the transgender community in Singapore. “T” stands for Transgender.
Can you explain a bit more about why the T Project caters specifically to transgender women? Are there any particular resources for transgender men?
The needs and wants of the Trans man community are different, as they face different challenges in life. The T Project shelter caters to anyone who identifies as transgender and is homeless.