(Singapore, 71 min.)
Dir. Quen Wong
At the beginning of Some Women, we see director Quen Wong put a large cardboard box into a closet. We hear through her narration that she has collected every picture of herself prior to her transition and has stored them away here. There’s an uneasy finality to Wong’s movements. It’s as if she is firmly able to put her past behind her, but she’s also aware that those photos still comprise part of her life and experiences.
Wong’s documentary doubles as a visual history of trans people in Singapore and a personal and intimate diary. She takes us into her life with an impressive amount of confidence and vulnerability that provide unique insight into the life of a transwoman in a staunchly conservative country.
Wong introduces audiences to her father, who, upon hearing that she wanted to transition, exclaimed, “Over my dead body.” This exchange was many years ago and, fortunately, her father’s opinions have markedly changed since then. Now, we see a father-daughter relationship that is kind, open, supportive, and patient. Towards the end of the film, we see the complete change in her father’s perspective as he gently tells his daughter, “Be natural. Don’t be afraid—go and be happy.”
Some Women effectively takes viewers on Wong’s journey, but also on the journey of those around her, including her partner and eventual husband, Francis. We’re flies on the wall during their most private moments and conversations, which may seem manufactured and inorganic at first glance. After all, why would anyone want to share something so personal with the world, if not to impress upon viewers a pointed opinion?
After taking a few steps back from Some Women, the forest starts to appear among the trees. Wong’s disarming honesty as the subject of her own film is sincere and an invitation for empathy. Some Women is a conduit for the rest of us to understand Wong’s life and decisions, and how we process these layers is completely up to us.
Interspersed with her own story, Wong celebrates the experiences of other transwomen. Sanisa/Anita (Sanisa to her friends, Anita on Bugis Street after the entertainer, Anita Sarawak) often discusses the heydays of Bugis and te free-wheeling nature of its nightlife when transsexuals and drag queens gathered in the streets attracting the attention of tourists around the world. Hearing Anita describe Bugis brings a degree of warmth and sadness to the information these spaces no longer exist.
If you venture to Bugis Street in Singapore today, you’ll find a smattering of restaurants, clothing stores, and stalls selling random knick-knacks and wares. The area is fairly modern and retro-fitted to look like the rest of the immaculate city-state, nothing hinting at the district’s colourful history. But from the 1950s until the 1980s, when the Singaporean government demolished the area and revamped it to its current form, Bugis was home for many individuals who didn’t feel welcomed anywhere else.
Wong acknowledges the challenges generations of transwomen before her endured, and honours the boundaries they broke for her and other transpeople. She also dedicates time to the younger generation of Singaporeans who are seemingly far more confident in their identities and presenting themselves in public spaces.
There is a very touching moment at the end of Some Women when Wong nervously shares her old photos with Francis. She asks him if they would have gotten together had she not transitioned, to which Francis replies, “Probably not…I’m attracted to women. I think of you as a woman. If I thought of you as a man, it would be different.”
As Francis delivers this statement, powerful in its simplicity, calmly and matter-of-factly, it’s evident in Wong’s face she needs a minute to process what her husband has just said. Throughout the film, she has been in a battle with herself over these pictures, agonizing over whether she wants to share that part of her life with Francis. However, in that instant, it’s as if all the pieces come together for her. That’s still her in those pictures, she narrates, “A child who was loved.”