A Valuable Lesson from a Mak Nyah

A realisation of subconscious prejudices.

Today, a mak nyah taught me a very valuable lesson. I went to a salon I had never been to before to get my hair trimmed. As I walked past the salon, I spotted a mak nyah sitting at a couch in the salon. Somehow, I knew that he (or she) was one of the hairstylists there.

At that instant, I turned back to where I came from.

Then the inner rational Derek said in my head, “It’s just a trim, nothing will hurt.”

So I retraced my steps and entered the salon, hoping that another hairstylist will cut my hair instead of the mak nyah.

I went up to the counter where two Malay ladies, whom I assumed to be the salon workers, were standing.

“Nak potong rambut.” [“I’d like a haircut”]

All I got were blank stares from two pairs of eyes. Perhaps it was what I wore; a white tee with an image of a monkey wearing headphones, paired with white Hawaiian floral shorts. I continued standing there like a fool, until one of them pointed me to, no prizes for guessing, the mak nyah himself/herself.

At that point, goosebumps crept up in me.

He/she then beckoned me to sit.

A mak nyah (Source: lifemag.blogspot.com)

A mak nyah (Source: lifemag.blogspot.com)

“Nak potong macam mana?” [“How would you like it cut?”]

“Potong tepi, atas dengan belakang trim saja. Pastu layer.” [“Cut the sides, just trim the top and back. Then layer.”]

The mak nyah then touched me with his/her fingers as he/she placed the Schwarzkopf cloth on me. Physical contact with a mak nyah.

At that moment, my palms turned cold. My body felt as though blood rushed out from it. I felt… disgusted.

He/she then started snipping away the clump on my head that I call my hair. Snip, snip, snip.

I closed my eyes, afraid to look him/her in the eyes as the mirror reflected our images. Afraid to look at him/her at all, scared that he/she will get offended and scratch me to death (or whatever style of torture) for staring at him/her like an alien.

Let me tell you about the mak nyah.

Implants, fake eyelashes, dyed hair, red top, white short shorts, lipstick, high heels — typical look like the infamous “sisters” of Lorong Haji Taib, Chow Kit.

To cut a long story short, I loved my hair cut and thanked him/her. TWICE.

But as I sat on the train, as I showered in the bathroom back home — I couldn’t help but reflect on the incident today.

Why?

Why did I feel the irrational fear I had?

Why was there a degree of disgust when the mak nyah touched me?

Why did I look at him/her with prejudiced eyes?

Why the hesitance to step into the salon when I saw the mak nyah inside?

Why did I feel such a plethora of emotions that I never had in all my visits to a hair salon?

Why?

The mak nyah taught me a lesson.

We look at people with discriminatory prejudices, we “label” the people we meet, we fill up a “report card” in our heads, we place people in jars and categories.

We judge people.

But who are we to judge?

Why do we judge, why do we discriminate?

Malays, Chinese, Indians, mak nyahs, spinsters, nerds, jocks, sluts, gays.

Why do we see people with prejudice-tinted lenses?  Why do we define the actions or behaviour of people according to the “categories” that they belong to?

Malays, Chinese, Indians, mak nyahs, spinsters, nerds, jocks, sluts, gays.

At the end of the day, who my hairstylist was did not matter. A Malay, a Chinese, an Indian, a mak nyah, a spinster, a nerd, a jock, or a slut. It didn’t matter at all, because at the end of the day, he/she did a good job with my hair.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Love the sinner, reject the sin.”

The Apostle Paul once wrote, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.”

Derek is a leap-year baby who plans to read law. Mathematically, he is only four-years old, but people believe that he is actually an old, bald man disguised in the body of an 18-year old. A sufferer of severe split personality disorder, he changes personas according to the weather. Passionate for this country, he believes that all change starts with the man in the mirror. He is very single, but also not very available because his mum thinks he’s too young to date. He also believes that there is something greater than Lord Bobo. Faced with the challenge of writing this blurb, his palms started sweating. And he yelled,”BOOMSHAKALAKA!”


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Derek is a leap-year baby who is currently reading law. He is single but not available because his mum thinks that he’s too young to date. Follow his frivolous, inane and meaningless Tweets at @derekqiren.

Posted on 8 January 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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25 Responses to A Valuable Lesson from a Mak Nyah

  1. Nice heart written short story. Thanks for sharing your nice thoughts with us and stay blessed

  2. Pingback: Sex and Gender: Born with it or perceived to be it? | LoyarBurok

  3. Dear bro

    Good Writing. Keep on write. Hope you remember me. I teach you IT (Sangseri) Good Luck

  4. Mekyam,

    Thank you so much for your comment!

