Lily’s story and Seksualiti Merdeka

The ugly scars on Lily’s shaven head after she was assaulted by a group of youths armed with steel rods and hockey sticks.
The ugly scars on Lily’s shaven head after she was assaulted by a group of youths armed with steel rods and hockey sticks.

AUG 26 — A few weeks ago, a photo was published out there on numerous Facebook statuses. One could be forgiven for thinking that the image looked a bit like something from a horror movie or that this was some special effects make-up. Instead, this was an actual person’s shaven head with numerous stitches upon it.

Last July during the Ramadan month, Lily — a Thai national visiting Kuantan — was assaulted by a group of youths armed with steel rods and hockey sticks. In case you are wondering, that’s Lily’s head in the photo.

The reason which caused these youths to make Lily a target of their fury? The reality that she is a transgender person. It must have really upset or challenged their collective manhood to see her.

Maybe they saw her walking down the street, got collectively turned on sexually and then realised with a shock that she is a transgender or a Mak Nyah. Maybe beating and assaulting her then would somehow correct what they perceived to be her perverted sexuality and perhaps even massage their own bruised egos and neutralise their embarrassment, and further hide their trans- and homophobia.

I don’t know why Lily was beaten up.

I don’t think it is even necessary to know why a person is treated the way Lily was. But I do know that violent incidents of harassment, discrimination and hate crimes against transgender persons are on the increase in this country.

I do know that everyone is equally entitled to the protection provided for under Malaysian law and that includes being able to walk without having to fear being beaten up or subject to physical harm. I do know that there is no justification for such violence on another human being.

Lily’s case is not the first and certainly not the last act of violence experienced by this marginalised community. Somehow it seems to some members of society that it is all right to subject onto others a kind of judgment which often involves some form of physical abuse.

Consider the fact that over the past few years, religious law enforcement teams have often made it seemingly their life’s mission to eradicate or, in their view, “rehabilitate” transgender persons.

For example, authorities in Malacca and Negri Sembilan have time and again conducted raids in areas known to be frequented by members of the community. Due to their female garb, individuals who are transgender are often easily identified and targeted during their raids. Their crime? Wearing indecent clothing.

Considered a misdemeanour in most countries where the punishment would be a fine, a warning by law enforcement and perhaps at most some community service, in our country such an offence could involve almost SWAT-like teams chasing after Mak Nyahs, large fines and jail time.

Once detained, the treatment received by a person who is a transgender can be quite horrific. Imagine the following: you are told to strip by the authorities and forced to wear garments worn by persons in detention. There is no privacy and an audience (usually male officers) gathers around to see you take off your clothes. As you are considered male, a bra is denied as this would be an offence under syariah law (a man wearing women’s clothing). Yet, you have breasts and you cover them as best as you can with your hands. An officer jeers at you, “Tahupun malu! Malu konon!” (Embarrassed? You have no shame).

Another person may touch or caress your breasts, buttocks or any other part but because the interpretation of such unlawful actions are often related to persons who are biologically women, transgender are considered fair game and outside the protection of the law.

Humiliation, intimidation, sexual violence, sex for favours have been experienced time and again by persons made vulnerable by their repression by those who are supposed to be the guardians of society and protectors of the law.

They occur with impunity and without repercussions towards the perpetrators. The situation I just described? That is a true story related to me by a transgender person who was subjected to the tender mercies of our moral police. It is a story that has often been repeated and experienced by countless others. When the moral police behave in such a manner, what kind of signal does it send to everyone else who take it upon themselves to “deal” with the Mak Nyahs in our midst?

News that the judicial appeal against the ban of the 2011 Seksualiti Merdeka event has failed was met with much sadness. The Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the High Court decision that the ban against the 2011 Seksualiti Merdeka event was not pre-emptive represents a major obstacle for vulnerable sexual minorities such as transgender persons to freely obtain information, awareness and increase public understanding of their issues, concerns and fears.

Seksualiti Merdeka is a platform which encourages discussion, dialogue and debate. Silencing such mediums is equal to ignoring the existence of sexual minorities and wishing them away by closing our eyes, plugging our ears and keeping our mouths shut. It solves nothing and if there is anything to be ashamed about, it is of our continued inability to discuss the issues of sex and sexuality as mature adults.

I heard that not only did 30 individuals of the Mak Nyah community in Kuantan come out to support Lily while she was hospitalised at the Tengku Ampuan Afzan Hospital, they also collected funds to assist in her recuperation and to pay the cost of treatment. Such examples of solidarity are worthy of our respect and emulation. 

Violence is never an appropriate response to differences in our society.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.