Friday, 25 November 2011

Music and Her Persons

I used to think that the song 'I will survive' by
Gloria Gaynor, was in its deep essence, about single moms who have to overcome social prejudices.

I first heard this song at Pattaya at one of the famous 'lady boy' shows. I was at Pattaya for a conference and brought my parents along. They heard so much about the lady boy shows in Ipoh that they insisted on going there 'to see.'

The trangender who lip-sang it was so beautiful that I was mesmerized by her face, her long gown, and every one of her gesture on stage, and then later on at the photo session when the audience paid to take photos with the lady boys.

I asked her why she sang the song so impressively. "The song is about my life, I am a lady boy!" The beautiful smile she gave me belied her struggling past in a small village in the North.

A tourist from India who studied transgenders in Asia gave me his insights about the lady boys. "This song really describes our public prejudice against transgenders all over Asia. If we are not so hypocirtical, judging them from cultural and religious views, they will not have to sing this song with such gusto!"

"Our Asian society still can't accept that there is a third gender!"

He told me that Buddhist Thailand is one of the most welcoming places on the earth for transgenders or kathoeys.   In the last ten years, the Thais also call them '(Thai: สาวประเภทสอง,"a second kind of woman").  The toilets with the 'male and female' signages, the term of endearment for transgender by the locals, and the various beauty pagents from district level to national level.  "The Thai society accepts them as women ( See the Thai audience's reaction in this video).  Sadly, your country is not very nice to transgenders, transexuals and cross-dressers," he shook his head and sighed. "You have too many negative dramas on them!"

His research revealed that there are estimated 10,000 to 30,000 transgenders ( or Mak Nyah) in Malaysia. He read Dr Teh of UPM's research in the year 2000. Among 507 respondents, at least half have been were detained by the police and the Islamic authorities for indecent behavior and cross-dressing.  62% had difficulty finding a job and 50% had to go into sex work to support themselves. (Dr Teh recently in 2011 affirmed that thie statistics haven't changed much for 2011).

After that chance encounter,  every time I meet a transgender, the man's revelations rang in my ears. "Mak Nyahs have been killed and attacked on the street for no reason in your country!"

The dancing in this video reminds me of  the transgenders I have met in musical events. They have beautiful bodies and very beautiful dance moves. All of them are more beautiful physically than most of us women!
     And when they sing "I will survive', I feel like
     my whole being is electrified by 
    the strong emotions, or rather 'the silent cries and
    tears' that I can't see.                     

Although I had known for years that they have been discriminated by the public especially the religious people, the lack of close contact with transgenders did not allow me to nurture a deep sense of empathy with them especially when I was already involved in speaking out on issues related to single moms, disabled women and women with chronic illnesses.

In the last few years, eHomemakers' Salaam Wanita project has involved training some transgenders who wanted to learn computer and teleworking.  I laise with Nisha and Sulastri at the office level and I have never asked them about their personal lives. The only mental conclusion I have about them is: they are more well groomed than me. They care a lot about their make-up, hair do and clothes more than me.

Now that I am working on this project, I get to know them at a personal level and I dare to ask the questions in my mind.

Nisha told me recently that there are still men who ask her how much is it to sleep with her as she walks on the street!

When I asked her how she felt about such disturbances, she shrugged her shoulders, "I am used to it. I am not bother about it."

It suddenly dawned on me that They look like women, they behave like women, they think like women, but they can't be as free as us women!

Because some people don't think they are women, the transgenders are seen as low-class sex workers who hook other women's husbands, sinners who are immoral, criminals who should be locked up in jail, religious deviants who should be re-educated in lock-up camps!

So, what kinds of life do they actually lead beyond the women's physical looks? How do they react to prejudices?

                                           Watch Nisha's video journal explaining beauty

Are they really as women as us - the women? 
Do they cry like us women or swallow the feelings up and 'go to the cave' to settle their emotions like men? Does talking to someone make them feel better when they have problems?  Do they envy us for our menstural problems? Do they have maternal instincts too?  

The first time I met Nisha in a private event, a group of transgenders was singing this song to the birthday person. Nisha sang the song with so much emotions that I was transfixed watching her.  At that event, I learnt that she just came out of jail after being arrested as a transgender and a sex worker.

I told her about our first chance encounter several years ago. She laughed, "I have sung that song so many times at parties, I can't remember which one that I impressed you with!"

"Do you want to sing more?"

"I love singing, but I am not good at singing," she lowered her head shyly. " I can only sing in groups." ( Watch this video journal where she finally admitted that she loves to sing.)

"How about you sing a song for this documentary project? You never know what will happen!" I suggested.

"No-lah, people are going to laugh..." she smiled coyly.

"Why do you care if they laugh at your singing? You have to be you, right?  So sing!" I persisted.

Nisha agrees.

This documentary project is going to be great as I got to do things that I never dreamed I would do for a transgender -- making Nisha's dream come true.


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