ST Saturday Special Report - Why He Set Up Portal For 'Sisters' (Sept 6)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sep 6, 2008
Why he set up portal for 'sisters'
No sleaze, please. Straight guy just wants to give transsexual
community a space for bonding
By Wong Kim Hoh
DANIEL Kaw deflates expectations of how a champion for Singapore's
transsexual community should look.

The 36-year-old assistant project manager with a water engineering
firm is stocky and burly. Not surprising, since he is a lion dancer
and a certified wushu instructor.

Despite the ponytail, he is also 100 per cent male, straight and
married. And a father to boot.

So why did he set up, Singapore's only Web portal for
the transgendered community in Singapore?

He grins as he sips his iced coffee in an Orchard Road cafe.

'Why do you do charity?' he volleys back.

'People think it costs a lot of money to host a Web portal. It
doesn't, it costs me just $10 a month,' says Mr Kaw, who studied
industrial electronics at the Japan-Singapore Technical Institute.

However, the youngest of three children of a businessman and a
housewife forks out more than just money. He invests at least four
hours daily to make sure the portal - which will celebrate its third
anniversary next month - runs smoothly.

The portal has - among other features - news clippings, discussion
forums and resource lists on transgender issues.

Its membership has grown from about 500 in the first year to about
1,600 now, and the site attracts between 40,000 and 80,000 hits a month.

Mr Kaw - who works on the site with three other volunteer moderators -
also organises monthly outings for its members, as well as talks to
raise awareness of transsexual issues.

His first encounter with a transsexual took place on an IRC channel
called Singapore 30something more than 10 years ago.

'Her name was Victoria, and she was very open about who she was and
the issues she faced,' he recalls.

Intrigued, he started talking to others on the Internet. He even met
some of them.

He explains his fascination: 'They are human. Like everyone else, they
want to live a normal life.'

He is used to people questioning his intentions.

'Even my wife, who knows what I do, once asked me if I was transsexual
myself,' he says with a laugh.

'But she's supportive and has even met some of them,' adds Mr Kaw, who
declines to reveal more about his family in order to protect their

The martial arts exponent decided that he would set up a Web portal
for his 'sisters', the way he did for wushu and lion dance fans a few
years earlier with

He started discussing the idea with his transsexual friends, including
outspoken activist Leona Lo.

While there are several sites frequented by transgendered prostitutes
for sexual hook-ups, there was none which properly addressed the
issues the community faces or gave its members a space to bond and

'Before I set up the site, I spent at least four hours nightly over
three months reading up on transsexualism issues,' says Mr Kaw,
reeling off the names of world-renowned experts and researchers in the
area such as American computer scientist Lyn Conway, and Associate
Professor Sam Winter from the University of Hong Kong.

It was not all smooth sailing.

'I spent a lot of time initially throwing out and banning people who
thought it was a sleazy 'ladyboy' sex portal,' he recalls grimly.

The portal has settled into a smooth groove now. A visit to the forums
shows spirited, well-articulated discussions on issues such as whether
transsexuals should pursue activism.

The founder observes: 'The focus of the portal has changed. When we
started, we wanted to build awareness. Now, we want to reach out to
the community.'

That's why he started monthly outings.

'I hope these outings will send out the message that they are not alone.'

Held mostly at Newton Hawker Centre or coffee shops around town, these
excursions attract between five and 25 people.

'We occupied almost six tables at Starbucks in Plaza Singapura on one
such outing last year,' says Mr Kaw, adding that one member wrestling
with his sexual identity even took along his mother.

Mr Kaw and members of the portal will be celebrating its third
anniversary next month with a party at a yet-to-be-confirmed venue.

The unlikely activist is gratified to see more new members coming into to ask more questions.

As a moderator, there is one principle he abides by.

'I do not help them make decisions. I do not tell them if they should
go for sex reassignment surgery, I also do not tell them if they are
transsexuals or not.

'Those are issues they sort out with the experts.'