That courageous twelve-year-old Singapore kid who told off his bullies.

I came across a YouTube video via Yahoo! News Singapore a couple of days ago, made by a 12-year-old Singapore kid called Theo Chen, where he talked about how he’s been treated poorly by his peers online and verbally. How he was called names like ‘gay’, and ‘fag’ and ‘faggot’. And so he made the video to express how unhappy he is and he wants them to stop.

I’m just shocked. He’s twelve! He’s remarkably articulate, I think. I am very impressed by how well he expresses himself. And the nuggets of wisdom he spouted like, “Mankind shouldn’t judge people based on their sexuality“, and “Calling other people gay doesn’t make you more straight.” What an astoundingly smart kid.

Is it okay if I put the twelve-year-old kid’s video here, like it’s not inappropriate or anything, right? It’s not pervy, right?

Anyway, I decided not to put the video here.

***

I’m not shocked that a twelve-year-old kid already has to grapple with being called names, because I experienced that myself practically my entire school life. Seven to twelve years old in Primary School, then thirteen to sixteen in Secondary School. I was a ‘softie’ as a kid. ‘Gay’ wasn’t a common word back then, what I got hit with was the Malay ‘bapok‘ and ‘pondan‘, and the Hokkien (Chinese dialect) ‘ah kua‘. It didn’t happen every day. Maybe a couple of times in a week. When the bullies got bored and wanted a distraction I guess.

And there were no consistent bullies. Sometimes the taunts came even from girls, who would casually throw one of the hurtful labels at me and then pointedly waited for the desired reaction from my face. And sometimes it came even from otherwise ‘nice friends’. And on other days they were normal regular kids who talked to me like they talked with other kids. It was pretty weird. Like the kids were experimenting with different roles as they grew up. Deciding to be bullies or nice people. Which one should they be, and which one was more fun. Taking turns to rotate their roles. Fickle part-time bullies. I remember the taunts can range from mild to terrible. I might go home all upset, determined and promising myself never to talk to those kids again (‘That would show ’em!’). And yet, somehow, and this I remember distinctly, no matter how terrible the taunts, I always recovered very quickly, sometimes even before I left school for the day.

It helped that the bullies never got physical. They just wanted laughs at my expense, which was cruel enough. But after they were done, it’s like they totally forgot what they did and treated me normally.

I think maybe I’m just thick-skinned by nature, even as a little kid. Or irrepressibly good-natured. Or just playful. Or just dense, maybe? I don’t know. I just know that I never got upset for long. It never got to a stage where I cried, I was never that upset.

Usually by the time I got home and stuffed myself with lunch and parked my ass in front of the television, I had already forgotten everything. And when I got back to school the next day, I was my usual chirpy and easygoing self. It didn’t take a lot to make me happy. (It still doesn’t! I’m easy that way. Haha!)

***

Gosh I meant to talk about the Theo Chen kid and then I rambled on and on about myself.

He’s such a brave kid.

And seriously, I hope his parents and teachers have looked into this matter by now. He sounded really distressed. Maybe it’s tween angst or whatever, but this is like a call for help, and any call for help whether public or private, warrants investigation into what’s going on. At least just to be on the safe side.

Also, I know how his ‘sharing’ his troubles in public on YouTube could help other kids in the same spot, by reminding them they are not alone and maybe hopefully instill some courage in them to say out loud to their tormentors to stop their nonsense. I certainly didn’t have Theo’s courage and maturity to tell my bullies to stop. And I admire this little kid greatly, sincerely, and I’m sure his parents are delighted and proud of their son. I would be too.

But… *heavy sigh*… I’m sincerely sorry if this upsets anyone, but I want to say that at the same time I felt very uncomfortable watching Theo’s video. Yes, discomfort from watching his pain expressed on camera. My heart went out to him. But most of my discomfort came from watching a twelve year old kid talking about an adult subject in a public forum like YouTube. Sure, his video was meant to be seen by his friends, and it was the bullies among them who called him gay. And while it’s admirable he’s supporting gays by saying there’s nothing wrong with being gay, at the same time he’s only twelve. That’s too young, no? Maybe discussing it among friends in private, fine, but not in public.

