Friday, 28 December 2012

Opening Our Minds

‘Transgender’ is still considered to be a taboo word here in Malaysia; it is a word that some people here do not even WANT to try to understand. Ideals and beliefs are still very conservative and people want to keep it that way, which makes it very hard for transgenders.

I am a very open person who is accepting of other people’s choices and I do not treat anyone differently because of their decisions.  Raised in the West, I was taught to be more open and understanding of others.  However, this is not necessary true for all places. For example, in the Northeast and the West of the United States including New York and California, they are more open while in states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, people are more reserved about topics like this. Wherever you are in the world, ‘transgender’ seems to be a topic that most people don’t want to discuss and I don’t see why not.

            Every time I tell friends that I have gone out the night before with some friends for dinner and dancing, one always ask me whether I have met any transgender. My answer is, “who cares?”

Yes,  Southeast Asia is known for women who are ridiculously pretty and too perfectly ‘woman’, so many people assume that they are men who have had cosmetic surgeries.  Even if these pretty  ‘women’ are transgenders, it doesn’t mean that they should be treated any differently.  

For example, a couple months ago I was honored to attend my co-worker’s performance near Bukit Bintang. It was at a gay club and honestly I was super excited. I knew that there were gay people here in Malaysia but they kept their lives so low profile that it seemed nonexistent here.

When I got there, I was so happy! There were so many people without a care in the world and it felt like I wasn’t in Malaysia, it felt like I was back in the States.  I met a few transgenders and honestly they were BEAUTIFUL. I really don’t think girls look as pretty as they do and I even told them that. They told me that I must be joking because I was pulling it off pretty well! That was the greatest compliment ever to me! They  were so friendly and they seemed to be so excited to meet someone that was so accepting of them.

 I talked to them for a little while and I don’t think I have ever felt more comfortable than I did in those 10 minutes. We talked about boy problems, drama, and everything in between (and obviously squeezed in some time to show off our dance moves.) At the end of the night, we got each others’ numbers and we promised to meet up and dance the night away. It was one of the best nights for me here in Kuala Lumpur.

            While the experience that I mentioned above was a positive one, not all experiences have a happy ending. Recently, I was in Bangkok with my family. On the last night, we went to enjoy the night market where things are good and can be bargained for less.  We passed by some clubs  and realized that we were inside the Patpong area -- the red light district. It is just like the red light district in Amsterdam -- lots of clubs, bars, and really sleazy people. It is a place where sex is readily available and prostitution is not even an afterthought.

 All we saw were dark rooms filled with smoke, dancers on the tables, and men staring at the women as if they were crowned jewels. While I was walking by myself, I came across a situation that I didn’t not quite enjoy but I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off .  A male traveler was asking for some company and the women was agreeing. When I walked past I realized that they were arguing, he had one hand holding her arm almost pulling her along and she stopped him. I was not quite sure what they were arguing about, but I heard number values being shouted around and I realized that they were talking about money.

 I moved on because I did not want to be a part of the conversation when all of a sudden I heard, “ BUT YOU ARE A LADYBOY!” When I turned around I saw that everyone else was also staring, clearly startled as to what disturbed their shopping. The woman was clearly embarrassed and she did not even give the man the time of day and walked off without looking at anyone around her.

            Slurs like these erupt often, people are thinking up new words to hurt others’ feelings. You would think that as we progress socially, calling people names should not be a common practice, but in actual fact, nasty words are being transformed into more creative words.

             When I first heard about what PT Foundation in KL does, I was so happy that there are people helping to give positive living to the marginalized.  The communities that they focus on for their Positive Living Program are Drug Users, Sex Workers, Transgender, and Men who have sex with men. The thing that is so special about PT Foundation is the people working in the organization because most of them are those who have been there themselves. They are people that have overcome those societal issues and they are finally happy being themselves. They don’t care about what others think about them.
            When I read about what Nisha and Sulastri’s experiences, it put a smile on my face that they are helping people that are going through what they went through and they are lending a helping hand to people that need them. They are doing for people what they themselves should have received in terms of care and encouragement when they needed someone there. 

