Transgender Laws and Rights in Singapore
Being transgender in Singapore, where social attitudes are still highly conservative, is not easy. Transgender people face a great deal of social stigma and are often met with discrimination in the workforce, and various other social settings. From a lack of legal gender recognition to restricted access to basic rights in housing and marriage, the trans community often faces disadvantages in numerous aspects of their lives.
In recent times, however, the lack of visibility and community awareness of transgender persons are steadily decreasing as various efforts showcasing Singapore’s rich transgender history are debunking myths, and rallying together those who fear that they may be alone in their journey.
In this article, we will cover:
What Does It Mean to be Transgender?
The term “transgender” refers to individuals whose gender identity does not conform to the sex that they were assigned at birth. For instance, based on how you presented biologically at birth, you may have been deemed a male. However, growing up, you find that being female resonates with you more. Hence, you may label yourself as a trans female.
Transgender people may also reject the traditional understanding of gender as divided between just “male” and “female”. They may instead identify as transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid, or another gender.
Is It Legal to be Transgender in Singapore?
It is legal to be transgender in Singapore. Gender confirmation surgery has been legalised here since 1973. Individuals who have undergone the surgical procedure can legally change their gender on their identification cards, but must do so within 28 days of their gender change. However, do note that at present, Singapore does not allow for the gender assigned at your birth and indicated on your birth certificate to be changed.
Does Singapore Allow For Gender Confirmation Surgeries?
Gender confirmation surgeries refer to procedures that permanently alter the bodies of transgender individuals to give them the physical appearance and functional abilities of the gender with which they identify. Most transgender people who choose to undergo these surgeries report improved mental health and quality of life, with better psychosocial functioning, more stable relationships, and higher levels of contentment and happiness.
There are two categories of gender confirmation surgeries, with the relevant surgical procedures under each category as follows:
1. Feminisation surgical procedures. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Breast Augmentation: An alternative or supplementation to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), it involves having breast implants inserted.
- Orchidectomy: The removal of the testes, to reduce the level of male hormones in an individual’s body.
- Penectomy: The removal of the penis, and to be done together with a vaginoplasty.
- Vaginoplasty: The creation of a vagina while aiming to maintain sexual sensation. Doctors use the tissue from the penis and invert it into a person’s pelvic area.
2. Masculinisation surgical procedures. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Top Surgery: The removal of breasts and creation of a masculine chest. Different surgical techniques exist based on the amount of tissue that needs to be removed.
- Phalloplasty: The creation of a penis, urethra or urinary channel, scrotum, and the obliteration of the vaginal cavity with closure. The creation of the penis is performed using tissue from other body parts such as the radial forearm free flap or anterolateral thigh flap.
- Hysterectomy: The removal of the uterus.
- Oophorectomy: The removal of the ovaries. This, if done in conjunction with a hysterectomy, will reduce the level of female hormones in their bodies and stop their menstrual cycles.
- Vaginectomy: The removal of the vagina.
Unfortunately, while there are no local healthcare providers who provide such surgical procedures specific to transgender individuals at the moment, there are services for more generic surgeries (commonly carried out without gender identity-related motivations i.e. for cosmetic, health, or mental health) such as mastectomies, hysterectomies, breast augmentations, and facial modifications. These are elective surgeries that transgender persons may consider undertaking to possibly help them move closer to achieving their desired physical appearance. However, these surgical procedures are not covered by most insurance providers as they are deemed to be cosmetic procedures.
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)?
HRT is commonly known as a medical process whereby pills or injections that contain the two female hormones – estrogen and progestogen – are given together to relieve symptoms of menopause. 8 HRT is offered by both private and public healthcare providers and is legal in Singapore.
Some transgender people choose to undergo HRT to masculinise or feminise their bodies. HRT for trans women may include anti-androgens (i.e., male hormones) as well as estrogen. On the other hand, HRT for trans men would entail the administration of testosterone.
You should consult a medical doctor to address any concerns that you might have about undergoing HRT. Do note that you also have to be 21 years old and above to start HRT without parental consent. Otherwise, parental consent is required. HRT is also unavailable in the Singapore public healthcare system to those who are under the age of 18.
