Tue, Dec 07, 2010
The New Paper
Old Bugis St Queen ravaged by age, savaged by time

By Maureen Koh

HE HAS made the same birthday wish every year for the past 10 years.

This year, as he blew out the six big and four small candles on the black forest cake after a rousing birthday song, he added an extra line.

Eyes shut and hands clenched tightly together as if in prayer, Georgie whispered: "Please don't let me die alone.

"Oh, please also let me die before my sistas (slang for sisters)."

With that, the small group of six, which had gathered at his three-room Bedok North HDB flat two Wednesday nights ago, toasted the birthday star with three cheers.

Georgie, as he is known affectionately to friends, is 64.

He is typical of Singapore "sistas" who face a dismal future now that beauty has deserted him and the reality of old age has set in.

As he told The New Paper on Sunday: "Face it, my dear, most of us are destined to die poor and lonely."

The "most of us" he refers to is the group of transgender people who have yet to find their place here.

Most are - or once were - sex workers, peddling their trade from Orchard Towers to Changi Village, with spots like Geylang, Rowell Road and Desker Road along the way.

Georgie belongs to the first generation of Bugis Street transsexuals (people born with the physical characteristics of one gender who feel they belong to the opposite sex) and transvestites (a person, typically a man, who derives pleasure from dressing in women's clothes), many of whom are now in their late 50s and 60s.

Whether they end up as vagrants or are left forgotten in a small HDB flat, their future seems bleak.

Their little-known plight was in the news recently when The New Paper on Sunday reported on homeless transsexual Salma Mohd Ali.

Ms Salma, who was seen wondering the streets with a stray dog she named Angel, has only one leg.

The 55-year-old struck a chord among netizens and Singaporeans not so much for her homelessness, but because she was placed in a welfare home and forced to be separated from her beloved dog.

Another lonely old transgender was in the news in July after his murderer was convicted and jailed.

The killer, Astro Jakaria, 28, was jailed seven years and given eight strokes of the cane for killing 61-year-old Abdul Khalid Othman in June 2008.

Astro was living with Mr Abdul Khalid in the latter's two-room HDB flat in Ang Mo Kio.

The body of Mr Abdul Khalid was found under a curtain, cushions and pillows. During the trial, the court heard that the two men had a scuffle after they had oral sex on June 19.

The fight was triggered by Mr Abdul Khalid's request for unnatural sex, which Astro rejected, the latter said.

Like other transgenders "who have inched closer to the expiry of their street life", as Georgie puts it, the greatest nightmare is that "someone will find my body days after my death".

He is particularly affected by the death of Mr Abdul Khalid, whom Georgie knew personally.

He added: "I had lost contact with Jaime (one of Mr Abdul Khalid's other names) for several years.

"Then I read about his murder. It's really sad."

He added: "When someone of your kind dies this way, it affects you, whether or not you're close friends."

Love, said Georgie, happens only to "the bold and beautiful".

"Oh, and the young," he added with a cynical chortle.

"For oldies like us, we seek only companionship."

Referring to Ms Salma, he said: "However touching the story was, I also don't want to end up with a pet dog as my only companion."

Georgie did not go for a sex change because, being the only son, "my father would have killed me".

But youth then had its edge.

He said: "If you know the history of Bugis Street, you'd know that we were the stars, darling.

"Hotter than (Singapore's popular drag queen) Kumar."

The area was known for its horde of transvestites and transsexuals who offered sex services to foreigners and US soldiers on leave from the Vietnam war up to the 1970s.

Without make-up, and save for his effeminate gestures, the stocky Georgie looks every bit like a man.

His "glorious days are over", said Georgie who used to provide sex services at Bugis Street, Orchard Towers and later, Changi Village.

"Money used to be pretty good then and, depending on where I was, I could easily earn a few thousand dollars a month if I worked hard."

But after the authorities cleaned up the grimy backlanes in the 80s, the "spotlight went poof into the air", Georgie added.

When he retired in 1995, Georgie moved in with a Malaysian man.

He said: "What he wanted, I gave him. I spent all my savings on him but what did I get in return?

"His cheating heart."

To please his hairstylist lover, Georgie used his savings to open a neighbourhood hair salon.

"But instead of providing hairdressing services, he was flirting openly with the women."

Georgie added: "I kicked him out of my life after tolerating his nonsense for more than a year.

"The last straw was when a woman's husband beat me up for failing to control my man."

Georgie found out later that his lover was having an affair with the married woman.

These days, he runs a stall selling nasi lemak in the mornings. By about 2pm, he returns home for a short nap before heading out three hours later to Orchard Road where he freelances as a masseur.

He spends about half of his monthly earnings of between $1,800 and $2,000 on beauty products such as cleansers and moisturisers.

Many of his Bugis Street friends have opted to go overseas in search of love, said Georgie.

"It's easier to find acceptance - and thus, love - especially in Europe," he added.

This was the case with one of his friends, a transsexual in her 50s.

Georgie said: "The last I heard, she is happily married to a European man 20 years younger. They live in Denmark with two adopted children.

"But those who do that are mostly the ones who have gone for a sex operation and become a woman.

"The rest of us (who didn't) end up struggling to stay happy and alive here."

Georgie stretched out both hands in a gesture to include his friends, paused for dramatic effect, then said: "What you see here are the 'chao Ah Kua' who have now become the 'lao Ah Kua'." (Ah Kua is a derogatory Hokkien term for a transsexual or transvestite, while chao means smelly, and lao is old.)

Georgie's gang - he is quick to add that they're not gangsters - is a curious mix.

Transvestites Lina, 58, and King, 50, were in black dresses and tights, complete with heavy make-up.

The other four are, in their own words, "the result of sound investment". This means they have undergone a sex change operation.

At 47, Baby, a mamasan in a Thai disco on Orchard Road, is the youngest and prettiest, with a curvaceous figure that many women would envy.

Another transsexual in the group, Liz, 51, showed this reporter a photo of herself when she was in her early 20s.

In the photo, a beaming Liz is flanked by the first and second runners-up in what seemed to be a beauty pageant.

She said: "Ah yes, I was a beauty queen then. Now? I'm just an Ah Kua queen.

"This is the kind of emotional suffering that we go through. But no one knows."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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