KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 15 ― Transgenders need medical care to transition them into their affirmed gender identities rather than rehabilitation to return them to what some may consider “normal”, several medical and gender experts said.
The experts questioned the “success” of a spiritual rehabilitation camp touted by Malaysia Islamic Development Department (Jakim) in ensuring the well-being of the transgenders, insisting instead on the well-proven medical route.
“Research has shown that the best way to treat GID is to transition,” clinical psychologist Vizla Kumaresan told Malay Mail Online, referring to the medical condition Gender Identity Disorder.
“With all due respect for people's religious beliefs … it is best treated from the psychological and medical perspective using methods that are evidence based.”
Kumaresan explained that GID is recognised as a psychological disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM) as well as the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
Dr Nason Tan, a general physician who focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) health, explained that transgenderism or gender dysphoria, means “discomfort or distress” felt when a person’s gender identity is inconsistent with that person’s sex that was assigned at birth.
“The person experiencing the condition would have to undergo medical procedures by trained professionals to become the gender that they identify with,” said Kumaresan, who works with the transgender community.
“It is not about rehabilitating the person but working towards the well being of the person. And that well being comes from the person safely undergoing the process of change.”
“To sum up, clinicians strive to assist transgenders with safe and effective pathways to achieving lasting personal comfort with their gendered selves, in order to maximise their overall health, psychological well-being, and self-fulfillment,” Tan explained, quoting the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
The Court of Appeal ruled last week that a Negri Sembilan Shariah law outlawing cross-dressing is inconsistent with the Federal Constitution, and failed to take into account medical evidences of GID.
In response, Jakim had on Monday invited the three transwomen who challenged the law to enter a spiritual rehabilitation programme that it claims has convinced some to leave their “deviant ways”.
In addition, the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) claimed today that nearly 2,000 from the LGBT community have been “cured” by its own programmes since 2005.
“Their report claims they have 'successfully' rehabilitated people. But are they happy now? Are they satisfied with their lives? Are they well adjusted?” Kumaresan asked.
“Studies have shown that transpersons who don't transition when they are ready are prone to depression,” she added.
Tan said the major problems faced by transgenders are finding counseling, hormone therapy, medical procedures, and the social support necessary for them to freely express their gender identity and minimise discrimination.
Any obstacles towards these may lead to them suffering anxiety, depression, or related disorders at higher rates than those who are not transgenders, said Tan, who is also a volunteer medical consultant for marginalised community.
“The only people who suffer from ‘gender confusion’ are those people who think that gender can be regulated … Seriously, what gives these religious authorities the right to determine our gender for us? Are they some kind of gender experts?” asked vocal queer activist Pang Khee Teik.
“Many of us do not consciously choose not to conform. But yet here we are, with our bodies and minds and souls freely expressing ourselves. Suddenly our gender identities and expressions have become a rebellion against some people's desire for power.
“That is how powerful our gender is. Nobody has the right to tell us how to express our gender but ourselves,” said Pang, a Master of Arts (MA) in Gender and Sexuality.
Muslim-majority Malaysia continues to reject the perceived rise in queer activities, which it deems to be an assault against Islam, together with growing calls for greater civil liberties.
Transgender activists estimated that there are around 60,000 Malaysian who identify as transgenders, with Malays making up 70 per cent of them.