Survey of prevalence; Efforts of Government to Provide Assistance;
A Compilation of Recent News Articles.
With an introduction
by Lynn Conway
Malaysia is a predominantly Moslem country in Southeast Asia. It's capital is Kuala Lumpur, and it has a population of 21.8 million people (2000). It is a long peninsula at the end of the Asian subcontinental arc from India, Bangladesh, Burma, and Thailand.
The countries in this region have long had traditions for the open expression of transgenderism and transsexualism. These are institutionalized in various ways (such as the Hijra in India) in the these cultures. Various forms of open social transition have long existed, even though they conflict with the religious beliefs in some of these countries and in almost cases relegate the transitioners to incredibly low social status.
Recently the plights of the large numbers of transgender and transsexual women in Malaysia have come to the attention of an increasingly open-minded and pragmatic government. A survey was taken in order to estimate their numbers. The survey estimated that there are 50,000 "transsexuals" who are living as women in the country - a country having a population of about 8 million males over the age of 13. This number includes those who have socially transitioned (TG transition) and in smaller numbers of those who have undergone SRS (TS transition).
Therefore, this survey indicates a prevalence of "transssexualism" (actually of transgender plus transsexual transitions) of more than 1:200 in Malaysia. Although the ratio of TS/(TG + TS) in Malaysia is undoubtedly smaller than in the West because of the relative poverty of TG/TS people there, this high combined number of social transitioners (TG + TS) suggests an intrinsic prevalence of transsexualism on the order of one in a few hundred, or more.
The following news articles document recent progress in Malaysia in recognizing the plight of transgender and transsexual people there, and the government's efforts to do something to help them.

MALAYSIA--PETALING JAYA Transsexuals: Declare Us As Women
Sunday, January 21, 2001
By Farid Jamaludin

PETALING JAYA: Transsexuals in welcoming the formation of the Women's Affairs Ministry called on the Government to look into a possibility of declaring them as women and not the "third sex.''

A group has got together to make a representation to its Minister Datuk Shahrizat Abdul Jalil and highlight the problems affecting them.

Top on their agenda is the long standing issue among transsexuals--a recognition that they are women and thus be accorded the same rights as other women.

According to Dara Othman, 37, a spokesman of a popular "paper doll'' entertainment group, the setting up of the ministry had given some hope for the community.

"Many have been chased around by the authorities for far too long just because no one wants to take the responsibility of declaring us as women,'' she added.

A recent privately sponsored survey had estimated there are more than 50,000 transsexuals in the country.

The first real move the Government took to addressing transexual issues was in 1986 when Datuk Abu Hassan Omar was the Welfare Minister.

A transsexuals association, called the Federal Territory Maknyah Association was registered at the same time and it conducted dialogues with Ministry officials but ended up with little success.

Dara said only by classifying transsexuals as "women'' the authorities would be rid of social problems which came about as a result of discrimination against the group.

She said most transsexuals were qualified to hold other jobs but were turned away because of their identification cards and appearances.

"As a result many went underground as sex workers while the fortunate few like me ended up in the entertainment world,'' she said.

Ann Lee, the chairman of Pink Triangle, an NGO dedicated to HIV prevention, said the ministry could look into issues affecting transsexuals.

"The ministry should take into account issues of sexuality which have an influence on the way women carry out their work and life,'' she added.

© 1995-2001 Star Publications (Malaysia)


HKiMail --- iNews
22 January 2001 / 11:20 PM

We're Not Misters But Misses Plead Malaysia's Transsexuals
Agence France-Presse

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's transsexuals have urged the government to recognise them as women, a report said yesterday.

The Sunday Star said a group of transsexuals had made representations to the newly created women's affairs ministry.

Dara Othman, 37, a spokesman for the popular "Paper Doll" entertainment troupe, said the formation of the new ministry had given some hope for the transsexual community. "Many have been chased around far too long just because no one wants to take the responsibility of declaring us women," Dara said.

The group wants the government to accord them the same rights as other women. The Sunday Star said a recent survey had estimated there were more than 50,000 transsexuals in the country.

It said that in 1986 a transsexuals' association called the Federal Territory Maknyah Association was formed and it had conducted talks with officials from the Welfare ministry, but with little success.

Dara said only by classifying transsexuals as women would the authorities be rid of social problems which came about as a result of discrimination against the group.

Copyright(c) 2000 Hong Kong iMail Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 18, 2001
MALAYSIA: Ministry To Treat Transsexuals With Dignity
By Farid Jamaludin

Transsexuals, popularly referred to as maknyah, will be referred to in a "more dignified'' way under the recently formed Women and Family Development Ministry.

