ST Saturday Special Report - Crossover Celebrities (Sept 6)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sep 6, 2008
Making it in the mainstream
SINGAPOREAN transsexual activist Leona Lo has a dream: To become a TV
talk show host.

'If Eunice Olsen can have her own talk show on TV, why can't I?' says
the PR practitioner, referring to the former beauty queen and
Nominated Member of Parliament who currently hosts Rouge.

Leona thinks she is made of the right stuff for the job: decent looks,
gift of the gab and grey matter. After all, she has a degree in
English, as well as a master's in qualitative research from York
University in Britain.

But she is grounded enough to know that the dream is not likely to
come true, not if mindsets and discrimination do not change.

Which is a pity, she says, because transsexuals have made great
strides in showbusiness.

Indeed, they have. They include:

# Candis Cayne: She plays Carmelita, the transsexual mistress of New
York Attorney-General Patrick Darling (William Baldwin) in the TV
series Dirty Sexy Money.

Essentially, the role means that the 1.78m tall actress is the first
transsexual to play a transsexual in prime time.

Born Brendan McDaniel in Hawaii, the classically trained dancer gained
public attention as a female impersonator in popular gay bar Boy Bar
in New York City. She later landed roles in a number of movies
including To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar; and Stonewall.

She transitioned in 1996 and has a boyfriend, DJ Marco.

# Jin Xing: A former army colonel who became a ballerina,
choreographer and now owner of a contemporary dance company Shanghai
Jin Xing Dance Theatre, in China.

Now 41, she joined the People's Liberation Army at nine, became a
member of the military's dance troupe and worked her way up to the
rank of colonel.

She left for New York to study modern dance in 1987, before travelling
and performing in Europe. She had her sex operation in 1996 when she
was 28, and later went to Shanghai to be a choreographer. She and her
German husband now have three adopted children.

# Rose: The first transgender TV host in India, Rose's talk show
Ippadikku Rose discusses contemporary social issues including
traditions, sexuality and taboos. It is watched by millions in Tamil

The former Ramesh Venkatesan started dressing up as a woman in her
early 20s. Now 28, she used to work as a Web designer in the United
States and has a master's in biomedical engineering from Louisiana
Tech University.

Her family has yet to come to terms with her sexuality.

# Nong Toom: Thailand's most famous kathoey (male-to-female
transgendered person) is a multi-hyphenate: a muay thai champion,
model and actress.

She started learning Thai boxing as a young boy, determined to win
matches to help support her poor parents and fund her sex change

She came into the public limelight when she was 16. Wearing make-up,
she floored a much bigger opponent in Bangkok's Lumpini Stadium.

She was to win many more matches before retiring in 1999, when she had
her sex operation. She became an actress, nabbing roles in plays and
movies such as Mercury Man.

Theatre and film director Ekachai Uekrongtham turned her life story
into a movie Beautiful Boxer in 2003.

# Abigail Chay: Born Caesar Chay Tuck Kwong, this Anglo-Chinese alumna
became Abigail Chay after sex reassignment surgery at the age of 22.

Her late mother Yau Chung Chii - beloved by Singaporeans as the
McDonald's granny - got the former tutor to audition for TV shows.
That's how she landed up as single, desperate and ugly Aunty Abigail
in the comedy Under One Roof.

Chay has since appeared in other TV series such as Maggi And Me and
The Legendary Swordsman on both Channel 5 and 8, and in movies such as
Money No Enough.

The reed-thin actress came out as a transsexual only in 2006, and
revealed that she got married in her early 20s, only to get divorced a
year later.