Life histories of transpeople in Asia
Regina Ibrahim, Malaysia
This account is an excerpt from the 2002 book 'The Mak Nyahs: Malaysian Male to Female Transsexuals' by Teh Yik Koon. Reproduced here by kind permission of the publishers, Times Media (Academic Publishing)
Reaching this stage of life, I keep telling myself "Accept the gift from the Almighty Allah, be strong and move on".
I was born in a large family of 11 siblings consisting of 4 boys and 7 girls. It's a normal family with no extraordinary story to tell except for me and my sexuality. At a very tender age I knew it, I was not the same as other normal boys, I was shy of mixing with boys in my village. Reading numerous researches by so called experts in the area of sexuality, I can tell for sure there is no influence or pressure for me to become a mak nyah today.
My mum used to tell me how she had to sew 3 floral dresses just because I would simply snatch Kak Piah's (my neigh bour), every time she hangs it on the clothesline. This story will always be told at family gatherings in order to embarrass me so that I would quit being feminine. I must admit it made me feel a little embarrassed but of course, deep in my heart I wanted more than Kak Piah's floral dress. You can say that it was an early sign of my flamboyant personality. Compared to other mak nyahs I guess I was lucky because my parents had never beaten me up or were harsh to me regarding my lembut lembai attitude. I am not saying that they encouraged me ... NO. I feel that I was just lucky even though their acceptance came very much later in my life.
I was in a boys' school until form three... boy... that was my hardest time before reaching puberty I must admit, it made me resent school. However, I was happier in standard six when I managed to meet 4 boys who behaved like me. Unfortunately, it didn't last becausethey became introverts while I was the opposite. Of course I was not yet a star then like I am today. Imagine wearing shorts and how boys used to cat call me (my legs actually ... I still posses a.pair of sexy legs). During that time we were not allowed to wear long pants. Only those who passed their SRP were allowed to. It was a real torture....when some rowdy boys with their rude manners hug you and claim that you are their girlfriend .... lining up to Science lab ... oh God, I felt like a girl reaching her puberty I simply hated schooling with boys.
I passed my SRP with flying colours, and my first move was to change school (I wished I could be transferred to a Convent school). I`thought that I had settled my problem with boys. However, my new school created worse problems for me. I am not embarrassed to admit that in my new school I tried to change my soft behaviour by getting involved in sports. It didn't help but I did excel in my studies. This was the most depressing period of my life as I had no one to turn to. You just had to swallow all your feelings. Sex in the dormitory was also unavoidable. Being lonely and confused, you tend to seek for protection. In return, all was forgiven but not forgotten. Again, this was not the reason, which led me to become a mak nyah. I was already a mak nyah before this.
If you ask me what is the biggest sacrifice I have made, my answer would be dressing up as a man ... I was in a huge dilemma. It was agony to wake up and wear male attire to go to work. I was a teacher for almost 7 years in government schools - 3 and a half years in in Kelantan and 4 years in Brunei. You might think, why didn't I just quit? Well, I couldn't because I had to contribute to my family financially. Nowadays, to make myself feel good I always tell myself that I am still a teacher. In fact, I was a good one. Many of my friends and relatives often ask me why didn't I stay in the teaching profession? My answer would be, if I were allowed to wear women's attire then I'll do it. I must also add that another agony of being a teacher is that I was expected not only to teach academic subjects like economics but also football. Me? Teaching sports and football? I leave it up to your imagination.
When I got back to Malaysia from Europe (I was there following my foolish heart) I decided to make it big as a showgirl. How could it be?, I thought. I was fat, black and ugly. (you see, I lost my confidence due to my foolish stay in Europe). I remember very well having to beg Mr. Benny Teh, the manager of a show group, Mannequeen. I was willing to do it for free on one condition, he was to allow me to sing. It was really tough but my patience was worthwhile. As a mak nyah I am very proud of my current profession. I was made an opening act for local and international artistes like Ning Baizura, La Bouch, Peter Andre and many others. I was the first mak nyab to be the Master of Ceremony at private and government functions in Penang. You. might think that I am only telling you made up stories. Everything I've told is the actual truth.
Being a mak nyah at this age and stage of life, I understand that we are surrounded with so many homophobics and people who simply cannot accept mak nyahs, who are also the creation of the Almighty Allah. It's hard and sad to be rejected after attending meetings, and I can tell you I am not the only one facing this problem. The rest of my sisters too are having a hard time in their respective areas.
I have handled many functions attended by Ministers and royalties. I have even sang to our Prime Minister but some committee members tend to have a 'play safe' attitude to avoid complicated situations. The usual explanation is, "I have nothing against peoplelike you but you know,,,,,,,". Imagine, I have lost so many good opportunities with this kind of attitude. I was also rejected from being a host on a TV show recently. I felt sad but I kept telling myself that I needed to go on and keep proving that I am not worthless. So in this new millennium I want to stress some important messages to all of my mak nyab friends in Malaysia in order to be accepted.
The mak nyab issue is an old one of course and I guess that I, a transgender living and working in Malaysia, am the right person to talk about it. Now I've decided to speak up because it's time to do so. After all, we have now reached a new millennium and it's a shame that choices are still limited for people like me who are labelled with names like Pondan, Bapuk, Darai, Arbok, Sotong etc.
Like it or not, we do exist, dressing and behaving just like other girls (maybe a little over the top sometimes). But to all of my sisters out there, it's time to get out of our self pity and help ourselves. Here are some areas to consider:
This is the most crucial factor to improve your life, regardless of gender. It doesn't have to mean getting into varsities or higher institutions of learning. Try your best to learn as much as you can, in addition to learning some skills. Don't be afraid, education is not merely academic in nature.
Your goal is not just only to be a woman. just because you are different, it does not mean you cannot have a dream. Ask yourself what you really want, and seek it. Good support is needed, so get to know positive thinking people. If help is needed, get in touch with organisations like CASP or Pink Triangle.
We always claim that the public does not respect us but do we respect ourselves? The main point here is to respect and be respected. Behaving and dressing as decently as you can helps but so does having a little bit of humour when people make fun of us.
The important thing is that there are still many nice people at large. Believe me, you will soon enjoy the sweetness of being respected.
In Malaysia, without the knowledge of many, there are thousands of successful transgenders. I have met transgenders who are models, showgirls, financial consultants, designers, directors, sales executives, entrepreneurs and many more....
I would like to say that the world is full of opportunities. Of course, there will be barriers and obstacles, but all the 'straights' have their own challenges too.
To all the 'straight' people, my only plea is PLEASE acknowledge our existence and have a bit of patience and mercy so that together we will be useful citizens working hand in hand for the growth and development of our country.
Sisters, in time I hope and pray that we will gain the public's trust and God willing, the pain will soon end. We may be different but good traits apply to everyone.