Its minister, Datuk Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, said she would take up the issue under her wing and give more dignity to the group which, according to a recent survey, numbered about 50,000 in the country.

"Just give me some time. I will address the issue and give them a definition which is more dignified,'' she said after the launch of landscaping company Cypark here yesterday.

Shahrizat was responding to a recent call by a group of transsexuals who wanted the new ministry to declare them as "women.''

They want to be accorded the same rights as women--an issue last dealt with in 1986 when Datuk Abu Hassan Omar was Welfare Services Minister. Under him, the group was known as maknyah, leading to the formation of the Federal Territory Maknyah Association.

Shahrizat said her ministry would look at the issue in a "professional and objective'' manner.

"We want to give this group some dignity so that they can move around in the community without being looked down upon. This is very important,'' she stressed.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that a unit would be set up soon to study and look into issues involving transsexuals.

Problems surrounding this community are centred on their jobs because many are qualified for certain posts but are turned away because they are still considered "male'' in their identity cards.

As a result, many have become sex workers to make a living while the fortunate few ended up in the entertainment industry or professions
associated with women.

On another subject, Shahrizat said Malaysian women were free to wear what they like and the Government does not force them to wear the tudung.

Women in Malaysia have many choices because of the Government's liberal outlook and it did not restrict them, unlike in some Muslim societies,'' she said when launching a new magazine, Working Women Asia, for women.

© 1995-2001 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)

Tuesday, March 27, 2001

MALAYSIA-- New Ministry To Get Report On Transsexuals
By Farid Jamaludin


PETALING JAYA: The Pink Triangle Foundation, a non-government organisation (NGO) dedicated to help transsexuals, will soon be making a representation to the Women and Family Development Ministry on the plight and issues of this community.

Organisation chairman Hisham Hussin said the foundation would seek a meeting with ministry officials as soon as it completed a detailed report about Malaysian transsexuals.

"We are identifying certain areas where the ministry can contribute and help chart a better future for transsexuals,'' he said in an interview here yesterday.

Women and Family Development Minister Datuk Shahrizat Abdul Jalil had pledged last month that the scope of her ministry would also include the transsexual community.

She also planned to give a more "dignified'' meaning to this group which a recent study had estimated to be in the region of more than 50,000.

Transsexual "matters'' are among five groups of people that the Pink Triangle represent. Others are commercial sex workers, gays, lesbians and HIV sufferers.

Hisham said that reports were currently handled by students and lecturers from various institutes of higher learning in the country. "A number of research papers had been completed on the transsexuals over the last few years and this would also be forwarded to the ministry.

"Previously there was no ministry which was most appropriate to handle transsexual issues.

"The setting up of the ministry has given new meaning to this group which had wanted the authority to declare them as women,'' he added.

Hisham said the most important matter to be addressed was getting the "right kind of employment'' to hundreds of transsexuals who have completed higher learning.

"These people have not been able to get employment because of the way they dress as they had been categorised as males in their identity cards,'' he added.

© 1995-2001 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd (Co No 10894-D) Managed by I.STAR Sdn Bhd (Co No 422871-T).

Monday, October 2, 2000
Misconception About Transsexuals
By Ong Ju Lynn


Her roommate found her body hanging by a towel around her neck from the ceiling. Her long hair covered her pale face, like a curtain drawn over an empty stage.

Po Po (her nickname) took her life at 26, when others her age are building families and careers. She was born a male child to the Teoh family but had never found peace in her male body. Rejected by her family, she became a teenage runaway.

Without skills or qualifications, she turned to sex work to support herself, and to save enough money for a sex change operation. In the day, she worked in a beauty salon as a shampoo-girl, hoping to learn some skills that can eventually bring her out of prostitution.

In addition to emotional pressure over the years, her friends say that she killed herself because she was cheated and left in the cold by a man she trusted.

Po Po's case conforms with statistics, that one out of 10 transsexuals surveyed in this country has attempted suicide.

According to a study on transsexuals conducted by Associate Professor Dr Teh Yik Koon of Universiti Utara Malaysia and funded by the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry, transsexuals are more likely to commit suicide, to be fired from their jobs, and to be hurt in many ways--some as blatant as open ridicule, others as insidious as non-hiring. And such discrimination is similar in other countries as well.

Dr Teh and co-researcher Khartini Slamah, former senior manager of Pink Triangle, a community-based organisation which assisted in the project, surveyed over 500 Mak Nyahs across Malaysia--the youngest 16 and the oldest, 70.

"Transsexuals are marginalised by society and are blamed for social ills. Ignorance is one of the reasons why people are prejudiced against transsexuals. I hope my research will shed some light on the matter,'' says Dr Teh.

