Being the minority is never easy, let alone when your community only makes up 1% of the world’s population. As a transgendered individual in Singapore, Chris Hong has had his fair share of ups and downs—through which he emerged stronger.
Being a straight, cisgendered Chinese female, privilege has followed me almost all my life. I’m able to walk into a room full of strangers and not worry about being side-eyed. I’m able to settle into a group of friends and understand all the jokes they spew in Mandarin from the get go. I can go about my day without being questioned, “are you a girl or boy ah?”
And so, this piece came from a place of earnest curiosity, and a longing to find out first-hand what life is like for someone on the other end of the privilege-spectrum. Leading up to my interview with Chris, I was nervous and apprehensive. I was afraid I’d accidentally come across as offensive, dense, and just down right insensitive. I made the extra effort to conduct my own research about the various terminologies, and I read up more about other trans folk.
Fast forward to the interview day, my fears we almost completely alleviated when I met Chris, an unassuming, lovely individual who carried no airs. He approached me with a gentle smile as he introduced himself. I couldn’t help but notice the canvas that was his body, artfully peppered with tattoos and fierce piercings, a stark contrast to his personality that is anything but.
In an interview he did with online publication ZULA, Chris walked them through the process of his top surgery. While it was informative, I was interested to find out more about the thought process that went into the surgery, and how life after the surgery has been for him.
Vera Leng: How would you explain the difference between body dysmorphia and dysphoria?
Chris Hong: The biggest difference is that body dysmorphia doesn’t make you want to change gender. Body dysmorphia is an anxiety disorder which causes someone to have a distorted negative perception of their own appearance, and always finding faults with their bodies. But dysphoria—which I have—is different.
Growing up, I never felt at home in my own body. There was an increased awareness on top of my consciousness—are my hips showing? Is my binder obvious? Just very simple stuff that cis-gendered people don’t think about. That said, dysphoria doesn’t necessarily need to be present in all trans people, and at the end of the day, we shouldn’t be focussing on how dysphoric we are, but instead on what gives us gender euphoria.
We shouldn’t be focusing on how dysphoric we are, but instead on what gives us gender euphoria.
V: Do you still get misgendered even after the top surgery?
C: Yes, but it doesn’t affect me as much as it used to, so like, my pronouns are my pronouns. You can refer to me correctly, or just don’t refer to me at all. *laughs* I’m secure in my identity enough that someone’s perception of me does not reflect my reality. But, the surgery has definitely helped to dispel my own insecurities. I don’t think I’ve been this consistently content with myself in a long time. I have a lot more good days than I used to. It’s so peaceful.
Once she referred to me as her ‘son’, and it felt like the best day of my life.
V: Is your family as supportive of this change as your friends are?
C: I have great friends; I love them. You need to find people who make you feel good. I’ve had friends in the past who encouraged me to just ‘accept my flaws’ and live in a body I didn’t feel comfortable with.
As for family, my mum and grandma have always been pretty conservative and hyper-religious. And my mum does this thing where she shuts down every time a conversation gets complicated. So it took me months to get through to her regarding the surgery I was about to undergo. She used to call me by my birth name, but now she calls me Chris. Once she referred to me as her ‘son’, and it felt like the best day of my life.
V: Why is this surgery important to you?
C: Actually, top surgery, essentially, is just a mastectomy. But unlike surgeries for medical reasons, it involves removing tissue for aesthetic reasons—shaping the chest and cutting off the boobs lor.
I’ve always wanted it but never got round to doing it because I didn’t know where to start. A partial reason why I crowdfunded the process was also because I wanted to hold myself accountable to others and what I’d done with the money. I was struggling a lot with myself back then, and booking the surgery gave me something to look forward to, to ensure that I’d stay alive till then. I decided to do it in April 2019 and booked my appointment for November 2019. After I made the appointment, I threw my phone aside for a bit. I was so terrified.
I had a lot of doubts going into top surgery. But something that I always held on to was the fact that this female chest made me so unhappy, so why stick with it? The binder I used to wear was quite literally and figuratively limiting to me. I couldn’t do sports, and I hadn’t swum in years. It has been my reality for so long, but now I can sleep topless, and it’s very liberating.
Now I can sleep topless, and it’s very liberating.
V: What are some things that you can do now, which you found hard to do in the past?
