Andrea Razali never considered herself to be a female model or a pageant queen when she was an overweight boy. Though she had discovered her feminine side at a young age, the idea that she was a woman in a man’s body was unimaginable.
While fantasising about being a woman, it was easier to identify as a homosexual. Tuning in to America’s Next Top Model on TV would transport her to that happy place. “I would sneak into my mum’s closet when she wasn’t home, try on her heels and scarves, and pretend I was at a photo shoot using my dad’s digicam,” she laughs.
Almost nine years ago, she transitioned into a woman after being introduced to the trans-world by a gay friend in Australia. Since then, she’s graced the covers of local fashion rags and was Miss International Queen Singapore 2020 — the trans equivalent of Miss Universe Singapore.
In the first year of my transition, my mum said: ‘Why do you want to be a woman? Being a woman is so difficult. It’s easier being a man.’ I did not understand what she meant until I had lived as a woman for five years.Andrea Razali
Today, the transgender and LGBT rights advocate works to raise awareness of the transgender community and encourage her peers to “live their truth”. She is also pursuing a psychology course so she can help the community.
“The fashion industry has become a lot more open to non-binary and transgender models. Now, diversity is a powerful message. It’s so beautiful that uniqueness is celebrated,” says Andrea.
Though Andrea’s parents come from a traditional Muslim background, they have gradually come to accept her. “I don’t blame them because they come from a society where religion is strong, and everything is explained with religion,” she adds.
Apart from that, one of her biggest struggles was finding her place in a society where women are routinely defined by the gaze of men. This gender disparity came as a shock to the bridal industry professional, especially because she had been financially independent since a young age as a makeup artist.
“In the first year of my transition, my mum said: ‘Why do you want to be a woman? Being a woman is so difficult. It’s easier being a man.’ I did not understand what she meant until I had lived as a woman for five years,” she recalls.
According to Andrea, her ex-husband had preconceived notions about the role of a woman and wife in society. The more she tried to stand her ground, the more abusive her marriage became. Divorce was as liberating as it was inevitable.
Apart from her makeup gigs and her business selling luxury wigs, extensions, and false eyelashes, Andrea’s current focus is to empower her community. As an example, she has introduced trans beauty pageantry to Singapore as the director of the new national pageant Miss Equality World Singapore.
“Having been one myself, I could appreciate the value being a pageant queen could bring others, as well as the long-term impact on a community,” says Andrea. She adds that transitioning from a privileged male into a non-privileged trans woman, who’s had to work twice as hard to prove herself, is akin to being reborn. “Twice!” she says.
“After my gender reassignment surgery in Bangkok, I was recuperating in my hotel suite. I was high on morphine, but my mind was at peace. I remember thinking, ‘After years of turmoil, I have finally become the woman I am’.”
“Now, five years after my divorce, I am finally the woman I was always meant to be.”
Photography: Mun Kong
Grooming: Keith Bryant Lee using Estée Lauder and OUAI