Leona's Story
Copyright © 2003-06, Leona Lo
Leona Lo

Writer (Singapore)


Recent story about Leona in The Star:

"On becoming a woman"






"Transsexual Woman Leona Lo Holds First-Ever Diversity Talk in Singapore to Shatter "Culture of Shame" Surrounding Transsexuals"


"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.


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."



From: Leona Lo
To: Lynn Conway
Subject: TENP News: Leona's Story

Dear Lynn
I've long been an admirer of your web-site and the work you're doing. Here in Singapore, we've just published a first-ever pictorial book on transsexuals in Singapore and Thailand, thereby casting off the mantle of secrecy that has long shrouded this topic. We too have emerged from stealth.
Singapore is supposed to be one of the most developed nations in this part of the world, boasting the world's finest airport and sea port, among other state-of-the-art facilities. But we're still very backward where gender issues are concerned. I knew I wouldn't change much by collaborating with Viscom Editions Pte Ltd on the book, but I felt someone had to say something and start somewhere. When I first starting working on the book, I had grand ambitions. I wanted to change our society's perception of transseuxals as sex workers (the sad truth is, many of them are sex workers in Singapore). However, I moderated my objective along the way and decided that if even 1 individual felt less alone after reading the book, the book would have achieved its objective.

I decided to quit my job before the book was launched because of the "sensitivities" involved. It was a very difficult decision as Singapore is at the height of an economic crisis. I've started my own business offering writing and PR consultancy services. Business offers have been trickling in but I'm confident that things will work out in the end. My dream is to be able to advertise for employees in the local recruitment pages some day and insert the following statement in the press ad,"We are an equal opportunities employer. We welcome candidates of all ethnicity and gender (including transgender)." I would like the workplace to be a warm and nurturing environment where every individual can be stretched to his/her fullest potential, regardless of gender or ethnicity.
I believe this book will be an eye-opener to readers around the world, in particular, transgender readers. Information about the book can be obtained from my web-site at http://www.leonalo.com. The book can be purchased online from http://www.selectbooks.com.sg .I seek your help to publicise the book on your website. It will cast some light on the situation in Singapore and Thailand.
I've attached a related news story so you can share in this happy occasion.
Yours Sincerely,

Leona Lo (Ms)


Leona's Story
Six years ago, she underwent a sex change operation in Bangkok.
Today it has led Miss Leona Lo to write a book about transsexuals here - and to quit her job. She wants to start on a clean slate.
'I want my new employer to hire me knowing I have published the book and have 'come out' publicly,' she said.
She felt that she would be taking the safe option if she stayed in her current job as a corporate communications manager with a statutory board: 'My colleagues and my boss know about my past and they have been very supportive,' she said.
But Miss Lo, 27, worries about handing in her notice in such a dire economic climate.
She admitted that it might not have been a wise decision to quit her job; it hadn't been easy getting one in the first place.
Apart from anything else, putting the name of her school - the all-boys' Catholic High School - on her resume always raised eyebrows.
'I always debated about including the name of the secondary school I went to,' said Miss Lo.
'If I added it in, one question would lead to another. And if I didn't, potential employers would confront me and ask why I hadn't been honest.'
Tanned and lanky, Miss Lo said she would take it in her stride.
'If an employer does not want me on the basis of who I am, why would I want to work for them in the first place?
'I'm prepared to learn how to cook and sell chicken rice if I have to.'
Documenting the experiences of transsexuals is something she's known she had to do ever since she was a teenager.
'I remember the boys in school kicking a ball at me and trying to make me cry. They said that if I did, I was an ah kua (colloquial term for effeminate man),' said Miss Lo.
'There was so much pain in me - wanting to cry and yet trying not to.'
She said she does not have grandiose ideas about the book changing the world.
'I didn't write it hoping that people would embrace the transsexual community. All I ask is for them to understand the daily challenges that we face.
'It's also for those who come after me. It's for them to know that they are not alone.'
Born Leonard Lo, Miss Lo claimed that her parents have accepted her for who she is.
'It hasn't been easy for them. Not only was I the only child, but I was also the only grandson of the family,' she said, laughing.
'The family line has ended with me.'
An implant near her hip releases hormones into her body. She hasn't had breast implants and intends to keep her Adam's apple.
Sitting in a cafe in town, she laughed as she recounted the childhood taunts and the snide comments she received.
But there was a time when they were too much to bear and she would sit at the beach and cry. She still does that sometimes.
'The name-calling never ends - not after my operation and not with the launch of the book,' she said.
'With the book, I expect even more snide remarks. But I've come to the point where I don't want to pretend or hide any more.'

