AUGUST 9 — Malaysia, regardless if you were Muslim or not, transgender people have been discriminated and are socially stigmatised.
The previous government, although knowing that this is a medical related issue, diverted the whole issue in a religious perspective and moral policing came into place. I was quite taken by when I saw Malaysia Hari Ini’s topic that was aired on TV3 on the 19th of July, 2018 titled Gerakan ‘Pelangi’ di Malaysia – semakin berani dipromosikan.
You may view the video which was live on Facebook by clicking the link here.
Transgender people have been here since the beginning of civilisation. When civilisation began in the Indus Valley, in Sanskrit, they were known as Triprakatya. Trans people are not the same as “gay men” and there is a vast difference between both.
The word LGBT first came by replacing GLBT that was initially known as LGB back in the mid-80s and has developed over time to seem inclusive to the now known term LGBTQIPA. This categorisng started in the United States and developed based on Human Rights initiatives over the years. The reason why this came about was to group those who face similar forms of discrimination in America, and they were known as sexual minorities.
But that does not mean that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Pansexual and Asexual people are the same. Being gay/ bisexual/ pansexual/ asexual refers to sexual orientation, whereas being transgender, queer or intersex are gender identities that may be biologically or psychologically impacted regardless of the person’s sexual orientation.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently removed “Gender Dysphoria” from the ‘mental health’ categorisation because being transgender is no longer recognised as a mental illness. Before the 80s, the American Psychiatric Association (ASA) recognised being transgender as “Gender Identity Disorder” following its understanding until the DSM-4 was published.
Thanks to years of research being done by medical professionals in America and other parts of the world, it was proven that being transgender was not necessarily a choice and that some are born that way and experience Gender Dysphoria, which was the term penned in the DSM-5 to decriminalise transgender people.
In the transgender umbrella, we have several sub-categories of people, such as transsexuals, transvestites, and so forth. Transsexuals are individuals born with a gender identity registered in the brain that is incongruent to their physical anatomy. The sex chromosomes during Meiosis determine the baby’s physical form including the sex organ and reproduction system. However, the mother’s sexual hormones print the gender identity in the foetus’s still developing brain that not necessarily is congruent with the anatomical sex.
These findings have been backed up by research from the Dutch Institute of Human Development in the mid to late-90s where scientists and doctors have dissected corpse of transgender and cisgender people to study the brain pattern and find out what makes a person identify opposite from their assigned sex. When we talk about “intersex”, we have more than 30 types of sex chromosome variation, and not necessarily XX for female and XY for male. Among them are those born XXY (Klinefelter Syndrome), Turner Syndrome, XO Mosaicism, Triple X Syndrome and so forth.
From the transgender umbrella, we also have individuals who are transvestites. These are men who are born with a male gender identity and male anatomy, who do not suffer from Gender Dysphoria, but choose to impersonate transsexual women or women in general for a purpose. This can be due to environmental reasons, or even socio-economic reasons. These men do not identify as women, they do not live their lives as transsexual individuals, and they are able to detransition at any time because they did not initiate transitioning for the right reasons.
As in Islam, Imam An-Nawawi clearly expresses the difference of “mukkhanas min-kalqin” and “mukkhanas bi al-takaluf”. The mukkhanas min-kalqin are individuals born with a male physic but identify as female since young and as mentioned by the Prophet according to Imam An-Nawawi, there is no sin and no shame. These individuals have existed even before the birth of Prophet Muhammad. Then Imam An-Nawawi mentions that the mukkhanas bi al-takaluf are men who impersonate women for immoral purposes and that this was a shame and considered Haram in Islam.
The mukkhanats lived among women since pre-Islam times and most of them took care of women in their abodes. The Hadith refers to one particular story that has been misinterpreted by Muslims in Malaysia. In that Hadith, it mentions of a mukkhanath bi al-takaluf which lived in the house of Umm Salamah, one of Prophet Muhammad’s wives. Upon entering the house, the Prophet witnesses the mukkhanath speaking to Umm Salamah’s brother telling him that if they won at-taaif, the mukkhanath will show Umm Salamah’s brother the daughter of Ghayalaan and described her body to him until he was aroused.
The prophet banished this particular mukkhanath from the city. There are 3 versions of this, the first telling us the complete story and other two only mentioning that the prophet banished a mukkhanath from the city of Mecca.
Those who did not understand the difference between a “man who dresses up as a woman” and people born with a gender identity that is opposite their anatomical sex generalised the whole community making all transgender people seem to be men who impersonate women in the eye of the public.
This is not a question of faith and morality, rather a medical condition by birth that has been documented and proven by WHO and APA, something that Malaysia failed to do over the years. We never had a proper scientific-based research on gender identity, and after the late 1980s, the Ministry of Health never included Gender Studies as a priority. Many local doctors are unaware of the subject and cannot provide the medical needs that are required by transgender people.
The previous government has somehow managed to politicise this minority group by equating them with gay men. There has been unjust media portrayal of transgender people as people who are mentally ill, men who cross-dress or impersonate women because they are attracted to men, and other baseless opinions that have induced hate, stigma and caused violence towards the trans community. A recent example is the death of Sameera Krishnan, a 26-year old transsexual woman who was brutally murdered and mutilated in Kuantan.
These cases soon get hushed up and they are not taken seriously. These are some of the harms that are faced by the community due to stigma and discrimination. The Federal Constitution governs the rights of all Malaysians regardless of their decedents, religion and even gender. Yet, due to stigma associating transgender people with sex work, it is a huge challenge for transgender individuals to attain suitable employment par to their education, experience and abilities. Many learning institutions also discriminate against trans people in Malaysia causing a majority of them to drop out of schools and be denied access to education.
With the recent change of government, I believe it is only right to seek fair representation of transgender people in the media. We have always seen Islamic institutions who nominate transvestites who have detransitioned to misrepresent the whole trans community in Malaysia providing inaccurate information to the public, making us even more vulnerable day by day.
I have never seen any programs from national television that has called upon transgender advocates, activists, and those who are educated and have decent jobs to share their experiences about being transgender. We have not seen any positive portrayal although there are many among the community who strive to live a common life with decent jobs and constantly struggling to earn decent salaries.
I seek your kind consideration to look into this matter and provide us with an equal opportunity for fair media representation to educate Malaysians on who transgender people truly are. Since Malaysia lacks medical professionals who are specialised in the subject matter, it would be great to have international medical doctors and scientists share about transgender health in our local media.
The objective is not to glorify being transgender or seek special rights. I strongly believe that misinformation harms the community day by day and this has to stop. There are young transgender children in schools facing sexual abuse and their voices are silent because they have been labelled as being deviant for who they naturally are. I will be glad to cooperate with you in any initiatives possible to reduce stigma and discrimination.
*Elisha Kor Krishnan is founder of Pertubuhan Kesihatan dan Kebajikan Umum Malaysia (PKKUM).
**This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.