T-Home, a safe place that helps older Malaysian transwomen

Tan Mei Zi

T-Home continues to be a safe haven for older transwomen. ― Pictures by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 12 ― From the outside, T-Home looks like any other of the single-storey bungalows you would find in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.

But it holds special significance for a number of older transwomen ― most of them who are now in their 50s and 60s ― who have found a safe haven under its care.

T-Home has been a beacon of light for many elderly transwomen, a forgotten minority within a minority who often find themselves homeless and without family support.

The home has continued to address the issue of homelessness in the older trans community since it opened in August last year.

The majority of them come from poor backgrounds and resorted to sex work as a means of staying afloat, but were later put out of a job as they grew older.

T-Home was set up by SEED Malaysia, a non-governmental organisation which offers support to marginalised communities including transwomen and those living with HIV/AIDS.

Donations from individuals both outside and inside the trans community help T-Home to give much-needed assistance and protection to marginalised groups in Malaysia.

As part of their fundraising efforts, SEED Malaysia will be hosting an annual gala dinner called Jazz It Up For Charity on February 16 with the support of the Malaysian AIDS Council.

Funds raised will go towards the upkeep of SEED Malaysia’s initiatives including T-Home and a drop-in centre in Chow Kit that focuses on aiding the street community.

Hope for the future

All of the furniture in T-Home came courtesy of donations.

One of the residents, known as Amy, sees T-Home as a place of hope where she can finally have a fresh start.

“I want to build my life back up again from ground zero in the right way, the proper way.

“I love to learn. My favourite subject is English which I scored well in at school, but I didn’t have enough income so I didn’t finish my studies,” said the 53-year-old who previously worked as a sex worker.

Amy dreams of owning her own business one day and is now learning how to manage her finances in order to reach her goals.

One resident who goes by the name Jamil said that T-Home has saved her from having to sleep without a roof over her head.

“I used to sleep rough on the streets, like at LRT stations, staircases, and bus stops.

“So my heart feels happy being here. We have a house, enough to eat, and enough sleep,” she said.

The 51-year-old is an aspiring chef and hopes to open her own food stall one day.

Until then, she keeps the residents of T-Home well-fed by helping to cook up delicious meals in the kitchen.

Cooking and cleaning is a communal effort where every resident pitches in. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif

The house is entirely taken care of by the residents who all pull their own weight when it comes to daily chores and cooking.

By providing a supportive environment to its residents, T-Home is empowering the elderly trans community by giving them a safe space as well as helping them to find work and become financially independent.

One resident known as Linda said she gives back whenever she can in the form of monetary support.

“We’ve been provided a home and it’s up to us if we want to donate back to it.

“For example, I can give RM100 to pay for water if I have extra money. We help the home because the home has helped us,” said the 56-year-old who currently earns her keep as a massage therapist.

For Linda, T-Home also represents a newfound family that she can depend on.

“I don’t want to bother my real family. Firstly because I’m old, and secondly because I have a new family here.

“Life was very different when we were all young. In the past, I had to rent rooms and my friends were all in the Chow Kit area.

“Now when I come home, it feels like I finally have my own place. I am happy living here,” she said.

Keeping the home and other SEED programmes afloat

Nisha Ayub explains about the services and amenities available at T-Home.

SEED Malaysia programme director Nisha Ayub said that the aim with T-Home was to create an atmosphere which would allow its residents to foster a sense of independence.

“I wanted to create this family feeling among the sisters because a lot of us lacked love from our own families. We practice a lot of community support and we’re very open towards each other.

“The unique part about the community here is that some of them are working. They still go out and earn a living doing normal jobs,” Nisha said.

Residents also receive special assistance when it comes to tasks such as receiving medical care.

Many transwomen experience discrimination at hospitals where stigma continues to pervade doctor’s offices, with some doctors even refusing to examine patients because of their gender identity.

The house is currently home to five residents and can accommodate up to 10.

T-Home’s services are especially crucial to the elderly trans community who suffer from various ailments, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.

Tables for the charity gala are priced at RM1,500 (Silver), RM3,000 (Gold), and RM5,000 (Platinum).

Tax exemption receipts are also available for contributions of over RM1,000 and will be issued by the Malaysian AIDS Council.

For more information, visit SEED Malaysia’s official website.

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