After having moved to Australia from Singapore in 1996, Suzy Wrong had little hope of appearing on screen as a trans woman – until now.
“Over here I’m an immigrant, I’m an Asian person and then I’m a trans queer person. I felt so outside of the system,” the 47-year-old told HuffPost Australia of the moment she gave up on her acting career almost 25 years ago.
While she was established in Singapore’s theatre scene, she “looked at the faces that were on TV and on the screen in Australia” and “felt like the opportunities were not there” for her.
“I was only in my mid twenties... I found it was going to be too big a fight for me so I left my dreams and ambitions of becoming an actor. I left that behind me for many years.”
But now Suzy can embrace “a new page” in her career, starring in SBS drama, ‘Hungry Ghosts’ which features 30 actors and 325 extras who are Asian Australian.
The show follows three Vietnamese families and an Anglo-Australian family that find themselves haunted by ghosts from the past.
“It feels like I’m in a very important moment in Australian TV,” she said, explaining it’s not just representing the country’s multicultural population, but also the trans community in a “radically different” and more authentic way.
“While we were filming it, I was trying to think of a time when there was an inclusion of a trans character that didn’t require her or him to offer up suffering in exchange for air space or space in a story,” she said.
“Because whenever we are included it seems we have to offer up our struggles.”
In ‘Hungry Ghosts’, her character was different. She played the friend of May Le (Catherine Van-Davies), whose “unique experiences” were “enough”.
“She didn’t have to tell you how she had come to this point. She didn’t have to explain to you or show all the suffering she may have had and it’s a very simple idea really when you put it in these terms,” said the actor.
“It’s important for trans and queer people to see these representations. To see ourselves in a light that was optimistic, that was joyful and that didn’t involve us in anguish.”
After moving to Australia in the mid ’90s to study theatre at university, Suzy soon after found love with an Australian man. She has lived here since and transitioned to female in 2011.
However, the memories of a tough childhood haven’t disappeared. From the age of “four or five” she knew she was different, playing with her mum’s clothing but being told, “you’re wearing trousers”.
“I think homophobia and transphobia is very real and pervasive in many Asian cultures,” she said.
“So in that way I think it was harder for me as a child, as a young person always being told, ‘Don’t be like that, that’s disgusting, that’s unacceptable’ – being told that continuously.”
“People [would] talk to straight people about queer people in a very, very negative and horrible way. Whether you’re queer or not, just in hearing those things are enough to frighten the hell out of you even if you think you may be queer,” she said.
After she transitioned, Suzy started going back to Singapore to visit her elderly father and noticed community members showing greater respect towards her.
“I found also that in many Asian cultures even though there is a strong rejection of queerness, people are able to muster up respect for people who dare to be who they are,” she explained.
That’s exactly what Suzy continues to do while hoping to inspire other trans people to be true to who they are.
‘Hungry Ghosts’ premieres over four consecutive nights, Monday 24 August – Thursday 27 August at 9:30pm on SBS.