Malaysia’s Muslim trans community in a struggle for human rights

This is an excerpt from an Sep 6, 2016 SBS article:

It’s one of many anomalous facts about Malaysia that this increasingly conservative, Islamic country is home to a sizeable trans community. NGOs I spoke to put the total number between 40,000 and 60,000, of which the vast majority are trans women: women who are born male, but regard themselves as female. While the community includes some successful, high-achieving individuals, Malaysia’s trans women face severe discrimination – not the least of which is that, as far as much Islamic law is concerned, their identity is inherently criminal.

While the young couple in Kuala Lumpur were being processed at the head office, Officer Akmal directed the minivan to two red light districts – Chow Kit and Bukit Bintang. These areas are known for their high population of transgender sex workers.

To the trans women who work these streets, the van is as familiar as it is unwelcome. Several vanished into the entryway of a house. All that was visible of them was a flash of departing bare leg and high heel shoe. Officer Akmal explained that it was usually necessary for his officers to go undercover to catch them. “In Islam, it’s prohibited, because men obviously must be men and women must behave like women, and we have to follow the rules of divine law and Sharia law,” he explained.

Between 1985 and 2012, as the Malaysian government steered the country towards greater Islamisation, every one of the country’s states passed religious laws against trans women. In Kuala Lumpur, the Sharia law that applies to trans women is, in Malaysian terms, relatively benign. The law states that it’s an offence for a man to pose as a woman “for immoral purposes”.

In five of Malaysia’s thirteen states, it’s a crime against Islamic law for a man to dress as a woman under any circumstances. Since there’s no way for a trans woman to alter the details on their identity cards, trans women are breaking the law just for being who they are.

Read much more at Malaysia’s Muslim trans community in a struggle for human rights | SBS Dateline

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