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The Strange Treatment of Trans People in Malaysia’s Media

in MALAYSIA, 13/10/2011

Malaysia’s media is under fire for airing two bizarre explanations about transgender (‘mak nyah’) and effeminate gay people (‘pondan’). One claimed that they are a ‘threat to women’s livelihoods,’ another that ‘wrong food consumption the cause of effeminate men.’

“Pondan Ancaman Wanita” (Effeminate Men A Threat To Women) aired on the Wanita Hari Ini talkshow on TV3 on October 4 accusing effeminate men and transgender people of “stealing” women’s husbands and jobs.

Trans activist Jellene Eva told Free Malaysia Today:

“I would like to remind TV3 that all citizens of Malaysia are protected under the Federal Constitution and Defamation Act 1957.”

“Under no circumstances may any discrimination or defamation be broadcast to incite hate towards Malaysians, regardless of gender.”

“I hereby insist that the station release a press statement to apologize for the slanderous broadcast made to enact fear and hatred towards the transsexual community in Malaysia.”

The show was further accused of stereotyping women as makeup artists and wedding planners and also for suggesting that women are “whiny and weak” when faced with a competitive environment.

“A point that was made in the show,” said Jellene, “was that women are threatened because effeminate men are monopolizing the makeup industry. This is wrong as the culinary arts, makeup and hairstyling industries are dominated by masculine men.”

“So the title of the episode should have been “Lelaki Ancaman Wanita” (Men A Threat To Women) because these men are doing what used to be women’s jobs.”

Jellene said that Malaysia has come a long way in recognizing that women are no longer confined to careers in beauty alone but have now expanded into previously male-dominated industries like the police force, engineering and entrepreneurship.

In the October 6 Malay daily, Berita Harian posted “Salah makan punca pondan” (Wrong food consumption the cause of effeminate men.)

Quoting Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Chemical Engineering, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), Dr Siti Mahmud Mohd Setapar, he claimed that artificial hormones, preservatives and flavoring led to excessive hormonal imbalance and contributed to the causes of modern illness. These included, he wrote, ‘a crisis of gender,’ obesity, stress, stroke, heart disease and ‘changes in human behavior.’ The ‘wrong’ food leads to hormone imbalances effecting fetuses in the womb, he said.

He claimed that “once the number of effeminate men .. was one in a million but now the number may be one in 100 thousand.”

To avoid the ‘gender crisis,’ he said:

“The role of government should be taken in changing the eating habits of the public, including reducing the fast-food ad impressions and adding information in the mass media.”

Transgender people in Malaysia face extreme levels of stigmatization and discrimination which is often exacerbated by biased media reporting. They often face abuses “ranging from physical violence to mental torture to sexual assault” to being “prevented from accessing health services, housing, education, employment and other basic rights enjoyed by all Malaysians.”

In August, the suicide of a 26-year-old transgender woman, Aleesha Farhana, who lost her case in Malaysia’s High Court July 17 after the National Registration Department refused to update her name and gender on her identity card despite her having undergone sex reassignment surgery, received widespread media coverage in Malaysia.

Her death led to the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development issuing a unprecedented statement saying that it provides counseling and guidance to transgender people without the “intention of ‘correcting’ behaviour etc in line with socially accepted norms.”

She also said that she would meet with Seksualiti Merdeka, a sexuality rights advocacy group, and members of the transgender community to understand and address the needs of transgender people in Malaysia.

In two Asian countries, Pakistan and Nepal, ‘third sex’ is accepted as a category for ID cards.
 

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