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The history and subculture surrounding transgender people in Singapore is substantial.[1] As with LGBT rights in the country in general, transgender rights in Singapore have also evolved significantly over time, including various laws and public attitudes in regards to identity documents, as well as anti-discrimination measures used by or pertaining to transgender people, in the areas of employment, education, housing and social services, amongst others.[1]

Gender-affirming surgery is legal in the country since 1973, the first country in Asia to legalise it. However, a citizen of Singapore is only able to change their legal sex after undergoing gender-affirming surgery, being physically examined by a relevant practitioner (such as an endocrinologist or plastic surgeon), and being found that genitalia has been completely changed. A change in gender marker applies to most government documents, including the NRIC and passport, only excluding the birth certificate (if the citizen was born in Singapore). In 1996, marriage was also legalised for transgender people.[2]


Right to change legal name Right to change legal gender Right to access medical treatment Right to marry Military service
Yes Deed poll and statutory declaration available Yes Since 1973 Yes Always legal Yes Since 1996, after an amendment was made to the Women's Charter Yes Since the 1990s[a]


National service

Transgender individuals who have undergone sex reassignment surgery (SRS) do not need to serve National Service. However due to the difficulty of transitioning early, only a very small percentage of transgender people in Singapore undergo SRS before having to enter National Service. It is possible for transgender people to be exempted from National Service despite not undergoing sex reassignment surgery. However, this is mostly up to the medical-officer in charge and varies case by case. In general, transgender women that look like cisgender women have a much higher chance of being exempted.[3]

Sex reassignment surgery

Sexual reassignment surgery in Singapore are only conducted by approved gynecologists, such as Shan Ratnam. Surgery on genitalia had been done prior to 1971 but only for patients who had both male and female reproductive organs.[4]

The first sexual reassignment surgery, a male to female sex reassignment surgery, was done in July 1971 at Kandang Kerbau Hospital. The person was a 24-year-old Chinese Singaporean and had extensively cross dressed by her grandmother when young and then frequent the transgender scene in her teen years. She underwent psychological analysis by psychiatrists to be suitable for the surgery and legal approval was obtained from the Ministry of Health.[2][5]

In 1974, Ratnam also headed a team of surgeon to perform the first female to male sex reassignment surgery in Singapore[6] and probably the first in Southeast Asia,[7] was also offered at Kandang Kerbau Hospital and at Alexandra Hospital. A Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) and Gender Reassignment Surgery Clinic were set up at the National University Hospital two decades later. It was headed by Ratnam. For 30 years, Singapore was one of the world leaders in SRS, performing more than 500 such operations.[when?]

Transitioning as a minor

Permission from guardians is required for those under 21 to undergo transition, but hormone replacement therapy is not available for those under 18. It should be of note that minors transitioning face challenges in the school system, with a lack of accommodations for issues such as bathroom choice and school uniforms.[8]

Legal reforms

In 1973, Singapore legalised SRS. A policy was instituted to enable post-operative transgender people to change the legal gender on their National Registration Identity Card (NRIC) but not their birth certificates[9] and other documents which flowed from that. There was no specific provision in the statutes which allowed the Registrar to do this, so it existed probably only at the level of a policy directive.

Transgender marriage

Before 1996, Singapore legally did not allow transgender marriage but it was implicitly allowed before 1991.[10] Before 1991, the Registry of Marriages (ROM) only verify the gender of couples based on their legal gender recorded on the NRIC which can be changed after a successful SRS.[9]

In 1991, a woman successfully received an annulment of her marriage with her husband after failing to have sex on their wedding night. Later, she discovered that her spouse was transgender and subsequently filed for divorce. As a response, ROM began requiring couples to produce their birth certificates (of which gender markers are inalterable) during declaration of their intent of marriage. In the aftermath of the divorce, a High Court ruled in the same year that transgender people cannot be married in Singapore.[11]

In 1996, a bill was presented before the Parliament of Singapore to amend the Women's Charter.

The minister moving the bill argued that since 1973, the government's intention was for people who had changed gender/sex to live a life according to their new gender, including the right to marry. Through an oversight, the law relating to marriage had not been re-aligned with the official policy to recognise sex reassignment surgery. In a lawsuit in the courts of Singapore, a landmark case in which a woman sought and won the annulment of her marriage to a trans man (Lim Ying v Hiok Kian Ming Eric), it was necessary to amend the Women's Charter to ensure that the original intent was not undermined.

On 24 January 1996, Minister for Community Development Abdullah Tarmugi announced that post-operative transgender people are allowed to marry opposite-sex spouses.[2]

See also



  1. ^ a b Kaan, Terry Sheung-Hung (22 December 2015). "Singapore". The Legal Status of Transsexual and Transgender Persons: 391–424. doi:10.1017/9781780685588.019. ISBN 9781780685588. Retrieved 6 June 2023.
  2. ^ a b c Chan Meng Choo (2011). "First sex reassignment surgery". Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board. Archived from the original on 1 June 2019. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  3. ^ "Reply to Media Queries on Transgender Individual Serving NS". Ministry of Defence. 1 May 2016. Retrieved 17 September 2022. All male Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents above the age of 18 years are required to serve National Service (NS) if they are medically fit. Those who are legally declared female will not be required to serve NS.
  4. ^ Yeo, Joseph (31 July 1971). "First sex change surgery in S'pore". The Straits Times. p. 17.
  5. ^ Tan, Wee Lian (11 November 1971). "They're still 'misters' despite sex change". The Straits Times. p. 8 – via NewspaperSG.
  6. ^ Kwee, Masie (20 October 1974). "S'pores first sex change woman". The Straits Times. p. 1. Retrieved 3 September 2023 – via NewspaperSG.
  7. ^ Kwee, Masie (25 February 1975). "4 WOMEN AWAIT SEX CHANGE OPERATION". The Straits Times. p. 4. Retrieved 3 September 2023 – via NewspaperSG.
  8. ^ "Trans Healthcare in Singapore".
  9. ^ a b "Sex-change cases can get new ICs". The Straits Times. 3 November 1986. p. 13. Retrieved 3 September 2023 – via NewspaperSG.
  10. ^ Goh, Teng Teng (26 January 1996). "They were allowed to wed before". The New Paper. p. 9.
  11. ^ "'I do' — and no need to state gender at birth". The Straits Times. 30 August 1996. p. 6. Retrieved 3 September 2023 – via NewspaperSG.

Further reading