    "The unexamined life is not worth living" -Socrates.

    Trying to apply that ;)

    Yes, I was very happy with my haircut that day!

  5. mekyam

    thank you for that courageous sharing, derek. i think your epiphany was self-evident.

    kudoz really, to be so introspective at 18. most people go through their whole life without once reflecting on their likes and dislikes, never mind trying to make sense of an irrational prejudice.

    p.s. where i live, most hairsalons are unisex and many of their professionals are "nyahs". they seem to be really talented at improving people's appearances. :D

  6. nyah

    @Prof. Dr. Ir. Chong Tat Meng (prolly fake nick to smear the real Chong Tat Meng) is racist, and wants to create 'Nyah-hate' in a subversive way. Sick.

  7. Prof. Dr. Ir. Chong

    Good writing by the author.

    I used to have that feeling too when the hairy Indian barber (with hairy chest) hand touch me.

    And I am not there for a haircut.

  8. Darrell, well I say "good for you" if you don't have any problems with Maknyahs. Unfortunately, I don't have the same good luck as you do in that department of life. I am only expressing my own views on my/our subconscious prejudices which are often irrational.

    Adriene, thank you so much for your generous compliments.

    Captain Obvious, as Voltaire once wrote, " I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to death your right to say it."

    K, well Darrell has every right to call me a kid or a Maknyah if he wants to :P I am after all only four-years old, hehe. Thank you so much for your words!

  9. K

    Darrell, our friend Derek here is just sharing what he thinks. He's not preaching any prejudices around. So don't worry, you won't be sucked into the "prejudicial blackhole". Good to know that you have no problems with "maknyahs".

    Btw, why did you called him a kid? You have no problems with "MakNyahs" but i think you have a problem with kids sharing their views.

    Anyway, Great Job Derek! :)

  10. Captain Obvious

    See alot of the time the sheep do not voice their opinions, as in us the people, we are too readily accepting that we have to give up some real freedom in exchange for some peace of mind i.e. knowing someone is going to protect us – goverments. But is it so wrong if the people simply do not say anything, essentially choose to be a willing pushover? Or should we voice up like loyarburok, a platform for the young, the ideal to share their thoughts and their many opinions.

    No, actually it all wouldn't really matter from an existentialist point of view, don't you think? Because in trying to bring equality and common understanding, loyarburok is still really but a point of view, one of a probably self-justified persona, judging other way of lives and telling what should be and what should be not. Hasn't it then suddenly become a barrier, a tripping stone to empathy?

    No, the thing is if we have an opinion, we should be brave to voice it, because no matter how twisted, it is still an organic idea you have, and with time, people will soon to come to understand it and ultimately respect it – diversity. You have to realise the moment you are voicing, you are already starting a revolution, for your dreams, your ambitions and ultimately – reality. For example, my understanding of Lady Gaga is that she is just here to challenge our perceptions, and soon with time, we get more comfortable with the idea, and look at it know, you have to admit you do find her abit of a passe/attention whore. And we must learn to respect the others without letting our own opinions be overpowered. It's good to judge, because its only natural, but it's acceptance that we have to learn.

    So to Pang, I must admit I've already judged you for being judgemental in finding the author judgemental at first sight. In your own word : " I am still curious what made you first judge and react the way you did. " The simple answer, the author's just humnan like us, we judge, we rationalise, then we voice our opinion. So I hope you all can accept I'm judgemental, and so are you. Respect your nature.

    That's said, Captain Obvious will have to sign off now.

  11. adriene

    derek, nice short story from the heart. thanks for sharing.

  12. Darrell

    Hey Kid,

    YOU are the one being prejudice la. Don't drag US into it. I have no problems at all with MakNyah's

  13. Ruzaini and Billy, thanks for your generous comments! :)

    Billy, the mak nyah who cut my hair is no longer there. You can give it a shot though. It's located in KL Sentral.

    Nana, thanks for your insight esp. the literature standpoint. Will try to apply that for my future posts!

    Hatz-off and SiewChin, ah but isn't that a form of discrimination/prejudice already? Perhaps, it is also the very reason why the Maknyah community suffers social stigma in M'sia. It is almost inevitable that a cloistered life might foster certain prejudices and stereotypes, eh? Even a nun or hermit living such a life will not be free from such hypocrisy/prejudices, eh?

