- Published on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 08:56
- Written by Badrul Muzammil
WHEN it comes to gender and sexuality, the identity of the human being has now transcend beyond the categories of male and females.
“Transgender” is now a new category accepted as a result of the socio-cultural conditions in the world today.
Sexuality and gender identity does affect the stereotypical views of how public perceives them on gender roles to a certain degree and often being said to be a taboo and contradicts religious beliefs but there are some countries which has accepted people who are born out of the stereotypical gender binary.
Recently in India, the Supreme Court has recognised transgender as a “third gender”, where the government has provided the transgender people category with quotas in jobs and education.
The recognition of the third gender is not because of a social issue but it’s just a matter of a human rights issue, so said the Justice KS Radhakrishnan in his ruling, according to a BBC news report.
What’s more interesting is that in Indonesia, there is such a thing as an “Islamic boarding school” for transgender people, named Pesantren Waria, which opens its doors for the sake of freedom of religion, regardless of sexual orientation.
However being a transgender in Malaysia can be very challenging for the community as they are often excluded in terms of legal status, welfare and other aspects of life.
The definition of a transgender
Sharan Suresh, a transgender advocate and Policy Advocacy Officer for the Islands of Southeast Asian Network on Male and Transgender Sexual Health (ISEAN) claimed that transgenders are not formed, they are born that way.
Transgenders are individuals born with a medical condition known as Gender Identity Disorder or Gender Dsyphoria (discontent).
Evidence indicated that people who are born with this condition are not due to psychological or behaviour causes, but also related to biological aspect of how the brain contradicts with the body.
“For many years, a lot of people have been confused with transgender people and their existence. It seems that Malaysia tend to focus more on blaming and punishing them rather than doing research about what is being transgender all about,” said Sharan.
According to a recent discovery from a research, during the embryo to fetus process of a child’s birth where the sex of the baby will be determine, the mother’s sexual hormone in the womb will give the baby’s brain a gender imprint.
Commonly, male anatomical babies will get a male gender identity and female anatomical babies will get a female gender identity.
There are children, where the body is a male, the mother’s hormone give a female identity to the brain, the same goes with the opposite sex.
When the female brain wants to reach puberty, the pituitary gland sends a message to the organs and the organs will send signals to the wall of uterus to receive their first menstruation, but for a female brain with a male body, there’s no reaction to it and that is where all the depression and anxiety comes.
“I am a female” – Sharan Shuresh
Speaking from her experience, Sharan said she tend to look herself as a female more than a male during her early childhood.
“Being the oldest in my family, I was not influenced by anyone to the way I act and there’s no such thing as parents will teach their children to act as the opposite sex,”
“At the age of 14 where I didn’t know what is sex is, I was sexually assaulted in school and I didn’t tell anyone because I know they will point the blame on me for acting like a girl, which I’m not,”
“No one tells me to act like a girl, but that is coming naturally instead of acting like a boy, so I decided to change after 21 years living as a boy,”
Her family denied her decision, so Sharan left her home and began doing her transitions during her college years with the help of her friends.
Sharan eventually married her husband of three years and are planning to adopt a child together.
The media portrayal of transgender
Sharan went into the film industry and portrayed prominently as female role in production but never portrayed as a transgender character.
“To me, I am not a male who acts as female and I don’t want to be labeled that way, that is where people got the wrong impression of transgender,” expressed her.
Asthana Arts’ director, Ravi Shanker Rama Murthy approached Sharan to do a musical theater, ‘Thirunangai’, which means transsexual woman in Tamil. Sharan was reluctant at first, but decided to do it as a challenge to change the society’s perception of the transgender community.
Religious point of view
“No matter if you are a Hindu, Christian or Muslim, you will only be listening to the priest or imam, but never refer to the book every single day.
“Through my own religious studies, I found that everything is interlinked with each other, with differences of believing and practicing it,” asserts Sharan.
Sharan points out some terms that were misused when it comes to address a transgender.
The term “arvani” in Tamil actually refers to a cross-dresser or transvestite; where a male wears women’s clothes and acts like a female, which deems to be degrading to the transgender people as it means ‘half man, half woman’.
“Therefore, the term ‘thirunangai’ is used to address our community, which means a highly respected woman,” said Sharan.
In Islam, people who are born with Gender Identity Disorder is accepted and not counted as a sin. Some scholars have written the gender division into four groups; male, female, khunsa (hermaphrodites) and mukhannis or mukhannas.
“A mukhannis are biological males who identify themselves as females and wants to change their biological sex while mukhannas are people who assume as a female, but did not want to change their biologicial sex. All these terms are not mentioned in the Qur’an, only in the Hadith,” explained Sharan.
According to University Malaya’s (UM) Academy of Islamic Studies’ Dr. Ridzwan Bin Ahmad (From the Department of Fiqh & Usul) said changing your sex is ‘haram’ no matter what, but there are certain rationale given to people who are born ‘khunsa’.
He said that there should be no problem if a special religious school like the one in Indonesia being open for the transgender people in Malaysia.
“We shouldn’t be disregard to transgender people as they also need equal attention and support from us,” said Ridwan.
Discrimination to the next level
According to the Federal Constitution, everyone has an equal rights to protection, but it seems that the transgender community didn’t get the rights that they deserves.
Sharan shares a story of an unfortunate case where a mute transgender, who does sex work, was kidnapped, raped repeatedly and murdered and had her body thrown in the river and until now, no one had ever heard the news.
Many would associates transgender people to work as sex workers due to their difficulties to secure a job in the work field.
Puteri (not her real name) a Malay transgender realize that she was a female at a young age. Growing up, she felt like she is female trapped in a male body.
She studied in an all-boys school where she has most of her interest in cultural dance and cheerleading. Upon finishing high school, she obtained her diploma in business administration in private university.
During her university years, she is more comfortable with her female appearance. However, after graduated, most companies that she applied for rejected her job application due to her ‘opposite’ appearance.
She finally settled at a communication company as a Quality Insurance Executive and did well on the job.
“For two years that I worked there, I was promoted to another department at the head quarters but was not accepted due to a different policy there,” said Puteri
She looks for a new job but kept being rejected and to support her living, she did escorting for a while before an insurance company hired her.
“I hope that most companies will take the same policy as my current workplace, because most of us are educated and deserve to have a decent job like others too,” shared Puteri.
What can be done?
Sharan hopes that there should be gender recognition for transgender people and there would be less restriction in the working industry so they won’t be working in the sex industry.
“The government has a lot to do. I have done my part of my rights as a Malaysian citizen, so there should not be any discrimination for people like us,” she said.
It is quite encouraging to see how certain parts of the world sees humanity more rather than discriminating transgender people.
I believe that there’s always a reason behind everything and who are we to judge?