Thursday, 24 November 2011

About Sulastri Ariffin

Sulastri AriffinSeveral years ago, eHomemakers was organizing a Mother's Day contest with this theme -- Mothers who take care of children who aren't biologically theirs. One of the nominations was from Pink Triangle Foundation for a former sex worker who founded a center to take care of other sex workers' children. In order to determine the authenticity of the nomination, I went to Pink Triange to meet the nominator, Sulastri Ariffin.

After listening to her enthused testimony about the nominee, I asked her to take me to see the nominee whose center was just a few blocks away from Pink Triangle. "We are going to pass by some lorongs with different kinds of people, you are ok with this?" she asked, her eyes twinkled. 

                                             Sulastri at Pink Triangle 's Drop-in Center
                                                            She loves her job!

She seemed to be quite amused that the Executive Director of a women's network was going to walk with her through KL's notorious backstreets at 10 am.

We passed by a woman who was leaning at a wall, wearing a very short skirt . "Hi," Sulastri waved at her and stopped to ask about her business.

"Agak slow sikit ( a bit slow today)," she said, a cigarette dangling at a corner of her mouth. "Nak bayar rumah besok ( I need to pay house rental by tomorrow)!"  A flicker of sadness flashed across her eyes, she blinked and stared at the traffic in front of her.

Sulastri comforted her, they then discusseds in a low voice.

When we turned to the next side street, I asked her, "Is she a sex worker?"

Surprised by my question, Sulastri chuckled, "I thought you know? She is postive. I reminded her about using condoms and that she should come in for another check at our clinic."

"I kind of guess, but I wasn't sure. It is only 10 am..... too early for this kind of business ..." I murmured.

Sulastri burst out laughing. "When people need money, any time is business time! Look," she pointed at two women standing near a staircase at the front of a dingy looking kedai kopi, "they are also in business now. See the men drinking kopi at the shop? Someone may just stand up any time and ask the girls to go upstairs!"

My cheeks burnt with embarrassment. I had always thought I was a liberal and that I could spot things like these easily without asking stupid questions. It looked like I had been working from home far too long and my life had been evolving inside a gilded cage!

As we weaved ourselves through the lorongs, Sulastri waved to several women. She was well known here!

"They are my clients, I take care of them under the Sex Workers' Program', she said non-chalantly. "I work at night too, meeting them and helping them with their problems."

Her baju kurung swayed slightly as she walked in a very Malay femenine way -- lengkang lengkok. She was every inch a woman.

Untill then, I had never been so close with a transgender before.

For the next two hours, Sulastri waited patiently for me to interview the nominees and take pictures.
I thanked her for specially coming to help me on her off day. "I will do anything to help sex workers.  They are my people." She said.

Weeks later, someone from Pink Triangle told me about Sulastri's trials and tribulations.  I was more than surprise-- the lady was so humourous and jovial thoroughout the few hours I spent with her. There was no way I could detect that she had just passed through some very tough time including jail  time not long ago for being a transgender and a sex worker.  The person reminded me that women like Sulastri have proven to be very resilient. "You know,  its not important to hold all the good cards in life. But it's important how well you play with the cards you hold. I have heard so much from you how your members complain about not being able to balance home and work life, not able to find a teleworking job, etc, etc. Women like Sulastri don't complain, they live!! Ever thought of her being a  model woman for your eHomemakers' community?"

I was stunned by the suggestion.

And I thought about it for a long time, knowing that there are many women I know who dislike transgenders and they will put up great resistance if Sulastri is featured in our website as a model for the e-community.

When I wrote the application for this project to the Krishen Jit Astro Award committee, I knew Sulastri had to be one of the women because her belief in herself has affirmed to me that I should openly believe in women like her and not be afraid of the repercussions. 


"I'm Just being honest to myself.
 Honour and celebrate my trueself.
Just believe in myself and my creator.
Enjoy life to the fullest coz life is too short.
I will live and die as a Mak Nyah/Transgender!!!!
Nothing in this world can change me,except God."  by Sulastri Ariffin

Blogpost by Dr Pepper Lim about TS


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