#LoyarEqual: The Struggles of Trans-Feminism in Malaysia

Perhaps the biggest question a person needs to ponder before they can consider themselves a transsexual feminist is, if the ideology of feminism is to go head on against the notion that biology determines destiny, then how would one determine transsexual feminism when a reassignment on biological sex changes the individual destiny of a person? A transsexual’s fortunes and opportunities shifts negatively over the course of transition especially for transsexual females, and it provides clear evidence of how an uninformed Malaysia society still views sex and gender according to very narrow and limited terms, and just how under privileged transsexual females are in comparison to other genders.

Transsexual feminism is a topic that had never been discussed in the LGBT sphere, because it is often incorporated as activism in the main core movement to the point it has been largely ignored. The fight to gain rights for transsexuals has often been slow, overshadowed by sex work, and the inability to gain prominent ground of authority in mainstream society. This is not helped by non-transsexual individuals such as drag queens and transvestic fetishists who further blur the lines of gender by creating caricatures of men in dresses.

The terms “pondan” and “mak nyah” are poorly defined and used interchangeably to mean anything between effeminate men to cross-dressers to transsexual females by both LGBT groups and the general public, leaving question marks as to whose cause is fought for to get equal rights. Transsexual females are primary victims of male dominance, and the failure to properly self-identify would smother their female identity when making any case for transsexual females, if society is constantly confused into thinking that transsexual females are still men.

The notion of transsexual females having male privilege is negated by the lack of basic rights and opportunities upon transition, while being viewed as “lesser men” or “neither here nor there” instead of women, upsets the balance of a patriarchal society, opening doors to fear and hatred. Some women’s spaces do not allow the presence of transsexual females, ranging from lesbian gatherings organized by certain groups, to washrooms at office blocks and factory sites. There are known cases of transsexual females being barred from entering train coaches for women, and ejected from clubs and entertainment outlets.

Sex work has been used as a major tool of oppression and subjugation, devouring any efforts to start transsexual feminism. Proponents attempt to legalize sex work and suggest attempts to penalize sex work lead to social conformity and surrenders the ability to choose for ones body. However, an overwhelming percentage of transsexual female sex workers based on current research, questions the validity of a choice factor that affirms any positivism in sex work, as it walks right into traps of power dynamics. Society would also ask whether the majority of transsexual females are able to do any decent work task other than sex, and the answer usually wrecks the chances of potential transsexual females in any given workforce.

While many transsexual sex workers moonlight by choice, some sex workers have turned to sex work due to the lack of education, knowledge and work experience that count them out of many industries. Many transsexual females especially in predominantly Muslim populated areas have been thrown out of homes and disowned by families, some not managing to finish their studies, leaving them unprepared to face any working environment. Once they spent their years on the streets, they would then have settled and allied themselves with their cliques at the fringes of society, and it would be difficult for them to adapt back to the harsh realities of the world. For many, they fail to develop discipline, motivation, and ambition, as they are caught in an endless hopeless loop with no direction.

Religion and faith also puts a strain into transsexual females’ lives and minds, causing emotional distress. The frontal lobe of the brain of human beings only develop around the age of 25; by which time many transsexual females from fundamentalist conservative areas have already greatly suffered at the hands of religious abuse and faith bullying, resulting in them having their minds tortured by the mantra of hell and abomination, adding to the torment of schools and colleges, and the pressures of hostile patriarchal home environments. It translates to cynicism and defeatism when they become young adults.

The transgender community – drag queens, cross-dressers and transvestites – at times albeit unintentionally, trivialize the inherent identity and the struggles of transsexual females, by proclaiming sisterhood. Some go live on stage and radio with the intention to speak and perform for rights and equality for all. However, they can never qualify as such since they go to their full time jobs with a briefcase full of male privileges, as opposed to transsexual females.

In Malaysia, a person who is Eddie one minute and Sarah the next, would add to the muddle of public gender confusion, but when it comes to transsexual females, many in the LGBT community ignorantly considers them “men who cross-dress full time”. True transsexual females have had to make a very difficult choice as a matter of sex, between being females and death, and do not need any more public mix up about them.

The biggest obstacle to transsexual feminism of all would be the individual transsexual’s self. Most of society already hammered the statement of exclusion, and most transsexuals respond by exaggerated feminism, seeking attention, doing crime, taking drugs and the willingness to be objectified by men. These enhance the stereotypes of transsexual females being mentally disordered and incapable of competing with the rest of the general public, and supply ammunition for a biased Malaysian media to spark fear and hatred towards transsexual females, making many cissexuals reject transsexual females due to fear of being mocked and ridiculed by association, creating further alienation of transsexual females from society.

Although other non-transsexual transgender people, gender queer and cis-gender people may identify themselves as males (or in some instances androgynous) and are not instinctively female, they are very much part of transsexual feminism if they support equality for transsexual females. Many would understand the concept of male dominance when they face the barrage of abuse due to their display of non-normative gender expressions and presentations from their experiences, many of them at a young age. Some cis-gender individuals have even been perceived and bullied as effeminate men. Therefore, their voice to oppose segregation and discrimination on grounds of any sex or gender is of particular importance.

Within the nature of being born with Gender Identity Disorder, comes great talents and abilities, compensated strengths that come with being born lesser. Transsexual females are widely known to be creative and intelligent. They have all the abilities to propel themselves to another level and attain recognition for their excellence. Successful Malaysian transsexual females already exist, from housewives to customer service support, from artistes to SME management, from factory staff to businesswomen. All it takes is more outstanding transsexual individuals doing the best as they can in their conditions and fields, and not to allow society to determine how far they can go in life.

The Malaysian society in general believes transsexual females are freaks and in their cruel terms, should stay in the streets doing sex work while being harassed by authorities until they die of HIV/AIDS, then suffer the humiliation of being buried as a male and with certainty, end up in hell. Malaysian transsexual feminism can only happen once there is a consummate passion and determination to prove that opinion wrong, and to show that transsexual females can contribute to the betterment of Malaysia’s socio-economic climate and culture. Transsexual females should hold their fate in their hands and fight towards a meaningful outcome, the acknowledgement of transsexuals as part of humanity, and of the country.


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Yuki Choe is transsexual lesbian, advocate and feminist that watches both the LGBT movement and the ex-gay movement from a distance, writing for different webzines and blogs on her observations; while she considers herself a true Woman-Born-Transsexual, she still stands for equality and rights of all gender variant individuals and homosexuals.

Posted on 22 October 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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