Quen Wong On Sharing Trans Stories In Film

Quenyee Wong better known as Quen Wong is a freelance film director, writer and producer.  A graduate of University of California, Santa Barbara and University of Bristol, her first feature documentary, Some Women traces her trajectory, ‘living in stealth’ to finding pride, love and community.  Quen’s community activity is extensive and the range of her talent wide from directing for The Pink Dot on their campaign video Building Bridges in 2018, to her performance as a comedienne in a ticketed, all-woman comedy show online in June 2020. Some Women supports and lifts up generations of women who came before, from a place of love and acceptance.

ABIGAIL YARTEY: What was it about the documentary that made you want to share your very personal story?

QUEN WONG:  So the film that you’ve seen, Some Women has gone through lots of different incarnations as we made the film. To be very honest, when I was first approached to make this film I had not imagined that I would be in the film.  And just a short little story about how we got started. I had been supportive of The Pink Dot, which is a protest in Singapore, and had volunteered to make a video for them for The Pink Dot 10 that year, highlighting some LGBTQ stories.  As a result of that, I became a bit more visible in Singapore.             

I was approached by June Chua, who is co-founder of the T Project, a shelter in Singapore for trans and queer people.  She’s also in the film, if you remember, in the scene where Sanisa attends a Christmas party, and she’s a good friend.  And so June came to me and asked if I would be interested in making a film about the Bugis Street era women – an idea that toyed in my mind, and this was the perfect opportunity – So I leapt at it!    

Of course, there was a niggling question of what is my role in this film? Am I just this director behind the scenes? Or is there any value in me bringing attention to myself as a filmmaker, and being trans myself. And I think that was a very powerful statement being made there, you know, trans people sort of picking up the reins and telling our own stories.

AY: Yes absolutely.  The main take away I got was that trans people in Singapore are simply living their lives – and Millennials and Generation Z play quite an important part with protests around the student in solidarity with her.

QW:  That’s right.  Yeah, Ashlee.

AY: One queer activist, Lune Loh suggests that a kind of oppressive environment in society means that queer communities can’t ‘come out’ as such and says that this is a form of violence. Do you think there’s a need to come out or do you agree? 

QW: With Lune?  I mean, obviously, the generational differences in terms of how we have approached, how “out” we want to be obviously only one of the reasons why there might be a difference of opinion about how out trans people should be. 

I mean from a personal point of view, Trans and Queer People should not feel a pressure to be out, because literally, in most contexts, our gender identity, our sexual orientation has very little to do with our everyday lives, and how it impinges on our work or just functioning in society.     

But I do appreciate the point that Generation Z at least in this case, Lune and many of her fellow protesters are making – which is that as long as trans people in this case, do not make themselves visible – because we are living stealth – the question is, who is going to be representing our rights?  Who’s going to be representing the challenges that we face in society? Because, you know, it’s so heteronormative and trans people being a minority; We are not heard you know?  So from that point of view, I agree with her that there is a violence implicit in our continued erasure, from public discourse from institutional systems.

AY: How important do you think it is for queer and trans non binary stories to be told and uplifted by other queer trans and non-binary people?  

QW: I am so heartened to see more and more trans and queer and non-binary voices coming to the fore.  I think it’s absolutely important for more of us to tell our stories, because I think for a long time, you know, there are lots of so sort of straight, cis people who have made attempts to in telling our stories through novelizations, through documentary, through films.

Much of it comes from a good place, obviously not as well – and we’re very often used as sort of like a prop or, you know, a device.  It’s almost like a symbol of, of ‘the other’, you know, and often we are villainized, often we are portrayed inaccurately, and expressing a lot of fears, the fears of straight people.  So I think it’s very important for more of us to come to the fore and tell our stories, because, you know, we, to some extent, know ourselves better.

AY: In filming with the cast of Some Women, the people in conversation all seem very bright, very likeable with positive traits, and we kind of lean towards that.  Sanisa for example: she’s full of energy, she’s full of joy, she’s very witty.  How did you balance the conversation with them around quite difficult subject matter? But whilst keeping the tone, always empowering, uplifting and engaging?

QW: We necessarily speak about oppression, we necessarily have to speak about marginalisation. It’s always a tight rope that we have to tread.   And as you rightly pointed out, I think the reason why I cast Sanisa in the documentary is because she’s so full of life. She’s a survivor: She comes from a generation where the discrimination she felt wasn’t just a sort of passive aggressive discrimination –  She was physically attacked, physically abused by people in society.   You know, something that perhaps my generation and later generations have suffered less because we’ve become a richer society, because of our economic backgrounds we are able to protect ourselves from these things. Yet she is still so positive about her experience and even though she had very little choices in her life, and when she went into sex work because it was one of the few occupations open to her as a trans woman in the 70s, and 80s – She took that on with pride.  I wanted to highlight these positive stories, because we really need that for our mental health and to spur us on.   As you say, it’s a very delicate balance, that we need to show that we have the things that we can be happy and energised about; but the problems are real. 

I think a lot of the issues with trans representation in mainstream media, many of them coming from a good place, but have portrayed us always, as victims always have as people who are suffering, you know, on the margins, you know, and even though this is true, I think, for queer and trans people to finally, you know, sort of get a foothold in the conversation. And for us to feel good about ourselves. I think there must be a concerted effort to also talk about the positive things.

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