Gender expectations

Actress Deonn Yang (above) in Pretty Butch, a play by theatre-maker Tan Liting.
Actress Deonn Yang (above) in Pretty Butch, a play by theatre-maker Tan Liting.PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

Singaporean theatre-maker Tan Liting wears a no-nonsense shirt and trousers because she thinks this so- called masculine attire suits her UK size 20 frame.

Strangers note her short hair and often mistake her for a man. She can laugh off such misunderstandings now, but it used to cut deeply.

Pretty Butch, the play she has written and will direct for next month's M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, examines what it means to be identified as masculine or feminine.

"It has some of the most powerful things I've ever written. This work is very very personal," says Tan, 29, whose work is often confessional. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in theatre from the National University of Singapore and was a production manager with Cake Theatrical Productions for three years before striking out on her own.

Taking The Subs (2014) was a musical retrospective featuring local members of the punk scene. In April this year, she wrote and directed The Truth About Lying: Heresy And Common Sense For The Theatre, based on real stories of millennials in Singapore theatre.


  • WHERE: Black Box, Centre 42, 42 Waterloo Street

    WHEN:Jan 11 to 13, 8pm; Jan 14 show sold out

    ADMISSION: $25 from Sistic

    INFO: Rating to be advised. To meet production costs, Pretty Butch merchandise, such as T-shirts, are being sold in return for donations at

Pretty Butch is not about sexuality, but gender expectations, says Tan. "The focus is not that these people identify as straight or gay. It's how they tell you they have been gendered as male and female in the spectrum."

The cast includes Deonn Yang, Farah Ong, Shannen Tan and Fadhil Daud from Singapore, as well as Henrik Cheng and Richelle South from the United States.

Tan Liting initially pitched the work for this year's fringe festival, and was encouraged to work on it further. Festival support and a residency at arts development node Centre 42 have helped with the production costs, but she still needs to raise $9,000 on Kickstarter to meet her $17,000 budget.

She is still refining the script - "I'm on draft eight," she confesses - but the characters include a lesbian couple who want to have a child and a man who is perceived as effeminate.

She says: "We can't talk about gender expectations without talking about how men also have to deal with things. We tell men to be 'manly', but that's another way of telling them, 'You don't get to feel emotion and express emotion.'"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2016, with the headline 'Gender expectations'. Print Edition | Subscribe