  14. Pang,

    Being afraid to offend, I opted for the safe pronoun of “he/she”. Why? Well, back in school we had some maknyahs coming in to train the dikir barat team. They wished to be referred to as “Abang”. As I am a young inexperienced kid, hence the he/she. ;) Forgive me if I’m wrong or have offended anyone through my use of the pronouns.

    Well, to examine the root causes needs another article eh? To put it in a nutshell, I say that my prejudices stemmed from society’s prejudices of the maknyah community; prejudices that were drummed into me by my parents, the media, teachers in school etc.

    I agree with you that I should have pondered more on the questions that I posed though. I should have said more on what I reflected personally, rather than leave it hanging. Rest assured though, I have done some self-reflection. Pardon me then for not sharing them.

    I guess what I was trying to do was simply sharing my personal thoughts during that incident. It really hit me how irrational my/our fears and prejudices are.

    Thanks for your comment, Pang! “Saya budak baru belajar, kalau salah tolong tunjukkan.”

  15. errrr ATD – “Argree” ???

    Arrr. Typo.

    and the word is ’salon’ –

    Thx! Either are words I don't use alot.

    A toad describes those who are human rights abusers, and truth is not to be mistaken for venom.

    @just

    A judge is nothing democratic without a jury.

  16. siewchinteo

    errrr ATD – "Argree" ???

    and the word is 'salon' as opposed to the watering-hole of the cowboys.

    No problem with a cloistered life for the sake of diversity as long as it does not propagate prejudices or arrogance or ignorance.

    And i'm a poison toad who knows well enough to stay under my tempurung than venture out to spit venom. lol

  17. just

    ppl judge because they always think they are the ONE.

    ppl judge because they didnt feel.

    ppl judge because they taught by someone who called them tself"perfect".

    ppl judge because they dont want to compare.

    ppl judge because they felt god always with them and they always think they right.

    ppl judge because they FORGOT!..

  18. The term 'he', might yet be valid for the heterotype Nyahs who are indulging in 'female form' (some do get lost in it). While 'she' is preferred for the bi-type or homo-type Nyah. 'It' is mostly for the 'furry' or particularly naughty Nyahs (Don't ask lol). If you go Nyah enough times, cosplay and cats come to mind, though not all Nyahs are catlike in nature . . .

    Would still like for ladies only saloons, female stylists only unisex saloons, or mixed gender stylist saloons to exist and also the 'all male only' barbers/shavers, like the single gender boarding school quite elite, save for the fact 'all male only' (which virtually don't exist by default anymore except for the no frills Indian ones) where men who are secure of their sexuality enough, to actually WANT to be attended by men, just to cater to all preferences.

    In retrospect, Derek should prefer the all female staffed version. And a cloistered life is as valid an option as any if not just to ensure diversity.

  19. evolutionarybiologis

    Why do we judge, why do we discriminate?

    —THE EGO—–

  20. Hatz_off

    As much as it is their right to be whatever sex they presumably want to be, it is your right also to be apprehensive about them. Though, as long as they dont do anything to you, then dont do anything to them.

  21. siewchinteo

    it is great Derek realises what prejudices are at age 18…

    some don't realise it even at age 80 – is a cloistered life an excuse at this day and age?

  22. @Pang : I think this article would have more impact showing how irrational the fear was if the writer actually ended the article with a definite SHE or HER to emphasize the indecisiveness he/she throughout. From a literature standpoint, but I'm just rambling. :p

  23. Pang

    You should refer to the Mak Nyah by the pronoun that SHE would prefer, just as you would like to be referred to as a HE.

    But thanks for the little bit of honesty. But I think you could be pushed a little further along this train of self-reflexivity if you actually answered some of the questions you posed:

    "Why did I feel the irrational fear I had?

    Why was there a degree of disgust when the mak nyah touched me?

    Why did I look at him/her with prejudiced eyes?"

    You didn't answer the questions this time. You avoided them and went for platitudes. It is good of course to know that sometimes you don't need to know everything before standing by a clear principle: that we shouldn't judge no matter what. But I am still curious what made you first judge and react the way you did. That could perhaps help those who feel the same as you understand why they feel that way before coming by your epiphany.

  24. Derek, I fully agree with you that we tend to view other people from our prism of prejudice. It is even more sad to see some of these fine people being criminalised by our government, especially UMNO. Tell me the name and location of the salon. It's time I need a trim anyway.

  25. Brilliant observation. Perhaps the time is apt for us to be mature in our relations with others.