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 

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