Transsexual Woman Leona Lo Holds First-Ever Diversity Talk in Singapore to Shatter "Culture of Shame" Surrounding Transsexuals
- Receives support of American Transsexual Pioneer Professor Lynn Conway

Monday, 26 February 2007. "Dare to be me - breaking free of the culture of shame. A Singapore transsexual woman speaks" is the title of transsexual woman Leona Lo's first-ever diversity talk in Singapore, to be held at Glenn's Studio @ Chateau d'Arts, Stamford House on Saturday, 17 March 2007. The hour-long talk aims to shatter the "culture of shame" surrounding transsexuals in Singapore, and is inspired by American transsexual pioneer Professor Lynn Conway's groundbreaking “transsexual successes” webpages.

Culture of Shame
Commenting on the terrible culture of shame surrounding transsexual women in Singapore, Ms Lo, Sole Proprietor of Talk Sense, an integrated communications consultancy, says, "Over the years many transsexuals, especially young transsexuals, have written to me about their 'secret', which they cannot articulate before their family, friends, teachers and classmates for fear of being ridiculed, shamed and even driven from home. The only terms in which transsexuals in Singapore are referred to are the derogatory ahqua, bapok and pondan. No one has stood up to point out that such name-calling is wrong and hateful, and psychologically damaging."

Ms Lo herself lived in stealth until 1997 when she left Singapore to pursue her studies in England. She says "In my third year at the University of York, I performed 'transsexual angst' before an audience of 100, thus exorcising more than 15 years of pain and shame I had been holding within me. For this, I received the York Trust Settlement Prize for outstanding contribution to departmental life."

The talk aims to motivate individuals, transsexual or otherwise, to transcend the culture of shame and move to a position where they can use their unique talents to contribute to a more dynamic, vibrant, creative, generous and giving society. Ms Lo says "You need not be transsexual to benefit from the talk. For anyone who has suffered the indignity of shame and name-calling, you could use this as a platform for self-awareness and self-actualization." Drawing examples from Professor Conway's gallery of transsexual successes at www.lynnconway.com, Ms Lo will illustrate how transsexual women and men can be wonderful role models too, and serve as an inspiration to other women and men who encounter obstacles on their path to self-discovery.

Ms Conway, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Emerita, at the University of Michigan, says that "Taken together, these inspirational stories of successful transsexual women and men will gradually help change people's views of the transsexual condition and shatter the old stereotypes about transsexuals. After all, we are happy and productive contributors in all walks of life: as doctors and lawyers, as scientists, engineers and programmers, as airline pilots, as entrepreneurs, managers and office workers, as university professors and students, in politics, in education, in law enforcement, in the skilled trades, in modeling and in entertainment."

Giving Young Transsexuals Hope
Professor Conway hopes that the talk will also provide hope and encouragement to young transsexual teenagers who are facing gender transition. She says "If parents can just learn to see that their transsexual child is really a 'girl with a physical problem' rather than a 'boy with a mental problem', then that child's future is especially hopeful. With parental love and support, a young transsexual girl can now reach for her dreams, and go on to live a full and joyous life as a woman."

About the talk
Ms Lo’s talk will open with an introduction to gender identity, transsexualism and standards of care as recommended by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (previously known as the Harry Benjamin Gender Dysphoria Association). Ms Lo will touch on the challenges of transitioning and some of the issues that transsexual women face post-operatively as they strive to lead "normal" lives. Throughout the talk Ms Lo will draw on her personal experiences as a transsexual woman in Singapore. Ms Lo said, "The talk is the culmination of more than 15 years of observations on and experiences with the culture of shame that surrounds transsexuals in Singapore - in school, at home, at the workplace, and in their day-to-day relationships with friends, family, colleagues and partners. It is also a response to the numerous requests from secondary school, junior college and university students researching into the topic. There is certainly a demand for such a talk even among non-transsexual youth."

During the hour-long talk, Ms Lo will trace the evolution of shame among the transsexual community by examining the history of transsexualism in Singapore, from the heyday of Bugis Street through to the witch-hunt of the 80s when transgender prostitutes were linked to the spread of HIV/AIDS, the ground-breaking amendments to the Women's Charter in 1996 and recent sensitive portrayals of transsexual success stories (Leona Lo story, Abigail Chay story). She will illustrate how public perception is shaped powerfully by the media and urban myths, and give examples of sensationalist news reporting versus fair and balanced news coverage.

The talk will be held at Glenn's Studio @ Chateau d'Arts, #02-07, Stamford House, 39 Stamford Road, on Saturday, 17 March 2007, from 3 to 5pm. There is a registration fee of $15, payable at the door, inclusive of a buffet tea spread. Call 6425 1053 or email leona@wo-manly.com to register. Registration ends on 13 March 2007. We encourage members of the public to register early as limited seats are available.

At workplaces, throughout Asia and beyond
Ms Lo plans to conduct the talk at various Singapore workplaces in order to raise awareness of transsexualism and gender transitioning in the workplace. These talks will be conducted for free on a monthly basis. She also plans to export the talk throughout Asia and beyond, especially in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Malaysia, where The Star recently ran a story about her experiences in September 2006. She said, "Compared to others in the region, Singapore transsexual women are considered lucky in that we are granted legal recognition in our new gender, however, this is only the beginning of a journey that is fraught with difficulties because of the 'culture of shame' that still prevents many of us from moving ahead in life and fulfilling our dreams and ambitions."

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About Leona Lo
Leona Lo graduated from the University of York, United Kingdom, with First Class Honours in English and Related Literature. She was awarded the York Trust Settlement Prize by the University of York English Department for outstanding contribution to departmental life, specifically, for her hour-long talk on "The Politics of Transgenderism in Singapore", during which she "performed" transsexual angst. In 2000 she was given the Prospects Globe Award by the University of York Sociology Department to pursue a Masters in Qualitative Research Methods. She is the author of the pictorial book My Sisters, Their Stories by Viscom Editions Pte Ltd (2003). In December 2005 she started her own integrated communications consultancy Talk Sense to provide communications services to clients in the pharmaceutical and beauty industry.