For three years, artist and photographer Sean Lee became transgender sex worker Shauna.
As Shauna he weaved his way into the transgender community of Siem Reap’s red light district, making the images above.
He constantly pushed himself to cross more boundaries, shaving all his body hair, putting on false eyelashes, a bra, a wig, taking a year to go from wearing wedges to stilettos. Eventually, he found himself contemplating the ultimate immersion into life as Shauna – having sex with the customer. That was when Lee chose to stop, and retire his alter-ego.
His work was exhibited as part of this year’s@oh_open_house OH! Joo Chiat, an art walk that took participants through the history, culture and sleaze of the neighborhood.
Lee says: “What I learnt was that I actually know nothing. I know nothing about what it must be like to be born into a situation where so much is denied that you actually have to sell your body just to survive.”
This year was the second time I went on an Oh! Open House walk, after exploring the offices of Marina Bay back in 2013. It often strikes me, especially after I have been away for some time, that even though I have lived in this country for most of my 25 years there are still so many neighbourhoods and areas I have yet to explore. The other day, on a bus ride through Woodlands on the way to Johor Bahru, I realised that I have never actually been in a Woodlands housing estate.
Sometimes when I give touristy recommendations to foreign friends, I wish I knew more of these secret spots to tell people about. Recently a friend who lives in Joo Chiat told me the North Korean embassy is across the road from his house. I did not even know we had a North Korean embassy in Singapore, or that when our founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew died, they flew their flag at half mast as well. Singapore is only boring if you don’t know where to look.