Wardrobe: Christian Dior Fall/ Winter Collection 2005/2006 Hair Stylist: Thomas Cheah from Headline Saloon (03-21420515) Image Stylist: Smyth Wong from Hock Star Entertainment Industry Berhad Venue: Eastin Hotel
Harisu: ‘I know I was born a boy but it was just natural for me to be the way I am.’
THE transformation was incredible. Just a few minutes earlier, during the photo shoot, Harisu was playing the femme fatale in a heavy embroidered Christian Dior black jacket that showed off her long, slender legs.
Now for our interview, she is the coy beauty. Wearing an adorable pink cotton pyjamas, she has her naked legs covered with a blanket. Her silky long brunette tresses are worn down, framing her lovely heart-shaped face. Her porcelain complexion is flawless (her secret: spicy food).
“What did you think of the photo shoot?” I asked.
“I looked old,” she noted glumly.
She is being too hard on herself. She was such a stunner that it is hard to believe she used to be a he. The only giveaway is her deep timbre voice.
Four years ago, Harisu starred in an advertisement for a South Korean cosmetic company. In the ad, she is gazing at the camera. She then breaks into laughter, tilting her head back to reveal an Adam’s apple. It later became known that the Adam’s apple was computer generated. The advertisement created a huge sensation, especially when she went public with the fact that she is a transsexual.
Harisu was born Lee Kyung-yup in Seongnam, near Seoul. Her stage name Harisu is a Korean adaptation of the English phrase ‘hot issue’. Since she was young, she has always seen herself as a female.
“I know I was born a boy but it was just natural for me to be the way I am. I preferred playing with dolls instead of sports. I never had a girlfriend, just boyfriends. My mother knew.”
She recounted a time when she introduced her high school boyfriend as her husband to her mother.
“She told me that I couldn’t have a husband. Men have wives. I said I am a woman. So I need a husband (chuckles).
“Even my siblings (she has three sisters and a brother) knew. When you have lived and grown up together, you know.”
Harisu in a traffic-stopping number from Christian Dior.
But not her father, though he may have had his suspicions. “He was always saying, “You’re a boy. Why is it that you behave like a girl?” she mimicked while laughing.
Her father was the last in the family to find out that his youngest son had become a she, two years after her surgery. He was watching TV when he saw her Japanese commercial. According to Harisu, he was not angry.
“When I was growing up, he often looked at me and said, “Why do you look like a girl?” Maybe in his own way he knew.”
Even her peers in school constantly remarked how much she looked like a girl. “Some even wanted to kiss me on my cheek!”
There was never a question in Harisu’s mind that she would undergo gender reassignment surgery. She began saving up money when she was 16 and at 23, went under the knife – once in South Korea and another in Japan. Aside from the breast enhancement and gender reassignment procedures, Harisu revealed that the only other surgery she had done was to her nose.
“The funny thing is if I didn’t go for the operations, the public wouldn’t have accepted me if I remained a man,” she mused.
She also had her name and gender status legally changed. The 30-year-old now goes by the more feminine name Lee Kyung-eun.
After spending two years in Japan, where she modelled and studied hair design, Harisu returned home in 2000. She continued her modelling work but no one was the wiser about her transgender status.
That is until the commercial came out. Everyone in the modelling industry was shocked, none more so than her then boyfriend of seven years.
“I never told him before because I didn’t think I had to. When we were dating, he always said he wanted to marry me. He called me after watching the commercial. He wasn’t angry. He still loved me and wanted to marry me. But it wasn't time to settle down yet,” she explained. They remain good friends.
For the moment, the actress-singer-author (she has penned two books – her autobiography Harisu, Eve from Adam and Goddess of Metamorphosis) wants to concentrate on her career. Marriage plans will have wait until the next five years.
“I do want to have my own family although there are times when I think that if I should live the rest of my life alone, it would be okay too.”
Interviewing Harisu is a breeze. No topic is too sensitive to talk about and she is delightfully candid.
“Even if I don’t talk about it, people who don’t know me will just assume things. As a result, so many lies have been said. When you want to know someone, ask.”
She then asked if I wanted to see pictures of her when she was a boy. She showed me a website where several photos of her in her younger days are posted. The person in them and the one seated before me could not be more different. Even the pictures tickled her. She started giggling and clapping her hands in delight.
Harisu admitted that she enjoys reading about herself though some reports have painted her in a negative light. “I do get sad and angry but I understand where they are coming from because I do it too. Whenever I dislike something or someone, I would be honest about it. I have been told that not everyone will like me and it is true. If everyone likes someone, the person must be God.”