Life histories of transpeople in Asia
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)
My name is Shakila. I was born and brought up in Kuala Lumpur. I am a transsexual. I've been a transsexual all my life. I remember that it all started at a very early age. When I was only 3 years old, I had a tendency to wear female clothes and also playing female games during childhood like playing cooking and playing with dolls. As I started going to primary school, I started mixing more with girls at school. From then on, the feeling of wanting to be a girl and feeling like a girl continued until I went to secondary school. As a teenager, my desire to become a female became stronger and I started using some basic make-up and lip gloss when I went to school. At this stage, I noticed that I was sexually attracted to the boys in school. At school I also had some problems with the students who always teased me by saying that I was a 'sissy' (soft) person but I just ignored those remarks. I was even scolded by my class teacher for being soft and not active in sports which boys used to play like football and so on. Because of this, my class teacher asked me to call my father to school because she wanted to talk to him about my behaviour. My father scolded me for not being tough in games but I continued with my usual behaviour.
I remembered that when I was in form 5, 1 had a relationship with a boy who was one of my classmates. I found out that I was very sexually attracted to him. He used to invite me out during the school holidays to watch movies or just go shopping. Our feelings grew stronger for each other as time passed by. However, at the end of the year we separated after we had a fight. The reason was that he did not like me mixing with a senior transsexual at school.
After sitting for my SPM, I had plenty of free time and I took this opportunity to take dancing classes (traditional and modern) at the Kelab Budaya Negara (National Cultural Club). There, I got to know a few more friends who were also transsexuals and have become permanent dancers there with a group. Once, while coming home from my dancing classes, I passed by a street near The Royal Selangor Club and saw a big crowd gathered there. As I went near to watch, I noticed that there were a few transsexuals who were very beautifully dressed on the streets and all the men in the cars and street were crowding around to look at them. I braved myself to go and talk to one of the transsexuals. She was kind and co-operative. From then onwards, whenever I was coming back from classes I used to hang around with the transsexuals at The Royal Selangor Club street. The transsexual whom I befriended became my mak ayam (mother hen) who became like a mentor to me. She was the one who taught me to be beautiful and to look like a woman by taking hormones to have beautiful skin, hair and figure. I started taking my hormones at the age of 17 years old. But it was only for a brief period, as I had to attend school.
After completing my STPM in college, I wanted to further my studies whereby I applied to a university in London to take up law. I was offered a place there but I couldn't go because my sister who came back from London at that time was opposed to the idea of me studying there. She convinced my mother that the European community (men) liked gays and there would be a strong possibility that I will go off on the wrong track if I went to study there. I felt so disheartened for not being able to continue my studies that I ran away from home. I went and met my mak ayam whom I mentioned earlier and from then onwards, I went to live at Jalan Ampang with a few transsexuals whom she introduced to me.
From this point, I started joining the girls on the street and worked as a sex worker with them. While working on the streets I went through a lot of difficulties like harassment from the police and also from some of the guys who released their anger or frustration on people like us. I just don't understand why the police take us to the police station and sexually harass us like criminals.
Sometimes, we were also beaten up by them or by some road gangsters. I went through 'hell' on the streets at night.
At one time, I was also beaten up by my brother and was taken home for dressing up as a female. However, the next day I ran away again from home and lodged a police report. I warned them not to disturb my personal life. At this stage, I was already wearing female clothes full time. I had started taking hormones to beautify myself like a woman. I also had started developing breasts and was verycomfortable with them. As time passed by, after getting so many problems from the police, I decided that I wanted to get a regular job. I went to many job interviews but was rejected because of the way I dressed and also due to my sexuality. I did not quite understand why society judged a person based on their appearance and not their achievement or capability to work. Since I was not able to find a job, I started working on the streets again. I think this is why most of the transsexuals work as sex workers since they are rejected by society. I think that if they are given a chance to work, most of the transsexuals can function well in society. Socially, I have no problems mixing around in society because I get along well with everyone. I don't have a problem with people around me including my neighbours because I have been living in my area for almost 10 years. I feel that now there is better acceptance by the society. Nevertheless, discrimination or opportunity problems in the job sector are still evident.
After all these years, my family has also accepted me especially my sisters. I feet strongly that this is because women are more patient and understanding. Now, I have grown matured enough and always try to advise the younger generation to get out of sex work and find a normal job to have a better future. However I think that this dream will only come true if there is acceptance from the society itself. Therefore, I hope that there will be more positive changes in the society for transsexuals in Malaysia.