Illustration by Sunita
“My gender does not define my capabilities.”– Megan Steven, Transgender Activist
In 2013, I made a video about the challenges and capabilities of a transwoman. In November 2014, I was invited by a friend who worked at Radio Television Malaysia to speak on a live show about transgender issues. Since then I have been actively involved in advocacy and activism. I have been invited to several educational institutions to spread awareness on the transgender community and have been featured in several local newspapers.
However, despite the public attention, I realized that the rights of transgender people are often ignored or treated as non-existent. Even in my day-to-day life where I am simply just working or looking for a job so that I can survive, the discrimination is inescapable. It is almost as if it comes with the package – the package of having to live my life as a transwoman.
Throughout my life, I have been rejected several times while going for job interviews, but there are a few occasions that I will never forget. Once, I was interviewed by the owner of the company who said to me that he “rather hire a stupid girl, instead of a smart transgender”. I felt hurt and powerless. I could not do anything but stare at him speechless, and walk out from the interview room, feeling disgruntled.
Another incident was an interview with a manager who said that their company will only hire me if I dressed according to the sex I was being assigned to on my identification card. Being rejected on the spot because of your gender identity is not a fun experience. While it does make me stronger and braver, I have also developed a fear of rejection.
Being a transwoman, sexual harassment is something that I have encountered a lot. It is something I cannot run away from. Some people said I deserve everything that comes my way, including the unjust and contempt treatment against me. They said I should accept the regular bouts of sexual harassment in order for me to ‘become a man’. Apparently, for some people, there is no such thing as sexual harassment in a transwoman’s life because we are ‘crazy for sex’.
I used to work in a pet store. Some of the customers complained about the way I dressed, saying it was too sexual. I remember encountering an incident with a male customer who wanted to rip off my clothes in front of everyone in the store if he sees me dressed up as a woman. I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t even able to wear what I want. I felt that my freedom of expression was being controlled yet despite what I have faced, I wasn’t able to do anything. I needed to hold on to my job because from my experience, finding a job as a transwoman isn’t easy. In fact, we need to work 10 times harder compared to cis genders.
It’s disheartening to see how in the minds of many, we are quite simply seen as unworthy or as sex objects, sex toys to be used and abused. When in reality, we are normal human beings with beating hearts, and feelings. We have the right to exist, to live, and to feel safe just like anyone else.
The life of a transgender is, no doubt, a difficult one. We are discriminated against at every corner of the world, even something as ordinary as going into a public toilet. I recalled a situation where a woman felt uncomfortable with me, as a transwoman, entering a female toilet. She lodged a complaint to the management. The management informed my company that I need to use the toilet outside the building. Can you imagine that I need to take a hasslesome 5 to 7 minute journey just to seek a public toilet all because they do not recognize my gender identity?
Despite all these struggles, I keep my dreams going – my dreams of being just like Oprah Winfrey, having my own talk show so that I can not only inspire others but also help those who are in need. What empowers me to move forward? I would say, myself because after seeing all the struggles that I went through, I still stand strong. I pushed myself forward and tell myself that “no one can help you if you do not help yourself”.
While my parents do not understand why I am who I am and they struggle to accept me as their daughter, I still fervently wish that they will know and see me for who I truly am one day, and that they will be proud of me.
As a transwoman, all we want is inclusivity. Transgender women deserve respect and common decency just like any other human being. My hope for Malaysia is that we will be a community that cares for each other and helps one another despite our differences in gender, race, religion, skin color, and background. I’m happy that there have been some positive changes in attitudes for the past 10 years towards the minorities in our society, but we still have a long way to go.
To the public, I hope people will listen to our stories with an open mind instead of degrading or vilifying the LGBTQ+ community. Let us all treat everyone with respect. We should judge a person by their actions, not by their gender identity, and allow the LGBTQ+ community to have a voice.