The only woman soldier in the guard room was surrounded by men who harassed and frightened her after she told them she was a woman. She tried to ignore them as they pretended to rape each other and beckoned her to join them.
One man tried to push his rifle between her legs as she stood under the Singaporean sun.
She was not male or female. She wasn't supposed to be here because Singapore requires only 18-year-olds to serve in the military. She was still considered a man because she had not undergone surgery that would have rendered her sterile.
The practice of requiring trans people to have surgery before their genders are legally recognized is considered torture by international human rights bodies. The policies have left many people with a difficult choice between their identity and fertility.
The consequences of opting against surgery can be severe, limiting their prospects for jobs, housing, and marriage. Since their identification documents list their genders as different, they can easily be outed, leading to everything from bureaucratic hassles to life threatening confrontations.
Some people are so scared of being outed that they leave the world. In Singapore, a strictly controlled city-state that only announced it would decriminalize sex between men in August, Loh has taken the opposite approach.
She is still healing from her military days. She is unsure if any company will ever hire her or if she will ever be able to have a child.
Silence for Loh is not an option because he speaks out.
She says that they are fighting for people to get housing and jobs. We just want to help people survive.
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The importance of identity is at the center of the debate.
The legal documents that define our identity are essential to navigating life and the world. Changing gender markers on identification documents is not easy. Other countries allow such changes, but often with strict conditions such as compulsory divorce for married people.
The right to privacy, the right to bodily integrity, the right to non-discrimination, and the right to identity are all violated by trans people.
Some people think that surgery makes them feel more comfortable in their bodies, but others don't think it's a good idea. People can't have it for medical reasons.
Some of the procedures that can be done to change a person's sexual characteristics can result in permanent sterility. In most cases the ultimate intentions behind these policies are unclear and likely different, as the law in some countries explicitly spells out that sterilizing must be an outcome for legal gender recognition. It is generally the result of these mandates if they want to make trans people sterile.
In the U.S., 13 states and territories have a surgical requirement to update gender markers on birth certificates, and four require it for updating driver's licenses. States don't know what procedures they will accept.
It can be difficult to get a legal gender change after surgery. Two states in Australia require two separate exams of genitalia by doctors, who must sign statutory declarations to confirm a surgical procedure. The New South Wales state form warns of the consequences of false statements by doctors.
Sex offenders aren't forced to be sterilized in this country, but you're forcing them to get a birth certificate? Kirsti Miller had gender-confirmation surgery in 2006 and was forced to divorce her childhood sweetheart. The divorce mandate was eliminated in New South Wales.
Coen Teo is the executive director of TransBefrienders, a non-profit that supports trans youth.
Children under the age of 21 are required to get parental consent to have gender confirmation surgery. They are forced to use the bathroom at many schools if they don't and wear uniforms that match the gender marker on their national identity card.
A lot of them don't do well because they don't feel like they're in school. Teo is a trans man.
Several teens at TransBefrienders are forced to travel overseas and spend tens of thousands of dollars because most gender confirmation procedures are not offered in Singapore.
Teo says that people want to get back in school. It's a big hurdle for them.
In a statement to The Associated Press, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that the information on Singaporeans' national identity cards reflects a person's "sex," which the government determines based on the person's "biological and physical attributes." Proof of surgery and complete alterations of reproductive attributes are required to change that marker.
The ministry said that this allows the government to implement policies and laws based on sex.
These policies have been demanded by human rights watchdogs for years. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture urged governments to outlaw forced or coerced sterilization. Seven U.N. agencies, including the World Health Organization, said that gender recognition policies that require sterilizing are counter to respect for bodily integrity, self-determination and human dignity.
Many countries haven't responded quickly. The Supreme Court of Japan upheld the country's gender recognition law in 2019.
Changes have been made by some governments. Argentina was the first country in the world to grant legal gender recognition based on self- determination. Sweden became the first country in the world to compensate people for having their sex changed.
Similar compensation is being considered by the Germans. The country had a policy of sterilizing trans Germans.
Ramelow is trying to get compensation and an apology from the government. She had surgery in 2000 to end her life. She said she agonized over what she had lost.
She says there's something wrong with you and you can't have kids anymore. I cried a lot.
The opposite choice would be made by the man years later. She discovered that it came with a steep price.
There is a camouflage backpack behind the wall of a spare room in her apartment. She pulled out her old helmet after plunging a slender arm into it and looking at it.
She likes to refer to them as artifacts of a time when she was a child. She tried to counter the masculinization of her body from the intense physical drills by becoming thin.
A poet with a wide grin, Loh is eager to talk about philosophy, politics, art and music. Her face goes dark when she talks about her army days.
She was raised by two parents who were strict and protective. She knew early on that her body didn't match who she was. One night when she was 8 years old, she caught her distorted reflection in a window and thought of herself as long haired.
She read an article about people coming out late in their lives. She asked herself how much longer she would have to wait before she could live the life she wanted.