I just felt very very uncomfortable he’s talking about this, in a public forum. That’s all. Isn’t there some private forum for kids his age, like their own sites to share photos and videos, accessible only to kids their age? Or something? Is it feasible to have something like that? Or is it possible to have his privacy settings set in such a way so that only his targeted audience (in this case the friends he was referring to) could have access to his videos?

If I were his dad, I would be very proud of him, but at the same time I would be totally freaked out by the video. Firstly to discover that he’s being bullied, then secondly that he’s talking about an adult subject, with a maturity and precociousness that might attract unwanted attention. Then I would almost faint when I see now he has over 1500 subscribers. Then I would go over every single one of them like a hound dog (is that possible? to check who is subscribing to your kid’s videos?). When I come across adult subscribers, especially male adults, I would be very tempted to shoot them a short message, “Oh hey, thanks for liking my son’s video and subscribing to his channel… but uhmm, you’re in your late teens or in your twenties or even older right, and he’s twelve and all his other videos are twelve year old kid’s stuff and what the hell do you think you’re doing watching my twelve year old son’s videos!!!!????.

Yup, something like that.

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Verbal abuse against transgender passenger, SBS Transit takes action.

I came across this article  on Yahoo! Singapore only recently. It was written earlier this month on the 4th, but oh well better late than never. I’m just happy I still caught it. It’s such a pleasant surprise, and of course I want to record it here.

Leona Lo, a transgender woman, had reported to SBS Transit that a bus driver of theirs had yelled ‘ah kua’ at her, which is a derogatory term used to taunt effeminate men and transgendered women. To make matters worse, the drivers’ colleagues joined in by hooting and clapping.

Image from Yahoo! Singapore. Click photo to go there.

Yahoo! Singapore reported that besides writing a letter to SBS Transit to report the incident, Ms. Lo also posted it on her Facebook page, and that this created an uproar in the online community.

Fridae.asia’s article has more details. They had contacted the company and a spokesperson told them that they had conducted an investigation and identified the ‘Bus Captain’ (we call our bus drivers here ‘bus captains’ LOL) who committed the act.

“He is deeply apologetic and we will be taking disciplinary action against him. I would like to extend my deep regret to the complainant and to assure her that this is not something we at SBS Transit condone.”

However the spokesperson, a Ms. Tammy Tan whose post is the ‘Senior Vice President of Group Corporate Communications’ at ComfortDelgro which owns SBS Transit, declined to elaborate what disciplinary action exactly will be taken, citing company policies. She added that the incident was not something the company takes lightly, and that ‘this is the first time the company has received a complaint involving an employee using a gay slur on a passenger or member of the public.

Kudos, SBS Transit. I have to say I can’t help but feel touched and proud to hear that a Singapore company stepped up and addressed such a complaint and taking some form of action.

Okay, it could have been better and clearer if she had elaborated what exactly is the disciplinary action. Plus, from my understanding of the Fridae article, it seems that SBS Transit had declined an offer from Ms. Lo to give ‘a talk on diversity’, with the spokesperson saying instead that the company has in place “internal training processes which cover a wide range of topics.

But that’s okay. To me it’s like, ‘baby steps’, although this feels more like big strides, to be honest. I hope it’s not just me, being impressed that they have done the right thing firstly by taking Ms. Lo’s complaint seriously and conducting an investigation, and then by acknowledging that the verbal abuse act did happen and for apologising to Ms. Lo, getting a customer service representative to call her. Even Ms. Lo said that she is “happy with how SBS has handled the matter”.

Kudos also to Fridae.com for picking up the story and contacting the company, and most of all to Ms. Leona Lo for pursuing the matter instead of just suffering in silence and brushing it aside, even though the incident had initially made her feel intimidated. What an inspiration, not just to trans folks, but to everyone.