C: It still feels surreal, like I wouldn’t even have worn this (referring to the beige tight-fitting ribbed top he was wearing) in the past. Before the surgery, I used to drink as much water as I could in the morning so that I could flush everything out before I left the house. That way, I wouldn’t have to use the public bathroom. Back then, I’d get stared at a lot for three reasons—tattoos, piercings, and my gender ambiguity. Now I feel like the third one has completely ceased.
I just stand a little straighter, with a little more pride.
You know, I’ve never noticed before how much I was hunching and how I was constantly adjusting my binder. Now, I don’t have to constantly think about adjusting my binder anymore—it’s very freeing. Recently people have been asking, did you grow a little taller? But I tell them, no, I think I just stand a little straighter, with a little more pride.
V: What were some of the struggles or questions you had with regards to the process of transitioning?
C: If someone like me came forward and talked about it earlier, I would have read it, and I wouldn’t have waited this long. Growing up, I didn’t have any representation or role models to look up to, and so it felt like I was fumbling around in the dark. My best friend is also trans, but we were both so lost, it was like the blind leading the blind.
I was about 14 when I first began googling about transitioning—literally typing “how to get a dick” and “how to reduce your chest size” into the search bar. After rounds of tedious research, I eventually found this website of surgeons—their prices, their reviews, and their testimonies.
V: What was the worst unsolicited comments that you’ve received since the surgery?
C: I get questions like, when are you going to get your bottom surgery? Are you going to go “the whole way”? But why does it matter? What I choose to do with my body doesn’t concern you. It’s also problematic as these questions reinforce the stereotype of a trans person because it suggests that to be ‘fully trans’, you have to undergo all these transitions, which is not valid. If I’m happy just staying as I am after my top surgery then so be it.
If I’m happy just staying as I am after my top surgery then so be it.
Being trans has also morphed into becoming a personality trait. When it isn’t. On tinder specifically, I get so much of this: “You’re trans? I still find you attractive though”. But I said I’m trans, I didn’t say I’m ugly what. That’s some backhanded compliment bullshit.
V: How has transitioning affected the music you create?
C: I put off music for a little while because I wanted to focus on doing Hormone Replacement Therapy. Initially, I kept delaying therapy because I sing a lot and I didn’t want it to damage my voice, but I finally made the decision to, and I’m going for my first IMH (Institute of Mental Health) appointment tomorrow morning! So for now, my focus is not so much on music but instead on preserving what I already have, and working on myself.
V: In what ways are you involved in the community? And what changes do you hope to see for the community in time to come?
C: I want it to be very normalised and talked about. Right now, people don’t know much about us, and it’s not their fault there’s because there’s just not much representation. Trans people make up only 1% of the world’s population. Which is why being an ally is so important. It’s all about self-education.
I’m part of the team for Queer The Year. Last year we organised a queer-cabaret—an all-queer performance which was very big and very loud. (laughs) It makes me so happy because it’s just really a safe space for everyone to gather and be themselves.
V: What are some things that people tend to get wrong about trans folk?
C: One would be that trans people regret undergoing surgery. It’s a giant-ass myth. I’ve also gotten very conflicting comments. One guy shared the ZULA article and commented in a very threatening manner to ask me to use the female toilet, while another told me to use the male toilet. You all cis-gender people need to communicate. Find out what you want, and let me know. Another misconception is that there are only 2 genders and sexes, and that being trans is a mental illness.
This might be more applicable overseas, but I’ve heard people say that trans people are just cis people who want to creep on people of the same gender. But it’s funny because, in this argument, the problem traces back to cis people. And anyway, that’s a lot of work. It’s easier to just watch porn or something, you know? (laughs)
V: What are some parting lessons you’d like to leave our readers?
C: Once people know I’m trans, they feel like they’re allowed to ask very personal questions about my genitals and sex life. If you rephrased it, honestly, it’s sexual assault. If it’s not a question they’d ask a cis-gendered person, then don’t ask it to a trans person because it’s very invasive. I get that it’s a novel and new thing for some people, but also do some self-reflection, and ask yourself where this curiosity is coming from.
Lastly, I also don’t think one can simplify it by saying, ‘transgender female to male’, because this insinuates that you were female once. From my perspective, I’ve always been male. Yes, I was born into a female body and treated like one for a good part of my life, but I never was. It’s simple. Just see us for what we are. There’s no need for a background story. We’re just asking to be treated as what we are.
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