Meet 24-year old transgender woman Sherry Sherqueshaa… a former sex worker turned activist!
From as far back as she could remember, Sherry was always feminine by nature, naturally gravitating towards ‘girly’ activities such as shopping etc. In fact, up till today, Sherry confesses to having a penchant for online shopping and the feeling of receiving a package on her doorstep is… in her own words ‘overwhelmingly satisfying’!
Her feminine nature however, was also always a huge source of insecurity for Sherry:
I grew up feeling inferior and I avoided close contact with boys and activities associated with them.
The inferiority complex that Sherry so profoundly experienced was certainly not unfounded. Being different from everyone else, Sherry faced countless difficulties during her growing up years. Most significant of them all was perhaps the heavy bullying that she experienced during her schooling years, where it got so bad that she had to drop out of school altogether when she was only 15-years old. Then, there was also the extra pressure that she faced at home, where she was often reprimanded for not being ‘manly’ enough.
Unsurprisingly, Sherry’s growing up years were filled with a lot of confusion and turmoil, as she had no idea what was ‘wrong’ with her. It wasn’t till she was 14-years old when she learnt more about what being transgender meant that she was finally able to find a descriptive term that accurately described her own gender identity. It was then that Sherry was finally able to embark on her journey towards self-acceptance.
Sherry started first by using powder and lipgloss, before progressing on to eye liner and the sort. Eventually, she started wearing blouses and dresses, and looking every bit on the outside like the woman that she inherently knew she was on the inside.
Today, Sherry is a proud pre-op transgender woman, and she currently has no plans to ever undergo a sex-change operation. She is also Muslim, and feels strongly about her religious identity.
I am not ashamed of my identity, nor sorry for what I have become.
As long as I remember and is aware of my Creator and continue to be religious, no one can stop me from achieving and becoming what I dream of.
Being transgender in a conservative society like Singapore however, is not an easy route to take. One of the greatest challenges that transgender women in Singapore need to deal with is job discrimination. And for this very reason, many transgender women in Singapore become sex workers as sex work seems like the only way they can eke out a living. So just like many of her fellow transgender women, Sherry too turned to sex work as a source of income. But in 2014, a chance encounter with the overall Coordinator of Project X became a significant turning point for Sherry.
Project X was founded by social worker Wong Yock Leng in 2008, who recognised that sex workers were amongst one of the most marginalised groups in Singapore society. Originally comprised of a small team of dedicated volunteers who would walk the streets of Geylang to reach out to sex workers, Project X has since grown to become a community based organisation that plans a host of activities such as panel discussions and film screenings as a means to end the stigma and discrimination that results in physical, verbal, emotional, and financial violence against sex workers in Singapore. In addition, Project X also aims to provide social and legal support to the sex workers themselves.
Currently headed by Vanessa Ho who acts as the overall Coordinator for Project X, Vanessa was also the one who first reached out to Sherry during one of her routine outreach walkabouts in the red-light districts. Since that fateful meeting, Sherry has become an integral part of the Project X team, first as their Youth Programme Coordinator before progressing on to becoming their writer and researcher. As part of her role in Project X, Sherry has reached out to numerous trans sex workers and attended many meetings and events in order to gain greater knowledge with regards to sex worker issues so that she can share the valuable information gained during outreach and community events.
Comparing myself now and years ago, I feel more confident and (am) full of pride as I am no longer a sex worker but (am now) a Muslim activist.
Sherry aspires to inspire her fellow transgender community and also harbours some grand ambitions; she aims to end the stigma and discrimination against sex workers within her lifetime. In fact, Sherry plans to one day, compile everything that she has learnt in her involvement with Project X into a book called Zines!
On a more personal level, Sherry also enjoys reading and spending time with her family and friends on top of her love for shopping. She also candidly reveals that she has a habit of talking to herself when she’s alone, and sees it as a form of therapy.
Sherry has very kindly agreed to share her coming out story with us here at Dear Straight People so read on more to find out about her personal coming out journey as well as her activist journey so far!
1. How was your first coming out experience like?
It was a nightmare. For years I felt like I’m a criminal or alien. Everyone was staring at me. Talked about me. No one seemed to like my presence. Not only (did) it happen within my close relatives but also to the extent of (my) friends and colleagues.
2. How is your family coping with it?
My mum would nag and nag at me. Telling me I’m a boy and I should not wear girls clothes and make-up. And it continued for years, but eventually they (family members) got used to it and no longer disapprove (of) my decision.
3. How did you become a part of Project X?
I first met the people at Project X at one of the red light districts. Vanessa, one of the staff at Project X was on her usual routine of outreach, and that is when she introduce to me the organisation’s mission, goals and what else she do other than giving condoms. I was interested the moment I knew Project X could be the source for me to move on from just being a sex worker.
I started as their Youth Programme Coordinator; my job was to connect with young transgender sex workers and do online outreach. I learnt a lot of things along the way – basic human rights, safe sex and about HIV/AIDS. As I work and learn, I was then titled researcher and writer. This was the moment where I frequently attended course, public speaking events and interviews. Almost 2 years now, I proudly share what I have learned, and even manage to excel in assigned tasks and projects.
4. What’s the most memorable incident that has happened to you so far in your involvement with Project X?
Being able to educate not only sex workers but also the allies and students. Our main topics are the importance of safe sex and their rights. Which many were not aware of, and (even) if (they) were, (were too) afraid to stand up for it.
5. What’s the most surprising thing that you’ve learnt from being involved with Project X?
It’s not impossible to get allies and involvement from the society. I thought only sex workers would be interested in what we (Project X) advocate and educate for. But surprisingly, there are students from different universities that email us, wanting to know more about sex work and/or transgenderism and include us in their work/thesis. Not forgetting interviews for the purpose of story sharing and requesting to be a volunteer.
With this, I personally feel that we are steps closer to ending discrimination and stigma against sex workers and/or transgender people.
6. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about trans sex workers?
Not all transgender are sex workers. This myth and stigma would probably have been spread as transgender sex worker is widely seen in the red light district. Which I won’t deny but it’s important to know that there is a reason to why transgender women choose this as their livelihood.
One common reason is due to job discrimination. But however there are transgender individuals who work in regular jobs such as in the cosmetics industry or other professional job. With that said, I am not speaking on behalf of all the transgender sex workers, but (based on) my research and observation.
7. What advice do you have for transgender still hiding in the closet?
Take your time! Don’t be afraid and timid to ask questions relating to your identity; online or personally via counsellor or if you know any transgender acquaintances.
Strong advice by personal experience to the new transgender is that you should never blame yourself for any choice you make. Know what is sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
And lastly, don’t let your difference hinder you from pursuing your education and dreams!
8. Is there anything else you like to add?
Spread the love, importantly to cisgender community. Be inspired by our stories and share it among your circle of friends and family. It only take little effort to spare a thought for the LGBT community, which would make this world a better place to live in.
Once again, Dear Straight People would like to thank Sherry Sherqueshaa for sharing her story with us.
If you would like to keep up to date with how Sherry is doing, you can connect with her through her personal Facebook or Instagram accounts and also remember to check out the Facebook page of Project X.
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