Site hosted by Build your free website today!

.: Out in full glory :.

Transsexuals in the region enjoyed greatest freedom in the earlier part of last century. They would coverage in areas like Singapore’s Bugis Street where, dressed to the hilt, they would dance on rooftops for the whole world to see. And people did want to see them. Especially tourists, who would clamber up and tango with the transsexuals. Romance inevitably blossomed and some transsexuals would return with the foreigner to his country, have sex change operation, get married and, presumably, live happily ever after.

Mariam, a 63-year-old Malaysian transsexual who lived in Singapore while Bugis Street was alive and kicking (between 1935 and 1985), says that in her heyday, “things were very different from now. Transsexuals were a happy lot as we were left to be who we wanted to be.” She adds there were fewer transsexuals sex workers in those days. Many Malay transsexuals then were mak andams(women who help Malay brides choose their wedding outfits, do their make-up, etc). Others were dancers, cooks and artistes.

During this time, too, it was possible for a transsexual who’d had the sex change operation to change her name and gender on her identity card and passport, this opening a whole vista of possibilities, including marriage. But all this changed in 1996, when the Registration Department allowed sex changed transsexuals only to add an alias to their original names. The new ICs introduced in the early 90s’ does away with a person’s gender, so this is no longer an issue. But passports still state the holder’s sex, and this now has to co-relate with the birth-certificate, which cannot be altered after the first year.

.: A question of religion :.

Other than bureaucratic red tape, transsexuals are in a perpetual dilemma concerning their religion. Muslims, especially have a tough time because the Quran does not accept transsexuals. According to Tuan Haji Mohd Saman, director of the Dakwah section at the Islamic Development Centre, the Islamic faith recognises only males, females and khunsas (hermaphrodites), who are allowed to undergo surgery to remove one set of genitals.

A Muslim man however, is not permitted to change his sex because he was created by God and the operation would contravene His divine doing. Similarly, any act that masks the given sex of a person is tantamount to going against God’s wishes and is discouraged. Thus, cross-dressing is taboo and Muslims transsexuals can be referred to the Jabatan Agama Wilayah (Muslim religious department) for dressing up as women. If they are caught for indecent behaviour, they can be charged under the Federal Syariah Criminal Act and face a fine of RM3000, imprisonment, or both. Non-Muslim transsexuals who are picked up for the indecent behaviour are likely to be fined only RM25 to RM50 under civil law.

More importantly for many Muslim transsexuals, they are not allowed to pray in a mosque dressed as women. “I believe in religion. I would love to go to the mosque, but the problem is the people. They won’t accept me, ”says Pat. “They say ‘How do you want to pray? You look like a women but you have a man’s sex.’ They think I’m like dirty. It’s like I can infect them. So I just pray by myself at home. But, for Muslims, it’s more meaningful to pray in a group.”

Another fear that plagues Muslim transsexuals is death, or rather what will happen to them after dying, especially if they’ve had a sex change. Certain rites in the religion are gender specific. For example, the body of a deceased Muslim has to be bathed by someone of the same sex. But because of the religion doesn’t acknowledge sex change, a transsexual would be treated as a man even if he’s had the operation, and would presumably be bathed by a man. This is something transsexuals do not feel comfortable with. “How can a transsexual be bathed by a man when she’s no longer a man?” asks Khartini. “So far I don’t know any Muslim transsexual who’s had the operation and has died. So I really don’t know what would happen to such a person. It’s something all my sisters are worried about.

Non-Muslim transsexuals especially Christians, are also frowned upon by religious authorities. In fact only the Buddhists and Hindus seem to accept transsexuals as God’s creations who are allowed to express themselves as their natures dictate, but to lead otherwise moral lifestyles. “Transsexuals have been around for centuries, and religion can’t reject anyone who created by God, “says Mr A. Vaithilingam. President of the Malaysia Hindu Sangam. “In India they were even sought after for certain professions, such as traditional midwifery. And there’s definitley nothing to say they can’t come and pray in Temples.”

.: Men trapped in women’s bodies :.

Female transsexuals (FTs) also exist, but they don’t invite as much attention or ridicule as their male counterparts as it’s more socially acceptable for women to wear trousers, cut their hair short, and generally look as manly as they desire. But FTs are at a particular disadvantage sexually: a penis is harder to acquire, and to function, than a vagina. A surgically created penis is incapable of erections . However, the FT can opt to have an implant which would give him a permanent semi-erection. The sex reassignment surgery for an FT would include, in addition to the creation of penis and testes, the removal of his ovaries and uterus, and a double mastectomy to remove his breasts. Male hormones are then taken to complete the transformation.

Perhaps the best known female transsexual was Brandon Teena. An American from Lincoln, Nebraska, whose life story has been turned into an Oscar-winning movie. Boys Don’t Cry. Born Teena Brandon, she transformed herself into a boy in her teens by bandaging her breasts, dressing like a man, and even equipping herself with a prosthetic penis. In 1993, she moved to Falls City where she hoped to begin life anew as a man.

Trouble started when Brandon began dating Lana Tisdale, who had a number of suitors, including John Lotter. John eventually discovered Brandon’s true sexual identity, got together with a friend, Thomas Nissen, and raped Brandon. When Brandon lodge a police report, the officers were more interested in why she dressed and behave the way she did than in pursuing the rapists. Still free, John and Thomas trekked Brandon down – she was taking refuge at a house of a friend, Lisa Lambert. The two men found Brandon, shot her dead at point-blank range, then shot and killed Lisa as well as her friend, Phillip DeVine.

.: Call for justice :.

Brandon’s story is particularly gruesome. But it is indicative of the kind of social injustice transsexuals can face. Only three months after Brandon was murdered, Sasa, an Indonesian transsexual who came to Malaysia to work, claimed to have been raped by a police officer, a senior immigration officer and an employment agent here. But it is decided she could not, technically, have been raped because her sex, as stated in passport, was “male” although she had in fact undergone sex change. She could not even claim recompense for sodomy because the men had penetrated her frontally. In the end, all charges were dropped, and Sasa was deported.

Ever since Sasa’s case, the director of human rights organisation Tenaganita, Irene Fernandez, has been lobbying for changes in the laws relating to rape. “Women’s groups have been trying to get the authorities to view rape as any instance of sexual assault, incurred by a member of any sex on someone else of any sex, as opposed to the mere act of frontal penetration, ”she says. “Sexual assault would include the use of foreign objects, oral sex, forced anal sex. The issue of consent is something that has to be looked into further.”

It’s been 15 years since Fernandez and other activists have been trying to get the rape laws amended. Yet nothing of significance has been achieved. But those working towards greater recognition of transsexual rights are not pessimistic. In fact three’s reason to believe the tide maybe changing in their favor again. The fact that Dr The received a grant from the Ministry of Science, technology and Environment to study transsexuals is a beginning. Now that the report is complete, representatives for transsexuals are holding dialogues with the police, religious authorities and the Welfare Department.

What’s more, some transsexuals themselves are optimistic about their future. Regina believes transsexuals can influence the way society treats them. “The way people treat you depends on yourself before you can expect others to respect you. You should know what to wear, how to behave, what to say. Also, like I said, you have to have a sense of humor!” she says. And if all transsexuals adopted Khartini’s attitude, the country would be that much that better. “I’m convinced I can contribute to the growth of the nation, “she says. “And that’s what I keep telling all my friends. They can do it, too.” MC



Sign My Guestbook Get your own FREE Guestbook from htmlGEAR View My Guestbook