Singaporean trans man ‘humbled’ by support, donations for top surgery

Photo: Ilyas Ahmad
Photo: Ilyas Ahmad

For four years, retail worker Ilyas Ahmad had been binding his chest to present himself comfortably in public. But as his testosterone treatments continued, his muscle mass started to grow and it became harder to breathe. 

Ilyas, 28, decided it was time for chest surgery, but the pandemic had affected his income and made it tougher to save money. That was when the GoFundMe fundraising platform came into the picture, where Ilyas hoped he could open his cause up to the world. But would people donate in the middle of a global crisis? 

“‘Nah, no one. It’s the pandemic, no one’s going to have the funds for it,’” Ilyas said of his thinking about the unpublished campaign he created in October before finally plucking the courage to go public weeks later. 

Now he’s nearly reached his funding goal in just a month.

Ilyas has received three-quarters of his US$3,000 target from donors in Singapore and even the United States, exceeding his expectations that it would take a year or two to hit his goal. As of Tuesday, Ilyas had raised US$2,307, putting him on track to get his surgery done within months, subject to changes in travel restrictions due to the coronavirus. 

“I honestly didn’t expect to gain traction so fast and see so much outpouring of support, especially from friends and acquaintances that I know,” Ilyas told Coconuts. “I expected them to share it but not this much of a backing. I was pleasantly surprised and really humbled.”

On the fundraising page, well-wishes like “he is a wonderful person and deserves happiness,” and “all the best pal!” grace the comments. 

Ilyas hopes to go for a double mastectomy procedure with nipple grafts at Malaysia’s Penang Adventist Hospital, where renowned surgeon Danny Oh is known for his work. It was also less expensive to do the surgery in Malaysia than Singapore, where cosmetic surgeries are in the tens of thousands of dollars, according to Ilyas. At the Malaysian hospital of his choice, Ilyas estimated he will only have to spend RM14,600 (about US$3,600), including accommodations. Once the funds he raised are exhausted, Ilyas plans to top-up out of his own pocket. 

Harder to breathe

Ilyas was born female and decided to transition and begin hormone replacement therapy in 2016, but it was only in the last year or so that the previously “skinny” individual started to notice he had put on at least 10 kilograms, causing his chest-binding ritual to become suffocating. With face masks now compulsory due to COVID-19, Ilyas said that he has had to pull the mask down a little to catch his breath, especially when climbing stairs. 

“It usually happens when I’m trying to walk home from work, and I have to walk up a flight of stairs. That’s when I have to move my mask below a bit because it’s difficult to breathe,” he said. Ilyas also suffered from asthma when he was a child. 

“I have my inhaler. I haven’t gotten to the stage when I have to use it yet. I had childhood bronchitis,” he said. 

Ilyas originally had plans to go for the surgery with a friend this year until the coronavirus disrupted everything, forcing the former foodseller and gallery attendant out of work. Galleries, which were considered nonessential, were shut for months. 

Fortunately, Ilyas was able to find a new job in retail during the partial lockdown, but it didn’t pay enough for the surgery. 

“I’ll definitely need help saving this for myself because I only earn so much in a month, and everything, a lot of my money, goes to bills. That’s definitely gonna take a long time for me to save up,” he said. 

Upon reaching his fundraising goal, Ilyas said he would keep the amount until it was OK for him to travel to Malaysia, where he plans to spend his time only at the hospital and the hotel. 

“I’m definitely going to stay as much away as I can from the crowds and just keep to myself,” he said. “Take precautions, mask up, use hand sanitizers. I don’t intend on going sightseeing. Just pack my laptop and stay in the hotel room.” 

Other stories:

French expat captures a Singapore that’s more than ‘country of millionaires’
No Baby in the Corner: Singaporean woman makes name in Latin dance world

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