Cover Singaporean filmmaker Quen Wong

Quen Wong’s Some Women will make its world premiere at the ongoing 32nd edition of the Singapore International Film Festival

Quen Wong is in a good place in her life right now. The 46-year-old trans filmmaker has found love and acceptance within her own family, support from close friends and a career built on meaningful work.

But until recently, “I was ‘living in stealth’, basically not telling everyone that I’m trans,” she shares. “For most trans people who have transitioned, we’re really just interested in getting on with our lives.”

Wong addresses this reclamation of her identity in Some Women, her debut feature documentary which will make its world premiere on December 4 at the ongoing 32nd edition of the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF). Three years in the making, the film is an ode to Singapore’s transgender community and a retrospective of her own journey as a trans woman here.

After seeing a short film she made in 2018 for Pink Dot, in support of the LGBTQ community, trans activist June Chua of The T Project had approached Wong about making a film on the women of Bugis Street, once a place where trans people were free to be themselves. Chua later connected her with film and theatre director Glen Goei, whose Unseen series gives voice to marginalised communities in Southeast Asia.

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With the Tan Ean Kiam Foundation–SGIFF Southeast Asian-Documentary Grant she received in 2019, Wong went about making the film. She had initially conceived Some Women to feature a variety of trans women. “I wanted to show a diversity of voices,” shares Wong, who started her career in television as a trailer producer with local and regional channels, including National Geographic Channel Asia. She later moved to ChannelNewsAsia, where she worked on documentaries exploring social justice issues.

But she couldn’t shake off the fact that she was “living in stealth”. She confesses: “As a filmmaker, I’m used to working with my profiles, and encouraging them to tell me their stories and be vulnerable for the camera. I really questioned whether I had the right to do that with the trans community, if I didn’t have the courage to be in front of the camera.”

As she worked on the film, Wong kept a diary and filmed iPhone videos of her thoughts, and the project eventually became something personal. “It’s almost like a coming out film,” she states. “It’s really about finding and celebrating my whole humanity. I want people to see Some Women not just as a trans film, but also a film about the human experience, reflecting the realities we live in and how we can make our lives better when we care for one another without the labels.”

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Wong came out to her family just before she went for national service. Her late mother was supportive and her father, less so (even though he has since come around). “My mum welcomed me into womanhood without any reservations,” she recalls. “Her first reaction wasn’t to reject me, but to love me, reassuring me that we’ll figure this out together. I was able to explore my gender and became comfortable in expressing my gender identity.”

Growing up, Wong felt she didn’t fit in, even when she was just being herself. She was browsing a book fair when she chanced upon a book about gender identity and gender reassignment surgery. It offered the answers to the gender dysphoria she was experiencing, what she describes as “a general discomfort with my assigned gender at birth and feeling like I’m a different gender, in this case, the female one”.

Wong considers it important to tell “the perspectives of other generations of trans women because we all have experienced transness in slightly different ways”. In Some Women, one of them is Sanisa, with whom she uncovers the buried queer history of Bugis Street. “Sanisa has been physically brutalised and violently insulted by people. Her story,” says Wong, “shows the resilience of trans people and how she has stayed true to herself despite the stigma.”

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Trans advocate Lune, meanwhile, is the voice of a younger generation of Singaporeans. “She’s aware of the nuances of the language that we use to describe our experiences, and is politically conscious and passionate about wanting to make things better,” Wong shares.

She also addresses the tropes and stereotypes in the media and society about trans people. “There’s a general silence, or erasure, around life outside of the binary experience,” she shares. “You’d never see a gay or trans person being portrayed in a positive light; it’s always negative with the idea that we live sad, tragic lives.” So it’s important to Wong to tell the stories herself and show that this is not the case: “My life has been a good one,” she points out.

She adds: “This is also an invitation for audiences to question their own prejudices for judging someone else who has had a different experience from theirs, to invite them to look at the ‘other’ with fresh eyes. At the end of the day, we have more in common than differences as human beings trying to live and survive in life.”

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