More than half of Mak Nyahs are involved in the sex industry. "We are considered unacceptable for other forms of employment,'' says Khartini. "Even when we do have the qualification or the experience, we are still not offered jobs because of our appearance and sexual orientation.''

Take Sharon, 38, for instance. She has been a sex worker for 10 years. "I started out selling cassettes, then I worked in a beauty salon, and then moved on to many different jobs. I turned to sex work because things just didn't work out. I just couldn't get a good-paying job. It's either I couldn't get the job or there's no job advancement because of the way I look,'' she says. Sharon now earns between RM2,000 and RM3,000 a month entertaining local men, some of them married, and immigrant workers. She is saving up for a sex change operation.

Frequent raids by the police and religious authorities have driven Mak Nyahs underground, observes Dr Latif Kamaluddin of Universiti Sains Malaysia's School of Social Sciences.

"Many used to work as waiters but frequent raids which started a few years ago have put a stop to that. Now employers are afraid to risk employing Mak Nyahs. It's little wonder why Mak Nyahs turn to sex work,'' he says.

Dr Latif, who has also done research on Mak Nyahs and organised a support network project for them, says sex work allows them to sleep in the daytime so they do not have to be so visible to attract unwarranted attention.

Dr Teh's research shows that 55.2% of the respondents have been arrested by the police at least once. They were commonly arrested and charged under the Minor Offences Act 1955 for cross-dressing, which is interpreted as indecent behaviour. Most of them pleaded guilty and paid the fine of RM25 on first conviction. Subsequent convictions may carry a three-month jail term and a maximum fine of RM100.

But transsexuals fear the police lock-up more than the magistrate's court; 70% of the respondents who had been arrested said they were forced to strip before other people in the lock-up, while 20% said they had been asked to expose their breasts and genitals.

These findings have been presented to the police, at a dialogue last year between Dr Teh and Pink Triangle, and representatives from the police, Welfare Department and the Pusat Islam (under the Prime Minister's Department).

Dang Wangi officer-in-charge ACP Mohamad Bakri who attended the dialogue gave the assurance that the police are trying to change the department's image and transsexuals can report directly to him if such abuse of power happens again.

The dialogues with the police have yielded results. Says Sharon who has been arrested in raids more than 20 times: "They used to arrest us just because of our cross-dressing. We can be picked up even while we are just having a meal in a cafe. But no longer. Now, if you're a non-Muslim, you will be arrested only if you are soliciting or, of course, commit a crime.''

Head of Bukit Aman's Sexual Unit ACP Rubiah Abdul Ghani says arrests are made only if there are public complaints that Mak Nyahs are behaving indecently in public. The raids are to bust vice dens and drug rings. "We don't simply arrest them for cross-dressing.''

Efforts to integrate Mak Nyahs into society are not new. In the late 1980s, the Welfare Department under then director-general Professor Abdullah Malim Baginda had a special programme to assist Mak Nyahs in setting up businesses and getting jobs.

During Prof Malim's tenure, the Welfare Department offered financial help to transsexuals to set up tailoring shops and beauty salons, in addition to organising support groups and counselling sessions for them.

"With jobs, they can be useful and accepted in society. We tried to help them to lead as normal a life as possible,'' says Prof Malim who is now special assistant to the CEO of Pintas, an advisory panel to the National Unity and Social Development Ministry.

"We're not interested or concerned over how they dress or behave, as long as there is no criminal activity involved. The principle is that, no one should be excluded from society,'' he says. Unfortunately, the Welfare programme later fell through because of the transsexuals' inexperience and lack of management skills.

At present, there is no aid programme for Mak Nyahs, but the Welfare Department assures that if they approach the department for help, they will not be turned away. "We do not discriminate against Mak Nyahs,'' says a Welfare officer who did not wish to be named.

Welfare Department assistant director Mimi Zaidah, who was present at the dialogue last year, says transsexuals can obtain a "launching grant'' of RM2,000 from the department, upon approval of application.

While the police and Welfare Department have shown flexibility in their approach to transsexuals, the same cannot be said of the religious authorities.

"That's because of adherence to the religious tenets,'' points out USM's Dr Latif.

In Islam, transsexuality is not recognised. Male to female transsexuals are considered males, because they are physically male.

"According to the fatwa (religious decree), males are not allowed to wear women's clothing. It is also against Islam for them to undergo sex change,'' says an officer in the Islamic Progress Department (JAKIM) of the Pusat Islam.

For singer Regina Ibrahim, 38, she has since come to terms with her male body. "I would consider surgery if I were younger, and if it wasn't for my mother. But religion has a lot to do with my decision not to go through with it.''


© 1995-2001 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd