A year ago, we committed to a range that celebrates multiple sizes and we asked our #mattertribe to be a part of a community shoot. One of the questions that often surface up for brands is how involved should we get in politics? As a team and brand grounded on the pillars of social change and equality, we felt we wanted to do our part in becoming more involved and vocal in the existing conversations of our community. June was Pride Month, a time to celebrate the impact the LGBTQIA+ community has had on the world and to commemorate the ones before who’ve fought hard for the progress today. Which is why for this year’s community shoot, we wanted to celebrate people who are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community in Singapore, to celebrate their stories and spotlight the existing conversations here.
What’s your “story”? What do you need the world to know about you?
My name is Norah Lea. It means light and honour and it is a name that I gave to me myself. I am a transgender Malay girl who believes in the power of being able to see ourselves through visual means and creating spaces for myself and people like myself, instead of trying to occupy spaces we’ve been traditionally denied entry to. Other than that, I’m really just a normal girl who likes pop music, dancing and watching films and just want other people like myself to also feel like we can go through life without necessarily trying to be out of the ordinary.
As a multi-disciplinary artist, a lot of your work explores themes like gender, sexuality and ethnicity. What is the intention behind this, and what are some of the works you’re most proud of?
As I mentioned earlier, a lot of my work is basically about occupying spaces that I want to create for people like myself. The work that I hold closest to my heart is In Love, a work in which I went into a simulated relationship with my classmate. It was after this body of work that I fully came to terms with my gender identity and that it was something that I could no longer hide from myself or the world. I am currently working on a compilation (I want to say anthology but not really sure if this is the right term either) of writings called Homesick. I think at the end of the day, my practice is really about my desire to belong to the world.
What was a pivoting point in your journey to self acceptance and celebration?
In Love might have been the turning point in which I could no longer see myself as cisgender gay man but to accept that I was very much transgender. I guess with regards to self acceptance, it might have come in much later and I want to say it’s still a journey that I am on. There is this beautiful quote by writer and activist Angela Davis “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I cannot accept.” and for me that’s pretty much my motto in life. I don’t believe in acceptance and validation of myself in the eyes of others, but instead to create spaces for people like myself more accessible so we can be on our own journeys of self-acceptance together. Having a support system of people who know where you’re coming really helps too. People who know where you’re coming from will allow space for you to grow in every sense of that word, including making space for you to make mistakes.
What are some materials (books, movies, articles or otherwise) you’d recommend for people to engage with to learn more about LGBTQIA+ culture?
This list is definitely not comprehensive, but are some of my favourites:
1. The Invisible Manuscript by Alfian Saat
2. I Will Survive: Personal Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Stories in Singapore by Math Paper Press
3. Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde
5. Paris Is Burning
6. The Manifesto of Queer Communism by School of Theory and Activism- Bishkek
7. On Being Fat, Brown, Ugly, Femme and Unlovable by Caleb Luna
Section 377A is an unjust law that punishes the LGBTQIA+ community, and it is an extension of all other forms of discrimination the community faces in Singapore. In your opinion, why should the Parliament hold themselves accountable in repealing this law?
Maybe I’m jaded, or naive. But I believe that we give our own governments power. We deserve the governments we vote for. I don’t believe that we need to necessarily wait for our government for us to give the green light just to legalise gay. What are we doing on a grassroots level to educate everyday people? How do you explain “queer” to a mother who works night the night shift and still have to send her kids to school in the morning? The mother who has no time to read thinkpieces or hear personal experiences that are written in a language that is too complicated to understand. What are we doing to help people to unlearn? I believe in the power of the people. I believe in just being unapologetic, taking up space, celebrating our existences until people realise that it is time for them to change and join the party as well.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability, when it really comes to it, is about caring. A lot of sustainable movements make it seem like the Earth is a separate entity from humanity when we are essentially part of Earth too. Sustainability is about taking responsibility. Taking care of the Earth also means taking care of strangers across the world that you will never know in your life but should care for too.
What is the relationship you have with your clothes?
I don’t really buy much clothes. I wear the same 5 polo tees and rotate 2 pairs of pants weekly. I have more feminine clothes that are often donated by other people. I think having the basics and a few statement pieces are all you need really. Longevity of the material is really important too. The 5 polo tees I have, I have been wearing them since 2015.
Means ethical practices and sustainable material. It means less exploitation of labour in developing countries. It means getting material in ways that will not result in environmental degradation that will take away from the livelihoods of people who depend directly on their environment for food and water.
What is one thing you stand for and believe in, and why?
From a young age, I have always believed in seeing the kindness of strangers. In believing that there is always goodness in others and the potential of humanity, no matter how much our own actions betray us. I believe in others, because others may not have necessarily believed in me.
What’s your advice to ______? Fill in that blank, and then fill in your advice.
My advice to people who like men: if he wanted to give you attention, he would let you know. Go ahead and enjoy your day. You’re good on your own, sis.
We are proud to have Norah Lea as a Fieldtester, a group of inspiring individuals that test MATTER products in their everyday journeys of passion, to help us improve durability and design. Norah is wearing our Classic Blazer and Easy Dhoti + Indus Arrow Noir as a matching set in size 2, and the Simple Shirt Dress + Vaya in size 2.