I am a transgender girl and I go by the name Celeste.
My earliest experience of realising I am a girl was around Primary school. However, I thought nothing about it and simply dismissed my feelings, perhaps due to a lack of knowledge about transitioning. Being anti-social, it was hard for me to know what it felt like to be a girl – I was trapped in my own cycle of school, relaxation, food and sleep. I was never entirely masculine nor feminine, although I do lean more towards preferring traditionally “girl” objects such as the colour pink or “cute” dolls.
My eyes were slowly opened as I went on some school trips in secondary school to China, where I slowly realized that I was not happy being a boy. Regular lessons did not really affect me, but it was when I started being with groups of people for the trip that I started to think.
Seeing the girls around me dressed so pretty and bonding with each other made me seriously question my identity as a boy. I first asked my form teacher what it means to be a girl right before the O level examinations and she encouraged me to explore my identity a bit more – but by that time, I was already ready to embrace it.
Today, I still wish that I had asked for help much earlier.
By the time I entered Junior College, I started experiencing daily what is known as “Gender Dysphoria” - distress caused by a mismatch between my assigned sex and my gender identity. However, the rigour and stress of the A level curriculum quickly ate into my fears and there was not really an opportunity for me to think about it. Eventually, the entire idea that I was a girl in a boy’s body quickly overcame me and the stress from the A levels paled in comparison to the stress from my gender.
If anything, the A levels was nothing but a mere distraction for me. I started seeing my school counsellor who asked me the standard questions: How long have you felt like this? Are you sure about it? Those questions were not helping: they were questions I have long answered myself.
School counsellors, while helpful with helping with grades, relationship issues and whatnot, aren’t the best when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues, especially pertaining to trans issues. The best advice she ever gave me was to focus on my studies first. I bluntly told her that she isn’t helping me, and she suggested that I see an external psychologist to get started on my transition – and that is how I started to step out of my isolated barrier.
I made a handful of close friends in school who I shared everything about myself with. I was done hiding; I was done running away. All of them understood me very well and never doubted my identity. However, a part of me desired to make more female friends: Something which I cannot do because after all, I’m still a girl with short hair, dressed in long pants and clearly have almost no female-looking traits.
I did make a few close female friends, yet I’ve always felt like I am a second-hand friend to them, because of how I looked. When everyone is studying hard, there is very little time to have fun with them. Such is the gruesome reality of the Singapore education system when it comes to the A levels. This is why I wish I was able to discover my identity earlier in secondary school, where I had more time to socialise. Because cliques are formed very early during orientation, it is often way harder to make friends later on, much more for a person like me.
I also told a few of my tutors and they were all really accepting of me. One of them went on to use my chosen name in class despite it being vastly different from the name everyone knew me as. JC tutors really do function similarly to a form teacher in primary or secondary school: they are always open if you really need someone to talk to. They may be the ones setting your killer exam papers or giving boring lectures, but they can be approachable if you take the step to do so.
Still, I believe that in a certain manner, my grades were saved by this very fast-paced system. I did not have all the time in the world to worry about my gender. I stopped myself from suicide or self-harm because I did not want to let all my work go to waste. It still feels like doing the exams under hard mode: When people are worried about the next assignments and tests, I was more worried about being misgendered or having to keep my short hair. I still did decently well in my A levels: not my best, but still a feat I achieved under a different kind of stress.
Overall, while not the best experience, it still isn’t the worst experience for me. I’m about to enter University soon where I will hopefully have transitioned by then.
I feel like it will be worse to be queer in the actual workforce. Your bosses and colleagues are may not be as accepting as your teachers and classmates. Of course, all these may change as society becomes more progressive. Maybe one day, I can be seen as a “woman” and not a “trans-woman”.
Celeste is a transgender female that started to transition socially while doing her A levels. She is now presenting female full-time and is waiting to enrol as a freshman into the National University of Singapore.
Being Queer in School is a series of community submissions that seek to explore what it means to be queer in the Singapore education system. If you have anything to share with us, submit to us through e-mail.