A recent report may claim people in the UK be more interested in the rising cost of living and the war in Ukraine than the issue of trans and lgbqia+ rights but the debate on social media has shifted to a less direct kind of petulance, asking how people feel about unisex toilets in the workplace compared to in schools, and how ‘comfortable’ people are respecting a person’s pronouns is the kind of passive aggressive approach to human rights that encourages public opinion too be made on the validity of an existence, which is harmful to society in general, the queer and lgbt community, and also responsible for leaving many in the community fearful, alienated and isolated. It frames people’s lives as a thing presented to society as a topic of debate, and objectifying already marginalised communities.
Although the past two years of diligent activism, celebration and protest might have been the catalyst to almost majority support I this country (of equal rights over lgtbqia+ silencing and erasure), what is certain is fighting for accountability, no discrimination against trans communities in UK law, and pushing parliament to enforce legally the right to have a given gender identity recognised has made it clear in wider society and progressive communities that we need to make sure trans stories are highlighted and heard.
Activist and filmmaker Quen Wong’s documentary, Some Women addresses exactly this. By turning the camera round to herself Some Women opens up some of Singapore’s buried queer histories through a trans female, Singaporean gaze.
As part of the Unseen Series, Quen Wong’s debut documentary feature is the second in a programme of Singaporean documentaries amplifying the voices of the marginalised trans communities in South-east Asia who authenticate these identities.
Moving with grace and technical precision, queer history is opened up. Using photographs, the film’s focus on the lgbtq+ elder transfemme community, who would rendezvous in Bugis Street – a busy trading market by day, bustling tourist attraction and redlight area by night, until it undertook a transformation and was regenerated during the 1970s gives a tone of authenticity.
“We’ve always been here, and we belong” – Sanisa
In photos and interviews with some the surviving women we hear and see how the transfemme community of Singapore lived radiating glamour and serenity, shining resplendent. From the point Quen talks with transfemme elder, Sanisa, the narrative receives a gripping and moving testimony to the lived experiences of trans women as well as the significant challenges they faced.
How we can move and exist in this world in those identities really is weighted on when society will really acknowledge these histories. As many are already know trans, intersex and nonbinary people have existed in the world centuries, from the transgender ancient Roman Galli, to the Hijra communities of South Asia.
The film also includes conversations with younger generations of lbgtq+ zoomer activists in Singapore, discussing the state of lgbtq+ rights in the country with more vexation. Singapore is a small, conservative country operating under a prevailing patriarchal system. It becomes evident that within this oppressive environment queer communities can’t come out. They question is this a form of violence in itself?
There is an act of resistance living as your authentic self, and ‘living’ as revolutionary act. Both the institutions that discriminate against lgbtqia+ communities and the marginalisation and discrimination against the queer Singaporean community is explored, with video recordings of protest and police intervention, as well as video footage of the discriminatory sources from where protest becomes more than optional, the film pieces together a clear picture.
Quen Wong’s style as a director is strong, diligent and conscientious. In the opening sequence, trawling through the jungle, the director shares her experience of first love at 20, “When I was 20, I fell for a boy”. Not coming out as trans to her love, he didn’t accept her gender identity, the documentarian confides to the audience of feeling ashamed. Off-screen, a voiceover spins the tale around to ask the question, after living 25 years as a woman, am I not a bit too old to be feeling like this?
This is the most powerful shot in the film, as not only does she take symbolic steps to womanhood, but is clearing a path, leading others to follow suit.
Some Women closing ends with an echo of that first scene – treading down green foliage of plants through a jungle forest. The analogous portrayal of women as warriors and hunters, is a symbolic visual device, reimagining and taking ownership of womanhood. Some Women is a powerful debut feature that puts emphasis on Singapore’s unseen transgender history.