Leona Lo, one of Singapore's high-profile out transwomen, is set to star in the stage adaptation of her autobiography From Leonard to Leona: A Singapore Transsexual's Journey to Womanhood. The play entitled Ah Kua (a pejorative Hookien term originally ascribed to cross dressers but now also increasingly being used to refer to transgender/transsexual women in Singapore), which runs from August 6, 7 and 8, 2009 at 8 pm at the Substation Theatre, has just encountered its first transphobic opposition from the National Library Board of Singapore no less.
According to Leona in her blog, the National Library Board has not allowed displaying the show's poster on its notice boards. When Leona inquired, the Board gave her a standard line: "Displays at our libraries should be relevant to a broad audience of all ages." Of course, we can spend the entire day debating what that really means. Actually we can spend all day debating what libraries are for. Or we can argue back and forth on what constitutes relevance to a broad audience. Failing that we can choose to nitpick instead on the phrase "broad audience of all ages". We can do all these and go nowhere but that will not hide the true nature of what this dismissive answer to Leona's query really is: transphobia disguised as a bureaucratic one-liner.
The poster (shown above) is hardly offensive so the National Board cannot cite that reason for not allowing its display. It's also not controversial in anyway. You can say that the word tranny (short for transgender/transsexual and considered by the trans community as highly offensive particularly if used by non-trans people in referring to them) is controversial but when you read what it's made to stand for, it does lose its regular derogatory flavor. Which leaves us with the show's title itself, Ah Kua. But as it turns out, even if it is indeed a disparaging term, ah kua is part of Singapore's daily lexicon. It's just a phrase that people use everyday. There are no two ways about it. Leona's point in using it as the title of her show, as she explains in her blog, is to call attention to the dangers of labeling people, of name-calling, of boxing people in and associating them with all the negative stereotypes such pejorative terms bring.
But I guess the National Library Board will not know that now or will even care to know that at all. They never even bothered to ask what Leona's show is all about. So we know what they are doing: they are denying Leona's very existence. Perhaps in their twisted logic, the members of the National Library Board are thinking that there are no such things as ah kuas in Singapore! And if they do not allow Leona's show's poster to be displayed, this will prove their belief that in Singapore, transsexuals do not exist.
Well bad news for them, Leona is not the kind of woman who will take that sitting down. She has started an online petition that I actually just signed. We need a lot of people to sign the petition. If you are a true trans ally, please head on there and sign it yourself. Kindly spread the word as well. And if you are in Singapore, try to catch Leona's show. Thank you!