Ms. Lo told Fridae that she hopes it will be a learning experience for all, that such incidents need to be reported so that they can be stopped.

“I’ve received emails from transgender women humiliated by bouncers at nightclubs but when I ask them for an incident report they back out for fear of ‘reprisals’. In 2007, Lo offered to conduct diversity training for the employees of a bar where she was asked leave after she was told that the venue did not welcome “lady boys”.

Her compelling account and thoughts on her blog is a must-read.

Transgenders in Malaysia (and Iran)

I don’t buy the papers everyday, but on the 4th I was in JB and happened to buy both The Star and the New Straits Times. Coincidentally, both English dailies feature commentaries that very same day about the plight of transgenders in Malaysia.

Mr. M.Veera Pandiya wrote ‘Have a heart for trans folks‘ for The Star, and Ms. Chok Suat Ling wrote ‘Help transgenders, not judge them‘ for the New Straits Times.

The articles were triggered by the death on Saturday 30th July, of Aleesha Farhana, a 25 year old medical assistant who was born male, and who underwent a sex change in Thailand in 2009. Doctors diagnosed one of the causes as cardiogenic shock. People who knew her said she died from the deep depression caused by the failure to get a court order to have her name and gender officially changed.The articles highlighted the terrible and cruel stigma faced by transgenders in Malaysia.

The late Aleesha Farhana. Photo source:thestar.com.my

Here’s a short excerpt from Mr. Pandiya’s article:

Before her death, she and her parents Mak Yah, 50, and Abdul Aziz, 60, were subject to scorn, ridicule and cruel taunts.

On the day she died, the page one headline of one newspaper was: Pondan gagal tukar nama, masuk ICU (Transvestite fails to change name, enters ICU).

Like Aleesha, an estimated 50,000 transgender people in the country are shunned by society and are often abused.

As highlighted in a statement by 17 NGOs and 600 people on Tuesday, they face stigmatisation, violence, mental torture and sexual assault.

The inability of policy makers to understand the transgender community has led to many of them having to leave their families, schools and jobs.

They are also prevented from getting health services, housing, education, employment and other basic rights and are also left without legal recourse to redress injustices and abuses suffered.

I can’t even imagine being in that sort of situation. What a horrible existence. Why must we treat fellow human beings that way? It’s just terrible the vile hatred some people have for others just because they are different.

When it comes to sex change operations, what’s totally unexpected is that in the Muslim world, Iran allows it. Not only that, they even provide subsidies for those who need the financial assistance. Then, the sex change is legally recognised by the state. Official documents like passports are changed accordingly.

Okay, if that wasn’t mind-boggling enough, here’s something that turned my head round and round so fast it almost flew off my neck, so to speak: As of 2008, Iran carries out more sex change operations than any other nation in the world except for Thailand.

Wow, too bad I don’t care for having tits and a vagina. Otherwise I would so go to Iran to do it, instead of Thailand, if only for the novelty factor of having done the sex change in a Muslim country. To try back up the legitimacy of it, maybe? “But, Pa, I got it cut off in Iran!”

“Yet homosexuality is still punishable by death”, said this BBC article. And even though sex change operations are legal there in Iran and comes with official recognition of the new gender, acceptance by society is a different matter altogether.

Back to the story of Aleesha Farhana in Malaysia, an earlier Star article by Farik Zolkepli and Nurhidayah Ramli includes some kind words by Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, Malaysia’s Women, Family and Community Development’s Minister, who said that she was saddened her ministry did not have the chance to provide counselling:

“In Mohd Ashraf’s case, he knew our doors were open and that we were there if he needed us.

“We were concerned for him but we could not force him to come to us,” she said after chairing the Wanita Umno supreme council meeting yesterday.

The article also included that about 50 people had held a candlelight vigil for Aleesha outside the Malaysian Bar Council Building. It was organised by Seksualiti Merdeka co-founder Pang Khee Teik, who said they wanted to highlight that Aleesha’s rights for justice had been denied.