Are Gender Confirmation Surgeries That Have been Done Overseas, Legally Recognised in Singapore?
Yes, gender confirmation surgeries that have been done overseas are legally recognised in Singapore. Many transgender people have opted to undergo procedures in other countries due to lower costs and the expertise of surgeons. However, it is important that you carry out your due diligence prior to heading overseas for a gender confirmation surgery. This would help ensure that you get the safest and best possible outcome post-procedure.
As a general rule of thumb, you should also keep any official surgical documents you receive, as proof of your surgery. You may additionally request a letter or medical certificate from the doctor overseeing your surgery to evidence that you have legally undergone gender confirmation surgery.
What are the Processes and Requirements For an Individual to Have Their New Identity Recognised on Paper in Singapore?
“Identity” can refer to a person’s legal name or their respective gender marker on official documentation such as their NRIC.
Changing your legal name
Changing your legal name on official documentation is a legal process which requires a deed poll, a legal document, to be executed in a lawyer’s presence. A deed poll will cost around $100 in Singapore, and you must have the consent and signatures of your parents if you are under 21, unless they are deceased or uncontactable despite reasonable efforts. The application will be processed within 3 working days.
For more information, please refer to our other article on changing your legal name in Singapore.
If you require legal assistance with changing your name, you may contact a deed poll lawyer.
Changing your gender on your identification card
Whilst changing your legal name is generally a simpler, and quicker process, legally changing your gender is a wholly different process.
You must have undergone gender confirmation surgery, and obtain a Medical Examination Report Form from ICA to have it signed by your medical practitioner who performed the surgery. This could be your endocrinologist, gynaecologist, urologist, or plastic surgeon who confirms in the Form that you have “completely” changed your genitalia. This form must then be presented to the ICA to change your birth gender on your identification card.
What are the Implications of Being Transgender in Singapore?
Can I get married in Singapore?
If you are a transgendered person, your marriage may be rendered void and you may not be eligible for certain policies. This is because Singapore only legally recognises marriages between a man and a woman. The gender of any party to a marriage is presumed to be the gender indicated on their identity card.
Hence, transgender people who have undergone a gender-reassignment procedure will be identified by their new reassigned gender. This means that a marriage will be rendered void should a male spouse undergo gender reassignment to become female, and the marriage becomes one of a same-sex couple. As a result, they may not be eligible for certain policies such as housing grants, that are eligible for couples who fall within Singapore’s legal definition of marriage (i.e. between a man and a woman). This was what happened to a couple who subsequently lost their BTO flat and subsidies available to married couples that cost them an additional $15,000.
For more information, please refer to our other article that discusses the validity of a marriage after one spouse undergoes a sex change or gender reassignment procedure.
If you need legal advice or to determine your rights as a transgender person in a marriage, you may wish to consult a family lawyer.
Can I be the legal parent of a child?
You can be the legal parent of a child if you are validly married to a partner of the opposite sex.
You may refer to our article on civil marriages in Singapore for a detailed discussion on this topic.
Will I be discriminated against when applying for jobs?
Singapore has guidelines in place implemented by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) that prohibit discriminatory hiring practices, such as hiring employees based on gender, amongst Singapore companies.
Should you encounter any discrimination when applying for a job, you may wish to report such discrimination to the TAFEP which will look into the case. If needed, TAFEP will refer the case to the Ministry of Manpower for further investigations. You may also wish to consult an employment lawyer to seek legal advice and determine your rights.
We hope this article has provided you with some information on the legal and medical aspects of being transgender in Singapore. While you might encounter challenges in your daily life, you are not alone. There are a number of legalised procedures and avenues that you can avail as you embark on this new phase of your life.
For additional support, you can reach out to organisations such as The T Project (a shelter for homeless transgender people), Safe Space™ (a Singapore-based digital mental healthcare provider), Transbefrienders (a peer support group for transgender folks seeking or considering transition), and social networks such as Transcend or SGRainbow.
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