Floating down New York in an emerald-green dress @FringeNYC

The Ah Kua Show is political theatre.  It is an indictment of our governments’ collective failure to act to protect the lives and dignity of transgender women in Asia.  It is an indictment of patriarchal regimes that oppress and punish women who dare to embrace and express their femininity.  It is an indictment of religious fundamentalists who distort the words of the great spiritual masters – be they Jesus Christ or Prophet Muhammad – with the ostensible motive of control and oppression.*  It is the collective voices of transgender women who, like Rosa Parks, are not giving up their seats anymore.  And it is my duty as an educated person and Literature graduate to help ensure that their voices seep into every alley, every pathway, every artery, every bourgeois food and beverage venue in New York and the major cities of the world, every strand of Julia Roberts’ oh-life-is-so-hip-and-great “Eat, Pray, Love” happy valley spaghetti.  

– Leona Lo, Actress/Producer/ Scriptwriter, Ah Kua Show

I have a vision of me floating down New York in an emerald green dress.  In fact, I was about to dash out and grab the dress when I remembered that I have yet to buy a business outfit for my meeting tomorrow.  I can always float down the thoroughfares on Thursday, our final performance day.  The dress can wait, but not the voices of thousands of Southeast Asian transgender women clamoring to be heard.

In December 2009, I attended the inaugural meeting of the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network.  There, I met transgender women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities.  The lady whose life story remains etched on my mind is Champa or Sam Sela.  Champa is a HIV positive transgender woman from Cambodia.  Years ago, she was a sex worker experiencing the daily ravages of rape and abuse like many transgender women in Cambodia.  Then she contracted the HIV/AIDS virus.  At the nadir of her life, she contemplated suicide, but something held her back.  She looked around her and realised that thousands of her sisters lived without love and support, and often in the harshest conditions.  She did the most noble thing a human being could do – religious leaders and Republicans take heed!  She stood up for herself and her sisters.  She FORGOT herself and fought for their rights. 

Today, Champa is the first HIV/AIDS positive transgender to be elected to the Secretariat of the Women Network for Unity (WNU) Cambodia.  She has been working with WNU for around six years.  She works directly with transgender women, sex workers and lesbians through outreach activities, and provides direct assistance to her members.  Champa has attended various workshops, meetings and forums at the national level, mostly representing people living with HIV/AIDS and transgender women. She has also been involved in advocacy events and campaigns conducted to demand and fight for the rights of sex workers, people living with HIV/AIDS and transgender women.

I am proud to be part of the APTN. APTN will give me chance to bring up the issue of transgenders who are living with HIV/AIDS,” Champa says. “It was my first time sharing my story, especially my feelings about being a HIV/AIDS positive transgender women at the inaugural APTN meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. I hope my experiences will be shared with other transgender women. We are working together for transgender rights,” she adds.

I had a short discussion with Champa and her equally wonderful interpreter Sophea after the meeting.  Champa said she was delighted to meet me.  She also said I could one day become transgender women’s Prime Minister given my language skills.  But I disagree.  I have enjoyed the privileges of a loving family and a good education.  Champa and her sisters never stood a chance in Cambodia.  I am merely a sounding board for the ladies – Champa is the real heroine who gets her hands soiled toiling in the fields every day.

The Ah Kua Show is political theatre.  It is an indictment of our governments’ collective failure to act to protect the lives and dignity of transgender women in Asia.  It is an indictment of patriarchal regimes that oppress and punish women who dare to embrace and express their femininity.  It is an indictment of religious fundamentalists who distort the words of the great spiritual masters – be they Jesus Christ or Prophet Muhammad – with the ostensible motive of control and oppression.*  It is the collective voices of transgender women who, like Rosa Parks, are not giving up their seats anymore.  And it is my duty as an educated person and Literature graduate to help ensure that their voices seep into every alley, every pathway, every artery, every bourgeois food and beverage venue in New York and the major cities of the world, every strand of Julia Roberts’ oh-life-is-so-hip-and-great “Eat, Pray, Love” happy valley spaghetti.  

And if you feel uncomfortable, welcome to the real world.  

You need us as much as we need you.

With love and gratitude

Leona (sans emerald green dress)

Actress/Producer/Scriptwriter, Ah Kua Show

*  Build a mosque, church, synagogue on Ground Zero if you want to.  I don’t give a damn.  Just don’t let your fine building get in the way of humanity. 

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