Dear Minister, I fear for the safety of my Trans sisters
By Minisha M. Deepu
AS A TRANS WOMAN, I fear for the safety of my trans sisters out there; working on the streets, and in multiple businesses out there. Within hours, the statement from the Minister calling for our arrest was shared on our trans woman group, which consist of mostly Muslim trans women. I saw the panic, the pain and fear they were going through. “What will happen to us now? Is this for real? Are we in grave danger?”
The news of the Minister of Religious Affairs, Datuk Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, giving full licence to JAWI, the Federal Territory Islamic Department, to come after our community was shocking. The Minister said it will be in line with the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and with the intent to educate (tarbiah) trans women in order for us to the “right path”. For me, this is disturbing coming from a former Mufti of KL who has engaged with the community in the past with more compassion. I really thought there would be an improvement in terms of inclusion from a religious perspective.
Perhaps due to religious upbringing, some trans women may even take the side of the Minister and JAWI, believing the religious authorities have the right to do this. Some trans women also think that some of us are exposing ourselves too much.
Therefore, some trans women started advising each other: “Lepas ni nyah, janganlah pakai sexy”. (After this sis, don’t be too sexy.”) Even others said, “Kite macam ni kan berdosa and azali lelaki kan, bersyukurlah kite boleh drag kat Mesia ni, eh janganlah show off sangat”. (“Us being like this is a sin and we were born as men, right? Be grateful that we get to drag in Malaysia, so, don’t show off too much”.)
When I heard this “drag” thing, I was appalled; we’re not drag queens or crossdressers, we’re women, we’re permanent. I still remember how I used to hide myself from my mum and had to change clothes in a petrol pump, stared at like I am a weirdo. But, I understand where they’re coming from; it is fear, they’re just scared of being targeted. They want everything to quieten down and everyone to leave them alone.
Today, I received a surprising call from my manager who is concerned for my safety. He told me to call him directly if I find myself in danger. Truly, I feel blessed as well as privileged. But I am not entirely happy; I wish the same privilege is extended to all the girls and sisters in the community. My mum was also afraid and told me to be careful and to avoid going out at night. She said in her own words: “These people have no standard of justice and justification”. We agreed that trans people have again become victims of a dirty political game.
Kite semua terpalit Bersama
“Nah—it’s the Minister of Islamic Affairs, it won’t affect the non-Muslim trans,” my trans sister told me, breathing a sigh of relief. But I wondered, really?! Do you think these anti-trans laws and fatwas will have no impact on us non-Muslims?
When we look closely at these anti-trans laws and fatwas, they will continue to impede the access of our basic rights to employment, healthcare, education, legal gender recognition, access to fair justice for all trans people regardless of ethnicity and religion; to me, it doesn’t matter if you are Muslim or non-Muslim, we’re all in this together. We have seen cases of non-Muslim trans women being arrested during raids by the Islamic department, facing prejudice in police detention, accessing healthcare services, and in many other places.
Just like in 2012 when Prime Minister Najib announced publicly that LGBT is the enemy of Islam, hate crimes and speeches perpetrated by vigilantes became more rampant.
Let’s not do this Muslim and non-Muslim talk. In Malay, we say “Kite semua terpalit Bersama” or “Kite semua dalam satu rojak”. We are all in this, let’s break the walls; let’s not build more walls within our small community.
The COVID pandemic is not even over yet…
The Minister also stressed the importance of the binary system in Malaysia, how we have to repent to “become a man again”.
For me, this is a real concern as it can confuse the general public out there that only the binary system of gender is recognised in Malaysia. Being trans is not about repentance and a sinful life.
This is true where my Christian trans sister shared the popularity of the “ex-transgender pastor”, who is preaching that you can repent after leading a trans “life”; he has proven it with himself and a follower, an Indian transgender woman who “became a man again”. How about the other faiths then? In other faiths such as Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Sikhism, preachers will start to perceive that being transgender is a phase and we can always repent – we’re just temporary! Our identity is valid and is permanent!
But I am seeing some change in Malaysia; when the Minister’s statement came out on Malaysiakini, many comments were against the Minister; they were appalled and defended the community – they said to leave the trans community alone and that we’re born this way and we shouldn’t be targeted by the authorities. Also, the comments also directed the Minister to focus on bigger issues such as the economy, the dumping of babies, and crimes etc. This came from a mix of both Muslim and non-Muslim netizens—I was so relieved, at last, a light at the end of the tunnel.
The COVID pandemic is not even over yet and many trans women lost their source of income, to the point of no access to food. They cried and reached out to our NGO for help and instead of being helped by the government, we have this happening—this is a terrible blow to us. When will all of this end? Please do have mercy on us.
Minisha M. Deepu
I am Minisha, a trans woman. I work as a program assistant for an international financial institution, and I’m an EXCO member of SEED Foundation Malaysia. I am passionate about creating equal opportunities for everyone, including the trans community.