ST Saturday Special Report - Face to Face (Sept 6)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sep 6, 2008
He decided against operation
FACE TO FACE WITH... KRIS H, counsellor
FOR six years in the 1990s, Kris H, 39 walked the streets, offering
sex while dressed in women's clothes.

He charged between $30 and $300 during the 1990s in red light areas in
Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

The sixth of nine children of a railway officer and a housewife, he
used to endure beatings as a child from his father and two elder
brothers for being effeminate.

At 12, he was sexually abused by an adult he knew.

He befriended a group of transsexual and transvestite sex workers
while doing an electrical engineering course after his O levels.

Before long, he was taking hormones and wearing dresses. When they
found out, his brothers threw him out of the house.

Left to fend for himself, he became a sex worker. In his 20s and known
as Sheela, he started saving up to go for sex reassignment surgery (SRS).

He also had a three-year relationship which ended when the man left
him for a woman. Heartbroken, he decided to go for the sex operation,
but a friend hauled him to a counsellor instead.

The counsellor asked him if he was sure, telling him that a sex
operation would not magically change his life.

Dr Calvin Fones, consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre,
says he has seen several patients who have regretted changing sex.

'Quite often, these are people who have experienced failed
relationships. They latch on to the idea that the operation would
totally change their lives and solve all their relationship woes.

'It won't. And they can't go back; SRS is totally irreversible.'

Indeed, research has shown that many transsexuals become depressed and
suicidal because they cannot cope with many post-operative challenges.
In Malaysia, where Kris lives, these include the inability to change
their civil status, to marry a person of the opposite sex or to adopt
a child.

After several soul-searching sessions, Kris abandoned the idea.

Determined to leave his old world behind, he took up a course in
counselling and became a coordinator with Wake, the Women and Health
Association of Kuala Lumpur.

He now presents himself as a male and counsels people afflicted with
Aids, as well as transsexuals.

Having come from the streets himself, he is passionate about steering
transwomen from the sex trade.

Kris says: 'Some do it for survival, others because they like sex and
that's the only way they can meet men who want them and make money at
the same time.'

And there are also those who want to cling to their boyfriends or
husbands who are their pimps.

'Unfortunately, at least 80 per cent of these relationships never last
because these men just want their money and will leave them for real

In private, Kris still occasionally puts on dresses and make up. 'I am
who I am,' he says resignedly.