Singapore | The fight of a transgender actress

(Singapore) A child star emerging in independent films and mainstream television series, transgender Singaporean actress Medli Dorothea Loo now finds her career hampered in a socially conservative city-state.

Although Singapore is home to a vibrant LGBTQ community, activists report stigmatization of transgender people, workplace discrimination and family rejection.

“I think being on stage as a trans body, as a trans voice, is a small act of rebellion. It’s like a sort of middle finger towards Singaporean values,” the 20-year-old actress, who made her coming out in 2021.

Artists like Mme Loo are rare in the city-state where strict guidelines limit the representation of LGBTQ characters in the media, forcing her to turn to the less regulated theater scene.

Singapore repealed a British colonial law criminalizing sex between men in 2022. But authorities said controls on LGBTQ media content would remain in place.

According to regulations, films and television shows dedicated to “alternative sexualities” and gender identities are prohibited for children under 16 and cannot be broadcast on free television channels.

Although official guidelines place no restrictions on queer artists, activists say producers self-censor, due to their own biases or fear of backlash from audiences or sponsors.

“The few representations we see (…) are very unfortunate negative representations, playing on very hurtful stereotypes according to which trans people are either criminals or deviants,” laments Leow Yangfa, executive director of Oogachaga , a local nonprofit organization providing counseling services to the LGBTQ community.

Beginnings at age 7

After growing up in a Catholic family, Medli Dorothea Loo began acting at the age of seven, in a short film.

She went on to appear in TV shows, films and stage productions and earned a theater degree.

Her biggest role was in 2017 in the drama series Lion Mums 2where she played a student who commits suicide after being caught cheating during a badminton tournament.

“Being able to express pain in that role helped me deal with my own pain at that time,” she explains, calling it a “cathartic” experience as she suffered from gender dysphoria and gender issues. mental health.


Medli Dorothea Loo

When after online research she finally realized she was a girl trapped in a boy’s body, “it was not a moment of joy or relief.”

“I felt fear and dread, because I knew that if I really was who I was, I risked losing my entire career, my family and all my friends,” she adds. .

She then repressed her trans aspirations until depression forced her to confront the problem, before announcing it to her parents.

Although her mother took the news badly, her father provided her with consent forms for hormone replacement treatment at a private clinic.

But she knew coming out would have repercussions on her career. “I was right, I haven’t worked on television since coming out,” she assures.

She also lost hundreds of followers on Instagram and producers she had worked with in the past stopped calling, even for non-male roles.

The young woman then focused on stage productions, subject to less strict official guidelines, notably appearing in a musical comedy inspired by Snow White as a non-binary dwarf.

But despite these small victories, she still feels her options are limited and so is now applying to performing schools abroad in the hope of securing more rewarding jobs.

“I think it’s the only way I can be seen as an actress beyond my gender identity. Which is a little sad, because it’s my home,” she says.

“If I had the means to flourish as an artist here, I would stay,” she concludes.


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