Plight of the Third Gender
Transsexuals bemoan lack of acceptance
[KUALA LUMPUR] - Transsexuals are constantly harassed and there is a general lack of acceptance by the community, which has forced them to turn to prostitution, a forum organised by transsexuals heard recently.
It is the first organised by what Malaysians commonly refer to as the 'Mak Nyahs' to bring their plight to the mainstream with the help of the Malaysian Aids Council, reported the Sunday Mail.
'When we go for job interviews, potential employers make a decision based not on our qualifications but on our appearance. It is very difficult for a Mak Nyah to get mainstream employment,' said Khartini Slamah, a transsexual volunteer with the United Nations Development Fund and UNAids.
'So, we end up doing stereotype jobs, like working in hair salons or becoming beauticians, although there are transsexuals who are well-qualified to do other jobs like writing or public-relations work.'
Khartini was part of the Transsexuals: Living As The Third Gender forum, where the transsexuals related their experiences.
'Mak Nyahs face harassment from the police and the religious department. If we are caught and charged under syariah law for cross-dressing, the fine can be very high, sometimes up to RM3,000,' he said. The amount is equal to S$1,400.
'That's a lot of money, especially for sex workers. At present, we have no support system. We are expected to change ourselves and become normal men, which is impossible if one understands what transsexualism is.'
Transsexuals may or may not have undergone 'sexual reassignment surgery', in which the existing sexual organ is reconstructed to that of the opposite sex but the Sunday Mail said it is the 'goal of most transsexuals'.
Professor Teh Yik Koon, who has done research on Malaysian transsexuals since 1998, said: 'The community is marginalised. About 60 per cent live below the poverty line and many have been forced into the drug trade where they are exposed to the dangers of drugs and HIV.'
The report also quoted a transsexual as saying that in order for them to feel 'empowered', they need professional help from psychiatrists and plastic surgeons.
'This is no put-on. Our body is male but our thinking, our emotions, are female,' he said.