Jeswan Kaur | August 10, 2011
Transsexuals in Malaysia have for a long time been fighting to have their gender identity reflected in their identity cards.
We gain freedom when we have paid the full price for our right to live. ? Rabindranath Tagore
A transsexual has died, heartbroken after her wish to lead life with her chosen gender name was rejected by the court.
Disowned by her parents for being truthful to her inner self, transsexual Aleesha Farhana had high hopes the law would not do the same. Alas, the court too dismissed her request and today, this young lady is no more.
All that never came to be and worse still, Aleesha Farhana was laid to rest as a ?man?.
Aleesha?s death come as a slap in the face of many, bringing home the realisation that all she wanted was to be recognised and respected for who she was, gender-wise.
Aleesha was not the first transsexual to die with her wish unfulfilled. But please, let her death be the last. Let there be life for her ?sisters? who continue to struggle with their existence.
Aleesha, 25, was born Ashraf Hafiz Abdul Aziz and underwent a sex reassignment surgery (SRS) in Thailand two years ago.
On May 25 this year, she applied to change her name according to her gender but Kuala Terengganu High Court judge Mohd Yazid Mustafa in his decision on July 18 rejected Aleesha?s application, citing three reasons: chromosome count, genital organ during birth and internal organs.
In short, there is no legal statute to grant the application based solely on a sex-change operation.
But then how does judge Mohd Yazid explain the 2005 ruling made in favour of a transsexual from Kuala Lumpur who made the same application as Aleesha?
In the case of JG vs the National Registration Department director, Justice James Foong then held in favour of the said transsexual.
Clearly, Mohd Yazid?s argument that the absence of a legal statute was why he dismissed Aleesha?s application does not hold water.
Aleesha?s application for a name-change was made to help her lead a ?normal? life. The documentation was necessary to facilitate her application to pursue her studies at a local university.
When Aleesha died on July 30, speculations were rife that she was depressed over the High Court ruling. She experienced heart complications and low blood pressure a day before her death.
Abuse and humiliation
Aleesha?s case is not unique. The transsexual community in Malaysia has for a long time been fighting for the most basic of rights, one of them being to have their gender identity reflected in their identity cards.
Often confused with a transvestite, a transsexual is defined as an individual who feels the opposite of his or her biological self. A transvestite is someone who derives pleasure cross-dressing as a woman and has no issue with his biological self.
How did Mohd Yazid miss the basic understanding of what comprises a transsexual? Or does he within his consciousness harbour contempt for the likes of Aleesha?
The persecution, stigma and discrimination plaguing the transsexual community, some 10,000 of them, have forced many of them to the brink of despair, with some even committing suicide.
Disowned by their parents, harassed, abused and humiliated by the police and religious officers, condemned by society and refused employment by virtue of their dressing, some of the transsexuals were driven to sex work.
But to judge all transsexuals as whores and drug users is no different from judging a person?s capability based on his or her ethnicity.
In October 2009, a Muslim transsexual, caught for cross-dressing, was forced by the Malacca Religious Department to remove her underwear in the presence of the department?s male officers.
Department director Rahimin Bani then said: ?He may feel his rights as a person had been violated but as Muslims we have the responsibility to ensure he does no go astray.?
The 28-year-old hairstylist, Abdul Qawi, was handcuffed and arrested for cross-dressing. Abdul Qawi filed a suit against the department and the Malacca government, claiming his rights as a citizen ? as enshrined under the Federal Constitution ? to live with dignity and privacy and to express himself through dressing had been infringed.
But Rahimi had this to say: ?We have to act on complaints by the public. For example, when men enter women?s toilets because these men feel they are more similar with women, we have to act.
?These are people who are not comfortable with transsexuals. This also has to be respected.?
In Malaysia, Muslim transsexuals caught for cross-dressing will be charged at the Syariah Court with offences against Islamic law. The fine could be between RM800 and RM3,000 or jail or both.
For the non-Muslim transsexuals, they can under Section 21 of the Minor Offences Act 1955 be charged with indecent behaviour which includes cross-dressing.
The term ?indecent? behaviour has not been defined in the Act, leaving it to the police to determine what constitutes ?indecent? behaviour.
Clerics in Iran better informed
Unlike the judgmental religious scholars in Malaysia, the clerics in countries like Iran are better informed on transsexualism.
Some of these clerics even suggest SRS to individuals who are troubled about their gender. So much so that one cleric, Muhammad Mehdi Kariminia, was said to be writing his thesis on trans-sexualism to help change the social stigma attached to this community and also clarify the fatwa (religious decree) on the matter.
Another Iranian cleric, Hojatulislam Kariminia, went so far as to say: ?I want to suggest that the right of transsexuals to change their gender is a human right.?
In 1976, Iran?s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa allowing individuals with hormonal disorders to undergo SRS if they wished as well as change their birth certificates.
Prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there was no specific policy regarding transsexuals and Iranians with the inclination, means and connections could obtain the necessary medical treatment and new identity documents.
In Malaysia, religious scholars have spared no efforts in condemning the transsexual community.
Perak mufti Harussani Zakaria, who helped establish the 1983 fatwa banning SRS to Muslim transsexuals, once said transsexuals should use their ?willpower? and adopt traditional lifestyles.
?You cannot be transsexual, you are either a woman or a man. Why do they want to go against Allah? If God has created you as a boy, then act like a boy,? Harussani said.
The 1983 fatwa in effect has made the transsexual community persona non grata in their own homeland.
The transsexuals? cry for acceptance is often dismissed by society which ironically and shamelessly stands in judgment against them.
Jeswan Kaur is a freelance journalist and an FMT columnist.