KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 24 — A group of 20 Indian trans women urged the government today to change their gender status on their identity cards (ICs), claiming it was within their religious rights as Hindus.
“If the Hindu temples can acknowledge and permit marriages between a trans woman and a cisgender male — where both individuals are considered heterosexual — why can’t the government acknowledge this and let us change the gender marker in our ICs?
“According to the Federal Constitution, we can propagate our religious rights. If our religion doesn’t restrict us from being who we truly are, why should the government?” transgender advocate Sharan Manthira Naidu said at a press conference.
Sharan, who was introduced to inter-faith discourse by her family as a child, said that Hinduism has had a long history involving transgender people.
She said her studies found that a Hindu devotee identifying as female from a young age may seek to proceed with sex reassignment surgery upon performing a special prayer (pooja).
“If you received signs from the deity after the pooja, you can proceed with the surgery. Then you will start your confinement period of 45 days, where subsequently, you will be recognised as a female,” she said at a press conference at Pertubuhan Kesihatan dan Kebajikan Malaysia (PKKUM) here today.
Sex reassignment surgery is a surgical procedure to transition and reshape male or female genitalia to the desired gender of the individual.
Sharan said it is important for the government to allow gender change on ICs to avoid further discrimination.
“It is difficult having a female appearance, and for some of us, even female genitalia, but we are still identified as male in our legal documents.
“We are constantly exposed to public humiliation and potential sexual harassment. We have been manhandled at immigration checkpoints and even placed in male wards at public hospitals where we do not belong... all because our ICs say ‘male’,” she said.
She added this would also cause difficulties for many married Indian transwomen when they want to register their adopted children in school.
“Not only the transwoman would become the subject of bullying, but so will the child. The child’s peers would probably tease him or her about the ‘male’ status in the mother’s IC,” she said.
A transwoman, who only wants to be known as Bhavani, said she was constantly mocked by some members of society who assume that she is a man merely playing ‘dress-up’.
“Imagine being so unhappy with your own body... knowing that it’s the wrong body and then being ridiculed for embracing the real you. It is humiliating and saddening,” she said.
Another, who referred to herself as Kirthi, said she was also rejected by many landlords when she was looking for a place to open a business due to the identity mismatch.
“When I was in Singapore, I lived a happy life as a transwoman and I didn’t have to worry about my safety and security.
“Here, job opportunities are already scarce and when I tried to create my own source of income, only god knows the trouble I had to go through with the tenancy agreement,” she said.
Sharan also spoke at length about the importance of educating the public on different terms, such as gender identity, sexual orientation and sexual behaviour, which are often misinterpreted.
“The government should take it upon itself to educate the public on the actual definition of these terms, instead of lumping us all in one group — LGBT. Teach the public so that they will not stay ignorant.
“Lesbian, gay and bisexual, for instance, is sexual orientation, while transgender is sexual identity. One is not the same as the other.
“The Americans, who coined the term LGBTQIPA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, pansexual and asexual), were actually referring to a group of individuals who constantly face similar discrimination and violence,” she said.
PKKUM founder Elisha Kor Krishnan questioned the lack of positive stories involving trans people in Malaysian media.
She said the group has been misrepresented by stories about transvestites that were mostly sensationalised for being associated with the sex industry.
“Let’s take Cikgu Erin, for example. If he really was a transwoman and had gender dysphoria, how would he have the desire to marry a cisgender woman?
“This kind of representation confuses society and makes them point fingers at us. People will say if Cikgu Erin can change, why won’t the rest of us change too?” she said, referring to Mohd Khariri Mohamad Ramli, a former transvestite who has de-transitioned and is now becoming a Muslim preacher.
“Maybe 10 years ago, a lot of us were in the sex business but now we are actually doing well. Some are professionals and successful businesswomen but unfortunately, we don’t get an equal chance to talk about it in the media.”