Friday, 24 June 2011

Boy Meets Transgender Girls

“Where are we heading again?” I asked Aunty Ching Ching for the umpteenth time.

“Chow Kit Road,” she kindly reminded me. “You ready? We’re leaving soon.”

Ah . . . typical, I jokingly thought to myself. Where else can you expect to meet transgenders, other than at a place infamous for its sketchy drug dealers and sleazy prostitutes. This thought was immediately followed by the realization of how dogmatic and ‘unfunny’ it was. I gave myself a light punch in the head as punishment for being a bigot.

Aunty Ching Ching reminded me to keep an open mind as we head to the Pink Triangle Foundation (PTF).

“These women have been through enough. Imagine having to fight and struggle on and on for just mere acceptance from your own community.”

I bit my tongue and solemnly gave my word. I am not one of those overtly conservative transphobic nor were I a religious extremist; far from it. If anything, I was just your standard suburban person who lacks exposure and awareness to those of the different sort.

We were to meet them at the lobby of the Tune Hotel. They have yet to arrive, but no worries; the air conditioners were blasting and the couch was comfy. I certainly made myself too comfortable as Aunty Ching Ching entertained me with one of her colourful life stories.

Soon after, a woman with delicate features and her male companion entered through the front door and Aunty Ching Ching immediately recognized her as Nisha. She greeted us in her sing-song voice and brought us to the PTF headquarter.

I did not know what to expect of the PTF headquarter as I have yet to see it, but nevertheless, I was awed by the sheer size of it. I would have assumed it was a small office located along the streets, but instead we were brought into a multi-story block. Nisha offered us refreshments while we waited for Sulastri, who arrived soon after.

I left the adults as they proceeded to discuss the 'serious stuff' and wandered around the facility.

The place was clean and well-ventilated, complete with living spaces, offices, bathrooms, a kitchen and a dormitory bedroom large enough to house a few bunk beds. The PTF headquarter apparently doubles as a sanctuary for the homeless transgenders by providing them with food and a place to wash up and sleep for the night.

I daresay I was somewhat underwhelmed but pleasantly surprised at the relative normalcy of the occasion. Television has a way of distorting reality by reiterating negative stereotypes, and I was a tad taken aback by the absence of glitter, sequins and ‘attitude’. Both Sulastri and Nisha were attired in sensible clothings and neither of them have the personality of a prima donna. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

We got to know Sulastri and Nisha better as Aunty Ching Ching interviewed each of them for the taping of their first webisode.

Besides singing, Nisha enjoys cooking for her friends and family; her mother and boyfriend can certainly testify to her superior culinary skills. As bubbly as she may seem, Nisha confessed that she is both a ‘perfectionist’ and a ‘neat freak’, having the peculiar habit of instinctly whipping out the vacuum cleaner each and every time she comes home.

On the other hand, the easygoing Sulastri had a certain casual aura surrounding her. She is both approachable and welcoming, thus, allowing her to freely discuss and debate various issues in an unbiased manner. She has also mentioned that she prefers to keep it 'simple' when it comes to her dressing, and this statement of hers bodes well with her neat and elegant appearance.

Both women have gone through substantial discrimination; both Sulastri and Nisha were sex workers. This is a profession not uncommon to the transgenders. Despite having the necessary skills needed for the job, the majority of local employers are still reluctant to hire transgenders based on the irrelevant issue of their sexuality.

When no other job seems available, it is easy to see how they are forced into prostitution to keep food on the table.

Sulastri and Nisha are already well-known within the local society for their roles as advocates for the transgender community. They have been tirelessly persistent in their crusade to garner acceptance and recognition from the common public, as well as to educate the citizens to be less ignorant and not shun them based on their gender.

As the clock struck four and the streets of KL begin to clog up with traffic, Aunty Ching Ching and I thanked them for their time and hospitality and bid them farewell. As we hopped into the taxi heading back home, Aunty Ching Ching laughed to herself and told me about the time she attended one of their lavish parties.

“They put on full on make-up and had their hair done all proper and prim, and they wore the prettiest dresses and the loveliest jewelry! It seems to me that they know how to be a better woman than me; and to think that I was the one born a woman!”

“Perhaps one day I should bring you along, Nigel?"

Oh, boy. I am amused, but suddenly anxious, at the prospect of it.

Written by Nigel Lim Zhi Xin

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