What's ST's policy on pronouns and transgenders?

LEOW YONG FATT (Liao Yangfa)
Deputy Executive Director, Oogachaga*

THERE appears to be an unfortunate and inappropriate mis-use of gender pronouns in the article (“No UK asylum for cross-dressing Singaporean”, Dec 20 last year). The article referenced to a Singaporean as “a man”, while acknowledging that the 31-year-old had for a decade “presented… behaved and socialised as a female in Britain” and had changed, through a legal deed poll, her name on the passport to a female's.  The American Psychological Association defines transgender persons as those whose “gender identity, gender expression or behaviour does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth”.  GLAAD – an international media and advocacy organisation – uses a similar definition.

In the absence of an official definition in Singapore, it is therefore appropriate to accept that the Singaporean in question meets this definition to be adequately described as a transgender woman. As such, it was confusing and even somewhat offensive to read that male pronouns were used when referring to her, even describing her as a “cross-dressing man”.  Over the years, our team of professional counsellors and registered social workers in Oogachaga have worked with many clients who identity as either transgender or are questioning their gender identity.

From our collective experiences of working with this marginalised community, their ongoing journey with their gender identity is often made more challenging by the ignorance and prejudice they encounter around them in daily life, including at home, in school, at their workplace and in the public domain, including in the media. Immigration and asylum-seeking issues aside, we hope that here in Singapore, as we continue maturing as a developed first-world country, we can all start learning to be more accurate and compassionate in how we describe and accept transgender persons in our midst.

Writer’s note: Oogachaga is a professional counselling and personal development organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals.


I COMMEND Hoe Pei Shan on her Sunday Times profile of Christopher Khor, a transgender man (“He has taken the first step”, Dec 28). It is a valuable example of how a media outlet should write about transgender people – with dignity and respect, and in accordance with best journalistic practices. The Associated Press Stylebook recommends the following when reporting on a transgender person: “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. ... If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”          

The New York Times: “Unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent, use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person. If no preference is known, use the pronouns consistent with the way the subject lives publicly.”

The abovementioned story contrasts greatly with The Straits Times report on Dec 20 ( “No UK asylum for cross-dressing Singaporean”) by Senior Law Correspondent K.C. Vijayan. The article clearly describes a transgender woman but is made incongruous and illogical by the writer who persistently refers to the subject using male pronouns. 

     The article itself acknowledges thus: 

  • The subject considered “himself a ‘transgendered lesbian’”.
  • The judgment by the United Kingdom Immigration and Asylum Chamber referred to the subject as "her".
  • Since 2004 he had presented himself, behaved and socialised as a female in Britain”.
  • The subject “changed his name by a legal deed poll to a female one, which he used in his most recent 2012 Singapore passport”

Given that the subject considers herself to be a woman, lives as one publicly and has legally changed her name, why does the writer insist on referring to her using male pronouns and as a cross-dresser?  How does the statement “the man, who considers himself a ‘transgendered lesbian’” make any sense to the writer and editors who cleared this story? Can The Straits Times clarify its position on the correct pronoun to be used when reporting on transgender people?