For those who did not know, I wrote a letter to the Minister of Home Affairs Shanmugam (and others including Minister of Education Lawrence Wong and Minister of Health Gan Kim Yong) regarding the media silence of conservative voices on the issue of transgenderism in MOE schools.
The next day, I decided to post on my Facebook wall as well so that more may be educated about the subject.
(Original letter posted here: bit.ly/includeourvoice)
Dear Minister Shanmugam,
I wish to highlight to you what I see as a grave development with regards to the cancelling of voices of conservative stakeholders on LGBT issues, including the recent transgender saga involving MOE.
I am a counsellor devoted to journeying with LGBT persons. Over the years, I have shared my perspectives over local news platforms. You could have a sampling of my views:
– Two perspectives on helping gay youth (https://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-on-the-web/two-perspectives-on-helping-gay-youth)
– Distinguish between helping gays and supporting an agenda (https://ifonlysingaporeans.blogspot.com/2015/05/distinguish-between-helping-gays-and.html)
– Don’t close off options for parents of gay kids (https://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-in-print/dont-close-off-options-for-parents-of-gay-kids)
I have been motivated to write because:
- I love LGBT people and many of my LGBT friends and counselees will attest to it that I am devoted with my life to help them.
- I do not see prevailing politicised narratives necessarily helpful to LGBT persons (I explained it in my letters above); therefore, I cannot in good faith support these narratives.
- There is a distinction between respecting a LGBT’s personal choice and imposing a politicised narrative on society / institutions.
- I believe laws serve protective and educative functions and can be seen as a larger form of love as well. We must not because of politicised narratives discard rules, policies and laws that play the protective function.
- I believe Singapore needs to balance personal support to LGBT individuals with this larger protective love. Polarised ends will be a mistake. We should neither ignore LGBTs who need support nor in the name of loving LGBTs remove protective laws of Society.
- I want the best for Singapore and am willing to play my part to help navigate through this difficult divide.
Now that I have stated my intentions, I would like to state my case. Lately, I have written a letter to mainstream news forums i.e. ST and Today, about the MOE saga involving a transgender student. It had not been published nor have I been contacted about my letter. These news platforms continue to report about this saga on an almost daily basis. However, whatever that is being reported seemed void of voices representative of conservative stakeholders. Is it because no conservative stakeholders have written in? If so, wouldn’t it be important to let my letter be published as a representation? Or at least engage me about tweaking it (as they had done so in the past)?
I wish to highlight that my lack of assurance in our democracy is not based on this isolated event. From my friends, I knew for a fact that social media giants like Facebook are already restricting their voices unfairly. Such biased treatment can be seen too during Singapore’s elections last year. Commentary pages from Critical Spectator to Fabrications about the PAP were shut down without good reasons. These Facebook Pages totalled more than 100k followers. I presume this to be a form of interference in our elections by a foreign corporation and am gravely concerned that they had got away doing so without any penalty. How can Singapore prevent such future overreach and political interference?
I perceive these events as linked, as the lack of integrity on one issue would be assumed on all issues.
Such assumptions apply to our local media as well, who have a history of falling short in their coverage of controversial issues. I am concerned that conservative stakeholders e.g. parents, educators, mental health practitioners will have their voices shut down from this important dialogue. Therefore, I appeal for your investigation, intervention, and guarantee that reasonable Singaporean voices will not be cancelled but protected.
I wish to submit the legitimacy of the arguments I had made in my letter to your Ministry, so that our voices will make it into Parliament’s dialogue on Monday. Judge and see if I had not written fairly and lovingly? If my arguments are not considered, we end up with proposing an unscientific narrative – that biological DNAs can switch between male and female – to be the sole narrative. How is this even rational or fair? Let’s not be overly politically correct lest we end up unjust, forcing one narrative down everyone’s throats.
I note that as a mental health practitioner, my perspectives in helping LGBTs may be different from that of the psychiatrists at IMH. However, I like to make a distinction between health and mental health disciplines. Sickness to recovery can be straightforwardly observable in terms of physical health, but it is not as clear-cut in mental health. Perspectives in psychology have changed before and can still change. It should not be treated as a constant like gravity. Therefore, IMH cannot assume monopoly over psychological expertise, but must substantiate their preferred treatments empirically, and be open to feedback. Quite honestly, a layperson but loving friend can many times help a transgender better than a psychiatrist can do so prescribing pills.
I am therefore heartened to note that IMH adopts a consultative approach involving stakeholders to help transgenders. I am however concerned with an overarching unscientific narrative that some push – that transitioning, or ‘sex change’ is the solution to help persons with gender dysphoria. I wish to highlight from William Institute’s 2014 report on Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults – findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (done by LGBT persons themselves and they surveyed a sample of 6000 transgenders; https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Trans-GNC-Suicide-Attempts-Jan-2014.pdf), that suicide attempts among the “trans women” category (42%) were double that of the “cross-dressers assigned male at birth” (these are transgenders who have not transitioned) category (21%). The survey shows prevalence of suicide attempts remain as high even among transgenders who had fully transitioned.
If transition is the solution to gender dysphoria, this significant survey clearly showed otherwise. I cannot in good conscience recommend all my transgender friends towards “changing their sex” as my first goal, especially when I know the final step of transition – sex-reassignment surgery – is predominantly cosmetic in nature. Many are unaware of this fact when they buy into the ‘sex change is possible’ narrative.
It was with this concern I wrote the following letter to the forum:
Our goals in loving transgender individuals must be balanced with an understanding of larger protective principles that institutions have
As a counselor, I agree with MOE, IMH’s prudent approach in helping transgenders through seeking “inputs from a wide range of stakeholders” (MOE, IMH clarify on transgender student’s case; 22-Jan-21).
Research has shown that social support is crucial in reducing suicide rates amongst transgenders. Prognosis remains poor even with sex-reassignment surgery. IMH Psychiatrists should therefore refrain from being over-decisive with “transition” as the solution, and not act independently from stakeholders’ feedback, especially family members who provide social support.
In my experience, transgenders struggle deeply with personhood issues. Like one of the transgenders I journey with – K, biologically female, but introduced as a male. K’s father was one whom the more K expressed disagreement with, the more he increased his punishment. K therefore grew up severely restrained from expressing personal choices, desires and feelings. These are basic rights to being a person. Without personhood, we do not securely develop our identity.
While I did not express my beliefs about “transitioning” at the start of the friendship, K eventually realised it: Scientifically, a male can never through “transitioning” fully become a female and vice versa. This is not just an opinion but a fact. While outwardly, transgenders could look like the other gender, inwardly, even “sex change” would never make the new reproductive organs functional. Genetically, they would still be carrying chromosomes of their biological sex. Psychologically, a narrative that over-promises but under delivers could devastate them. Sex-reassignment surgery is irreversible.
Eventually, K challenged me on my beliefs. However, K wanted to comment without any replies from me. I willingly heard K’s disagreeing feedback and swallowed up my replies because I thought K could be subconsciously filling a childhood void by demanding personhood rights.
Another time, K asked, “which pronoun do you use for me in your conversations?” K demanded that I use the male pronoun. This time, I declined. I explained to K that dictating private conversations disrespects the person’s personhood. Thankfully, K accepted my explanation.
As K’s sense of personhood improves, K’s gender identity changes. K now identifies more as “lesbian” instead of male.
I regret at the personal grievances Ashlee went through, but our goals in loving transgender individuals must be balanced with an understanding of larger protective principles that institutions / society have. Let’s also not politicize the unscientific narrative that sex can be changed.
Thank you for hearing my feedback, Minister Shanmugam. I hope something can be done.