Some Women wants you to look. In fact, for trans women in Singapore, being seen is of paramount importance. Visibility affords currency, makes way for understanding and acceptance, and, in turn, grants agency, even freedom. Conversely, to be looked at also means being vulnerable, putting yourself at risk of rejection and persecution (violent and otherwise), and possibly losing everything you hold dearly. Some Women bravely sits at this intersection — of the desire to be seen and its corollary fear — and, in doing so, offers an intimate and unflinching examination of just how singular the journey to womanhood really is.
The documentary opens with a shot of director Quen Wong's back to the camera as she gazes across the plush green space within a bustling metropolitan island, a signal that this is her journey and we’re coming along for the ride. Indeed, Some Women, Wong’s feature debut, is a deep-dive into her past and present as a trans woman. She invites us into her home to bear witness to the key relationships in her life, from her loving partner to her now-understanding father. Additionally, Wong takes us through the multi-generational community of trans women in Singapore, positioning their experiences alongside the conservative state’s own history of progress (and lack thereof).
What’s most remarkable about Some Women is the relationship between the camera and the subject. Too often, documentaries that dive into marginalized communities feel extractivist in nature, mining feeling and narrative — and ultimately profit — from its subject(s) with little care or regard for giving back. Some Women effectively rejects these formalities. The footage is rough and raw, precisely for the better. Furthermore, there's a child-like wonder to the way the camera moves through each space (courtesy of cinematographer Wan Ping Looi) that befits Wong’s inquisition of the other trans women’s womanhoods. It’s not that she’s looking for an exemplar of womanhood, but rather she seeks confirmation of her thesis: “Some women simply start their lives as a boy.”
From shame to celebration, Some Women runs the gamut of the queer person’s emotional experience. The most touching bits involve Wong’s reconciliation with her past self via its revelation to her partner. It’s extraordinary what Wong has accomplished, both with the film and in her own journey. That we are able to glimpse into it is nothing short of a privilege.
The Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival is in-person and online from November 9 to 20.