This is the very special Nisha talking about experiences and what drove her to be a part of PT Foundation and to help others. She is an inspiration to the community, not just the transgender community but all that have been mistreated.

This is Sulastri Ariffin explaining to us what she does at PT Foundation and the difference between transgender and transsexual. Both, Nisha and Sulastri are inspirations to everyone by showing that as Nisha puts it "we are all human beings" and that there is no reason to be treated differently. 

People who have been through the same situations as people they are helping are better helpers because they know the exact situation and feelings in those critical moments when understanding of the issue at hand is most essential. When I am upset and someone says “I don’t know what to say.” It makes me a bit angry inside because I wish they could help me with the problem that I am going through instead of treating me like a sobbing idiot.

The PT foundation has opened the doors for so many people and hopefully can change more people in Malaysia to embrace a more tolerant views about transgenders. 

love and prosperity,
Anitha Thanabalan 

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Powering Through

        In my years, I have dealt with a lot of heartbreaks and seen a lot of people give up because of the smallest things. They believe that they no longer have a chance to be happy because of the circumstances that life has given them. I have had best friends giving up on life because of relationships and because they just couldn’t take it anymore. But everything looks so menial when put in a bigger prospective. For Jenny Pong Seow Chin, even when everything seems to fall apart, she manages to have a smile on her face each and every day.

         From a very young age, Jenny Pong Seow Chin has learned that things do not come easy, so she had to grow up very fast taking care of her siblings and helping her mother around the house. She never enjoyed the luxuries that some of us now take for granted yet regardless of all of that she tries to make everyone around her smile with her infectious laughter and her always positive attitude.

         Her situation is very much like another person by the name of Nick Vujicic.  Nick does not have arms OR legs. He was born with neither arms nor legs because of a birth defect. He struggled throughout his life because he always wondered whether his life was worth anything. He dealt with a lot of frustration because he had to deal with bullying and self-esteem issues from his peers because they did not know how to react to a person like him.

However, throughout everything and all the issues that he had to deal with, he is an inspiration to so many people. As he grew older, he learned to deal with his disability and he started to be able to do more things on his own.

Currently, he is living in Los Angeles inspiring people everywhere and he is the president of an international non-profit organization and has his own motivational speaking company called Attitude is Altitude. He inspires people to look beyond all the problems and put a smile on their faces. He inspires children that bully and are bullied. He gives them the message that ‘sooner or later everything will work out and if you put all your energies to something positive it can get you very far.’

         Jenny Pong Seow Chin’s legs were amputated when her doctor told her that she could never regain feeling in her legs. However, when she went into surgery, she realized that the incision that the surgeon created was uneven and because of that, it prevented her from sitting upright, causing even more problems. Because of that, she had to drag herself on her stomach in order to complete her chores. However, one of her brothers had a brilliant idea to create a trolley so that she could move around with more ease. With her family’s help, a trolley was constructed for her to move around easier and safer.

However, after 26 years of not being able to sit upright, she finally got the opportunity when her custom made wheelchair was presented to her this past Sunday. This wheelchair has been in discussion for 2 years. After it was made in October this year in Singapore, it wasn’t delivered till Dec 23 as Mr Lee, the maker has been waiting for Pong to heal from her stump infection.

The unforgettable day is Sunday, Dec 23 2012. A group of people went to Ipoh to change her life for the better. The photos show how excited she is to be able to finally sit up after so many years. It makes me so happy to have helped someone with something so important.

         Both Nick Vujicic and Jenny Pong Seow Chin have proven to me that through all the hardships that we have all been through, it is nothing compared to what they have had to go through for most of their lives. It gives me a new perspective for I realize that no matter how big I think a problem is, I can always pick myself back up and continue my day normally with a smile on my face.

If they can do it, then I can. 

         And, I must.


love and prosperity,
Anitha Thanabalan