ST Saturday Special Report - When Papa Became Mama (Sept 6)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sep 6, 2008
When Papa became Mama
FACE TO FACE WITH... FANNY LER, ex-navy sergeant
TWO months ago, a former first sergeant who served 10 years in the
Singapore navy sent a mass SMS to all his friends.

It said: 'Dear friends, I have changed my name from Frankie to Fanny.'

Some laughed it off as a prank. Others called up Frankie Ler, 34, and
were stunned when he told them he had decided to become a woman.

The divorcee and father of a 10-year-old girl told them he had started
'transitioning': He had grown his hair, was taking female hormone
pills, and had begun wearing women's clothes.

'I didn't want them to get a shock if they bumped into me on the
street,' said the administrative assistant, sitting in a Rowell Road
Cafe with her daughter.

Her face is powdered, and she is wearing light eyeshadow and lipstick.
Her broad shoulders fill out a conservative black blouse which she
complements with a knee-length patterned skirt and sensible pumps.

Half an hour earlier, Fanny was the main 'attraction' at My Wife, My
Kids, one of several events in this year's IndigNation - the local gay
community's annual pride season.

Facing an inquisitive audience of more than 60 people, she explained
why she had to change sex so late in life, after marriage and fatherhood.

Fanny - who has a younger sister - claims her transsexualism surfaced
only last year. Her late father was a factory worker, her mother, now
56, is a retired washerwoman.

'I never thought I had any problems, I just thought I had an abnormal
hobby,' she says in a mixture of English and Mandarin. That hobby was
a penchant for dressing in women's clothes. She discovered she liked
it while trying on her mother's clothes at 10, and continued to
furtively cross-dress until she got married at 23.

The Yio Chu Kang Secondary School alumnus - who signed up with the
navy after a brief stint as a security guard - met and fell in love
with her wife on an Internet chatline.

They got married three months later. Their daughter was born the
following year. 'Just before I got married, I threw out all the shoes
and dresses I had bought over the years. We were a very normal couple
during our marriage. I was not gay and I did not have any interest in
men,' says Fanny.

The marriage broke up seven years later in 2004. The couple have joint
custody of their daughter.

'We just drifted apart. It had nothing to do with cross-dressing,' she

One day in June last year, she typed 'men who love to dress up as
women' in Google. The search engine threw up many links, one of which
led to - a resource site for local transsexuals.

She trawled through the site's many articles and discussion threads,
and even posted questions, on transsexual issues - from identity
struggles to hormone treatments and make-up tips. 'I was so happy. I
finally found the answers to so many of the questions in my head,' she

Two months later, after she was convinced that she was a woman trapped
in a man's body, she spoke to the person closest to her: her daughter.

'I wanted to be a woman but I had to be sure it wouldn't hurt my
daughter. So I decided to ask, not tell, her if I should transit. If
she had said no, I wouldn't have done this.'

The Primary 4 pupil (whom we are not naming to protect her identity)
says she was 'a little bit surprised that he should ask this
question'. Fanny carefully explained what she was going through and
why she felt the way she did.

The precocious little girl gave her approval. 'His physical looks will
change but he is still my father. He has always been very caring, and
is always teaching me to be brave,' she says, adding that she has told
two of her closest friends but sworn them to secrecy.

Fanny felt a big load taken off her shoulders. 'My mind was very
clear. I was divorced and I've been given a second chance to live my
life right.'

She went for psychiatric evaluation which confirmed she had gender
identity disorder (GID). She started her hormonal therapy late last
year. Her sister, parents and friends were told next. They were
shocked but took it well save for just one friend who has cut off all

The last to know was her former wife.

'She was very upset but I explained that I found it hardest to tell
her because we had such a close relationship,' says Fanny who plans to
have her operation in Singapore next year.

'To her credit, she joined sgbutterfly to try and understand why I had
to do this,' says Fanny, who adds that the former spouse occasionally
takes her shopping for women's clothes.

Fanny happily lets on that she recently found a job in a construction
firm. Her boss and her colleagues are aware of her status.

She does not harbour grand plans such as marriage for the future. 'I
just want to focus on my daughter.'

The latter ponders when asked what it's like to have two mothers.
'It's okay to have two mummies. I can still enjoy both their love.'