Joleen to Joe: I've never been more at home (China Daily)

Long before Joe Wong surgically removed his breasts and uterus, he was Joleen, who once used an entire roll of brown duct tape to flatten her chest in an effort to look less feminine at her new secondary school in Singapore.

A close relative, angered by her clumsy and obvious attempt to bind her breasts, struck her on the head, pulled up her shirt and tore off the tape, ripping off bits of skin in the process.

Joleen endured a childhood of daily beatings from this relative, a knife pressed to her face, a death threat, and forced therapy with an expensive counselor who told her she was “disgusting” for kissing and holding hands with girls.

“When you get beaten every day, you no longer feel the pain, you just feel numb,” said Wong, now a 31-year-old transgender man working with the Asia Pacific Transgender Network rights group in Bangkok.

Across Asia, which is largely patriarchal and conservative, the violence lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people face is often from their own families, who beat them to make them conform and maintain the social balance, experts say.

Homosexual acts are illegal in 78 countries around the world, punishable by jail time in places including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore, according to the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association.

Such laws drive stigma and discrimination, and essentially condone family violence, though the problem remains hidden, glimpsed through many anecdotes but little data, activists say.

To escape the beatings and find a sense of belonging, LGBT people in Asia flock to cities in their own country, and increasingly _ with the Internet and social media easing migration for jobs and gay marriage_many are leaving their home country altogether.

“I’ve never been more at home than now, even though I’m not at home,” Wong said, his deep voice, broad shoulders and mustache betraying no sign of his childhood as a girl.

“I removed everything that was bringing me down. I removed the toxic people in my life. Now it’s just me and my problems that I have to confront,” said Wong, who did not identify the abusive relative to avoid further straining family ties.

“I feel really liberated,” he said as he sipped a fruit shake in a quiet cafe.

A key reason for family violence against LGBT people in Asia – and the way this region differs from other parts of the world – is the “family shame factor”, says Ging Cristobal, the Asia-Pacific project coordinator for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

(China Daily 04/10/2015 page11)