WHEN Miss Lo first met publisher Sylvia S H Tan, they were supposed to discuss a book on musicals.
But Ms Tan was more fascinated by her experiences as a transsexual in Singapore and abroad.
What resulted was My Sisters, Their Stories - a small photographic book documenting transsexuals here and in Thailand.
'There were many hurdles we had to cross - the first was to find transsexuals who were willing to speak out,' said Miss Lo, a Master's degree holder. Published by Viscom Editions, the 96-page book is available at Kinokuniya, MPH and other bookstores.
Author Leona Lo
Photography Lance Lee
Design Concept and Art Direction Sylvia Tan
Print Production Viscom Design Associates

Media Interviews and Reviews

1. Interview with The Straits Times (13 April, 2003)

2. Interview with The New Paper (15 Apr, 2003)

3. Excerpts from interview with Fridae.com (May 2003)

4. Link to full interview with Fridae.com (May 2003)

5. Interview with TODAY (14 Jul, 2003)

6. Interview in The Star Online (9 Sept, 2006) (PDF) NEW!



 [inside front cover]
While much has been written about the katoeys in Thailand, little is known about the sisters in Singapore. What we learn about them is mediated through sensational books, films or news stories about transsexual prostitutes. leftist is not known is that many are driven to prostitution by circumstances.
The transitional period between self discovery and die sex change operation is often the most turbulent for most transsexuals. In extreme ? though not uncommon ? cases, some are driven out of their homes by parents who cannot grapple with their gender dysphoria. Deprived of family and financial support, they turn to prostitution for subsistence. Over time, trey become so accustomed to the easy money and soul?numbing lifestyle that they find it difficult to integrate into mainstream society again. As for those who have had the benefit of a tertiary education, life is no less daunting. They often have to hide their true identities from potential employers and spouses for fear of being rejected or discriminated against, and live in constant fear of being 'outed'.
This book bears testimony to the courage, individuality and tremendous will to live of the transsexuals in Singapore and Thailand. By emerging from stealth, the sisters do not seek so much to be pitied as to be understood and given the opportunity to compete on an equal footing with their peers. In so doing, they have not only given a name and a voice to those before them, bur also hope to future generations.
[rear cover]
I am a woman.
No other individual has to struggle so hard to be so ordinary. The male?to?female transsexual has to sacrifice her social identity as a male, at times her family and friends, and ultimately the very, shape of her body to be a woman.
This book, which spans Singapore and Thailand, is a richly evocative tapestry of transsexual lives. The'sisters' portrayed come from all walks of life. Even as you read, one of them is teaching phonics to a class of children; another is taking copious lecture notes; yet another is plying the streets of Changi Village. Rut all have at some point in life found themselves at the same crossroads.
Where words cannot describe, photographs complete the picture. Photographer Lance Lee, in his earnest pursuit of the ordinary, has captured the vulnerability, determination and tremendous will to live of the sisters with startling insight and clarity.
Listen to their stories. Share their precious moments.
This is a story that has never been told before.



Leona Lo's book is a deeply sensitive portrayal of transgender life in Singapore and Thailand. Here Leona and 12 of her transgender sisters tell their stories in their own candid words. Lance Lee's stunningly beautiful photographs convey what words cannot, and the overall effect is very powerful indeed. I highly recommend this beautiful little book. I know that you will treasure it as I do.

Leona's book can be purchased online from http://www.selectbooks.com.sg

For more information regarding the history of transgender women in Singapore, see this link in the Wikipedia.

Lynn Conway