Some were forced to become sex workers as they had no other choice, says HIV policy officer Khartini Slamah.
“A lot of them apply for jobs only to get rejected due to their sexuality,” said Khartini Slamah, 51.
“So don’t put blame on the Mak Nyah (male-to-female transsexual) alone that some had to resort to become sex workers,” said Khartini who won an award for her contribution to the Malaysian transgender community during the Transgender Day of Remembrance event.
The HIV policy officer who is based in Bangkok, Thailand, however said it was wrong to associate transgender people to sex workers alone.
“Mak Nyah are always associated with sex work and viewed distastefully.
“However, a lot of the transgender people are talented and many are in fact successful,” said the transgender NGO Delegation to the UNAIDS Programme Coordination Board (PCB).
She then lamented how the media tend to focus on the negative and fail to acknowledge the successful ones.
‘Everyone has their own stories, we cannot go along the lines of how one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel,” she said on the estimated 30,000 to 50,000 transgender people in Malaysia.
Khartini added it was hard for them to file police reports on hate-related cases as they normally do not get entertained.
“The police would usually say that we asked for it. Cases also normally go unreported as the transgender people decide not to lodge reports since it takes the police ages to take action,” she said.
She also frankly admitted that no parent would want their children to be transgender, however, they have to learn to accept it.
“It was definitely not easy for my family. But I am thankful that they now accept me for who I am,” said Khartini who comes from a religious family and was the eldest son.
“I pray and read the Quran, but will all these make me a jantan (manly man)? A Mak Nyah will always be a Mak Nyah,” she said.
We only want equality
Khartini, whose identity card (IC) states her as male, said it becomes a problem when going overseas.
“Sometimes we have problems when our passports state us as male but we look female. So they may think that we faked the passport.
“So I usually use the automatic lanes so that there would be less hassle,” she said.
Commenting on sex-reassignment surgery, she said it was forbidden because it gives harm to the body.
“The religious authorities saw how transgender people were operated, which looked harmful. But now with technology, things are different,” she said.
The Malaysian Conference of Rulers ruled in 1983 that sex-reassignment surgery should be forbidden to all except intersex people.
Khartini then expressed hope for change in the predicament of the transgender people.
“I hope that their health quality will be improved and for them to get the opportunity to further their education.
“I just want the transgender people to be treated equally. The transgender people are not asking for special rights, rather, we are just asking for equality,” she said.
She also stressed how the right approach in communicating with transgender people will make a huge difference.
“Imposing values would not solve problems. Instead, it would only create more,” she said.