My Sisters: Their Stories
by Lo, Leona
Region: Southeast Asia/Asean
Format: Paperback, 96 pages
Published: 2003, Singapore, 1st Edition
Publisher: Select Books (http://www.selectbooks.com.sg)
"They know that whatever plastic surgery and operation they undergo will not make them look like a girl, so they forsake the idea even though they very much want to be one." - Quote from My Sisters, Their Stories
Published by Viscom Editions Pte Ltd, My Sisters, Their Stories is a commendable collaborative effort between Singaporean transsexual writer, Leona Lo (a 27-year-old former Corporate Communications Assistant Manager who was born Leonard Lo) and photojournalist Lance Lee.
Written in a simple and direct style, My Sisters, Their Stories provides a short and interesting read about the transgendered experience in the face of institutional stigma, public ridicule and familial rejection.
The main section of My Sisters, Their Stories features autobiographical accounts of 13 transsexuals (out of whom 10 are Singaporeans, 2 Thais and 1 Malaysian) accompanied by (ahem) breast baring photo spreads that would do a Guinness Stout advertisement proud. Alternating between resignation, disappointment and sorrow, these accounts are poignant attempts by the transsexuals to present themselves unmediated to the world.
Particularly noteworthy are Leona's hilarious self-portrait of growing up as a woman trapped in a man's body, actress-comedian Abigail's acceptance of her hormone-experiment-gone-wrong looks, former catwalk model Amy's painful accounts of discrimination in the modeling industry ("In the past, when I went for auditions, I couldn't even talk."), Lady Boy Aun's heartfelt confession ("Next Life, man is okay, woman is okay. But must be real. Not same as this life.") and Angel's account of life as a hustler ("These days, CV (Changi Village) is like the night safari. People go there to stare at the sisters.").
The remaining sections of the coffee-table book are entitled "Rose Among The Thorns" (which focuses on the various forms of societal discrimination), "Fashion Week" (which focuses on the backstage shennigans at a fashion show) and "It's Showtime!" (which transports the reader into the oh-so-familiar world of the Ratchada cabaret and the Casanova go-go bar in Bangkok).
While some readers may be unwilling to shell out S$26 for a coffee-table with the thickness of a Hello Kitty tissue pack, any reservations should soon dissolve when one considers how invaluable this book is as a document of the little known transsexual community in straight-laced Singapore.
My only grouse is that readers looking for fully realized insights into the transgendered experience may end up being disappointed as the book provides only brief snippets of what it means to be a transsexual. This is because, aside from quotable transsexual quotes, the book does not dig deep enough beneath the transsexuals' well made-up exteriors to explore their motivations and unveil the harsher truths of living life as transsexuals.
Still, My Sisters, Their Stories does deserve credit for taking the bold step of "flinging off the mantle of secrecy surrounding men who become women through surgery" and in doing so, prompt the community at large to think about transsexuality critically instead of judgmentally.
Editor's note: 'My Sisters: Their Stories' is for sale at a special price of S$16, inclusive of postage for Singapore orders. All books will be autographed by the author. Please click on the link below for ordering info.