She waited one more year until her father left the family. Her mother embraced Buddhism and eventually her identity.
Wong says that everything is permanent even if you are male or female. There is no gender in Buddhism.
She was conscripted under Singapore's national service requirement when she began transitioning.
Those who are legally declared female will not be required to serve, according to the ministry of defense.
There are ways to get an exemption, but they are not always known. She didn't want to have sterilizing surgery because she wanted to have her own children.
She wants to know if the government doesn't want trans people to have children of their own.
She began her service with dreads and was prepared to have her hair cut.
The other soldiers asked what underwear she wore. He began haunting her nightmares after repeatedly asking for sex in messages.
She hated fighting in the jungle with the men. Her mother held her in her arms. There are panic attacks going on. She lost her mind.
It was through poetry that we found a way to survive. She typed poems into her phone while laying in her bunk. She wore makeup and a wig after her shifts and went to open mic nights in the city.
She wrote a poem called "Moonface" that described her exhaustion over her conflicting identities.
I thought of the faces of the moon. She says that sometimes you show half your face.
She was forced to live on the male corridor of her dorm due to her legal status as male. She was given a year's parole after being arrested for participating in a protest outside the Ministry of Education building.
Most young people don't have to worry about their future in this way. She was concerned that hormone replacement therapy would affect her fertility. She wasn't able to freeze her sperm because it's not allowed in Singapore.
The cost and complexity of accessing her gametes, or reproductive cells, from Singapore discouraged her from researching fertility clinics abroad. The limitations placed upon her life made her angry.
There is no way to get back on track. I have to go somewhere else to save my gametes. I don't understand why I have to go through that. I don't understand why I have to risk my own health.
She had to take into account more than the risk of infertility. She had to make a decision about the risk of her life.
They traveled to Malaysia for a day of shopping. Her passport lists her gender as male.
When she spoke, the officer stared at her. She told him to cut his hair.
The words were chilling. Being trans is a crime in Malaysia. There were stories about people being killed there.
She crossed the border quickly. She needs to sweep her hair at the checkpoint.
She says she is scared of traveling because of that. I'm still thinking about it today.
According to Ehrt of ILGA World, there is a high risk of violence against trans people.
Ehrt says that when you are at a checkpoint or need to cross a border, it's worse if your ID isn't matching. That is a catastrophe if a person of color has a non matching ID card.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, a survey of nearly 28,000 people in the U.S. found that almost a third of them had experienced negative experiences.
Some people are so afraid of being discriminated against that they are reluctant to leave their country and even their house.
Jojo has been confined to her parents' home in Singapore for the past several years. She did not want her full name used to avoid being harassed.
She said by e-mail that the thought of confrontations terrifies her.
She is supported by her financially strapped parents who only allow her to step outside occasionally. She won't be able to get an identity card that matches how she looks because she doesn't have a current plan to have surgery. One day, she hopes the surgery requirement will be replaced with a requirement to live for two years in your preferred gender.
He doesn't think that will happen soon.
The earth will cook us alive quicker than we can get legal gender recognition. I'm already exhausted and it's an uphill battle.
Financial ruin can occur for those whose identities are denied.
In Singapore, government benefits are geared towards heterosexual families when it comes to finding a home. Most of the people in Singapore live in government subsidized housing. You can only get that housing if you are married. Same-sex marriage isn't allowed.
The gender marker in Singapore gives you access to a lot of different things. The policies that benefit people are tied to getting a heterosexual arrangement.
Mick is wondering how long he will have to wait before he can afford a place to live. The state still considers him a woman even though he decided against sterilizing. He can't get married and can't get subsidized housing for another decade.
His chances of having a biological child are slim because only married women are allowed to use frozen eggs.
"I don't like the idea of not being able to do that." As I get older and more of my peers move into that life stage, I think it gets more frustrating to not have freedom and rights.
He feels gutted when he hears colleagues are excited about their subsidized apartments.
He says he can't afford a home for himself or a future family because he has contributed so much to this place.
Trans people's employment prospects can be hampered by having a mismatch in their ID.
Teo of TransBefrienders was turned down for an aviation training role after he produced his ID that showed he was a woman. The Ministry of Education might reject his application to be a trainer because of his appearance.
It all becomes frustrating because finding work is hard for trans people and they can't afford the surgery for a legal gender change.
Finding a job is one of the biggest fears of the woman. She wondered if they would reject her because she was trans.
There are so many options that have already been taken away that the mother is worried about how her daughter will navigate.
Wong said he had no choice. We follow the rules in Singapore. It's me as well.
There are places on the island that feel like they are out of bounds. An open mic night was held at that spot a few weeks ago.
A bar filled with more books than bottles of booze is the scene of a happy ending. There is a mix of people.
There is no judgement or stares here. She is free to be herself. She says this is her place.
She sifts through her phone, trying to decide which poem to read.
She is about to use the microphone. The audience applauds as she lays bare her pain and perseverance.
She is washed over by the applause. She smiles as she is seen by her peers.