The Boy Who Made A Difference
By Eelee Soo
We met young and inspiring Eugene Yow at the Behind the Seen | RMIT-SIM | Communication Design Annual Grad Show 2015 and was blown away by his campaign to change, love and touch the transgender community. Catching up with him after the show, BetterThanBrunch finds out more about his heartwarming cause and his plans for the future.
BetterThanBrunch: What made you choose the transgender community as the campaign topic for your Final Year Project? How do you relate to it?
Eugene: I thought back to what were some events in my life that defined me a person. I had been bullied a lot when I was in primary school, which left a deep impression on me even as I entered adulthood. As a result, I could empathise with the people in society who are going through or who have gone though a similar experiences. So I thought about the people who are stigmatised in society, of which, homosexuals and bullied kids were the first to come to mind. But it was only after much consideration that I decided to go with the transgender community. They were people who met with discrimination just because of who they are and that did not feel right to me. There was an opportunity to attempt to right a wrong - if not for me, then for another person.
Tell us more about your campaign and how like-minded people can support?
REassignlove was created to bring awareness to the needs of the local transgender community. The heart of the campaign is a short documentary about the lives of 4 transgenders in Singapore. The documentary seeks to present them as people with feelings, dreams of success and are actual contributors to society.
But it also brings forth the reality of employment discrimination that a transgender person faces, which leads to less than desirable occupation options. There is still a long way to go as we live in a society that conforms strongly to traditions and gender expectations. I think that showing support doesn’t have to be as blatant as holding a card and protesting in the streets. It can be as simple as correcting a friend who unintentionally displays Transphobia. Just by educating yourself on the topic, already shows a great deal of support.
Having personally worked on this project, what have you learn about the transgender community that you think the public needs to give notice to and understand?
I have only been working on this campaign for the past 1-month, so I cannot claim to know a lot about what it is like to be transgender as being transgender is not an option or a lifestyle but something you are born into. Contrary to the common misconception, they aren’t born in the wrong gender, but in the wrong body. Making a transition with Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) is not just a decision but part of their life journey.
In my personal opinion, there is a lacking in social support for the transgender community. The real needs and wants are about the early-transitional transgender who feel so strongly about who they are that they choose to drop out of school after failing to conform to the school system. There is also a high tendency to being chased out of their homes. The lack of qualification only gives them options to low-end jobs, which do not pay enough for them to have a roof over their heads and food in their mouth. As a result, their need to fight for survival often force them to enter the sex industry as a mean to supplement their income without the requisite of educational qualification or a declaration of gender identity. Sex work is always a need and never a want.
With the legislation pf gay marriages in the United States, what changes do you foresee in Singapore's LGBT community? Do you think Singapore is ready for them?
The US influence is far reaching and I believe that the legalisation will accelerate the process of approving gay marriages in other parts of the world. I think it gives the LGBT community in Singapore hope that there will be progression in time to come. I also think that it will bring forth more supporters for the LGBT community as the legitimatisation of same sex marriages in the US sends out a message that it is no longer acceptable to have discrimination and prejudice against them.
However Singapore as a country is still far from accepting the LGBT community. In Singapore we have section 377A of the penal code, which criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult men. It is viewed as ‘against the order of nature’. The situation in Singapore is unique due to the fact that we live in a multi-cultural society with many beliefs and traditions. For some, the notion of homosexuality is something that is unacceptable and wrong. So with all honesty, I believe Singapore is not ready for such a change. It will take more voices to speak up and make a stand not only for the LGBT community but also for human rights.
Coming back to topic, transgender persons are already included in Singapore as the government allows them to change their gender markers after they go though a SRS and are allowed to legally change their gender. Once transgender women legally change their gender, they are protected under the women chartered act, they are allowed to marry legally and adopt children legally. So in terms of policies and legal documentation, it is inclusive. However, I think society should view transgenders as a person first and not to be so focused on bigger issues like gender identity as they still face issues like bullying in school and employment discrimination.
Same Sex Marriages
What are the future plans you have for REassignlove? Do you see it trending and becoming global?
Although we have ‘Pinkdot’ in Singapore, I feel that there needs to be more emphasis on the transgender community as their needs are often quite different from the rest of the LGBTIQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex and Questioning) community. Moving forward, I would like to bring forth more stories from the trans-community, as it is important for people to be aware of their existence. These stories will be more specific and targeted at the issues they face as a transgender person.
I hope that REassignlove becomes more than just a trending topic and becomes something that the general population is aware and concerned about. The fight for transgender rights is already global but I think the move of humanizing transgender persons is lacking. If we can see that they have the same needs, wants and dreams as you and I, then maybe we would be able to empathize. My campaign may be specifically for the transgender community in Singapore but at the end of the day, the underlying message is about being empathetic and developing an acceptance for people other than you. That to me, is a universal goal.
Congratulations on your graduation, what are you career plans from here on?
Thank you. I aim to work in advertising agencies that align themselves with being a brand that is inclusive. I feel that as a designer I have an opportunity to change the world because what I put out there sends out a message and influences the general public with either positivity or negativity. There is a lot of power in that.
A word of encouragement / shout out for the transgender community?
I asked one of my interviewees a similar question and this is what she had to say, “The world is changing and constantly evolving all the time. With every unique person comes a unique challenge. Face up to the challenge, be brave, think carefully, and take life by the horns because you only have one life and you have to live it.”
About Eugene Yow
An aspiring art director, Eugene Yow would like to work with people who do not discriminate and who believe in inclusivity in society. He believes that what he does echoes in history. And periodically contemplates what will be his legacy.