ON 26 July 2008, religious authorities decided to raid a transsexual beauty pageant in Bachok, Kelantan. Sixteen individuals were arrested, while the authorities claimed that three people got away by diving into a river.
This happened at a resort.
The justification for such an action, of course, was that the mak nyah pageant was against Islamic teachings. But don’t the religious authorities in Kelantan — the third most populous state with HIV in 2007, according to the Malaysian AIDS Council — have anything better to do? Like finding drug-induced junkies and coercing them to attend a sermon after Maghrib, perhaps?
If memory serves me, the state government also views masturbation as unlawful. But I’ve yet to hear of them raiding teenage boys’ rooms and showers at Maktab Rendah Sains Mara Pengkalan Chepa. Do they check the shower stalls with a UV lamp to find traces on the walls?
While the raid by the religious officers was itself heinous, the reaction it got from some Malaysians was worse. A letter in a local daily that stated that transsexuals can be pretty in their own way was countered by a subsequent letter in which the author declared:
“I must say that if transsexuals can be described as ‘beautiful’, then the word ‘beautiful’ must have acquired a completely new shade of meaning never before entered in any dictionary of the English language.
“Countries around the world which have legalised homosexual and transsexual behaviour have consequently suffered a very steep decline in moral standards that in turn has led to the breakdown of the solid family structure and the isolation of the individual.”
The letter was written anonymously by someone in Ipoh.
While I won’t actually urge Lim Kit Siang or M Kulasegaran (MPs from Perak) to go house to house searching for the writer to kick him out of Ipoh to increase the city’s collective average IQ, I suggest that the writer of this heinous letter come out from under his (editors note: or her) coconut shell and merely look north, to a country that has what I consider high moral standards and family structures that are still intact despite their considering transgendered individuals as human beings with the liberty to act as they wish.
Beauty pageants are one example of how Thailand embraces its transgender community. When will we? (Pic by Grace Chin)
Thailand is a nation with a transsexual community that has thrived over the years, called kathoey or the third gender by their people. Their community is so progressive that they have a national beauty contest every year called the Miss Tiffany Universe pageant. May 2008 was their 11th year hosting the event.
So beautiful, in the definition of any English dictionary, were these kathoey that they won the crown at the 4th Annual Miss International Queen beauty pageant, held exclusively for transsexuals from all around the world. Among the contestants were men from Switzerland, Malaysia, Venezuela, Japan, Germany and Italy.
Germany and Japan have laws that are transgender-inclusive, allowing them to change their first name and legalise their sexual orientation.
One might argue that these are not Muslim countries. True. So let us look at Iran.
Iran supports sexual reassessment surgery, and they owe it to a man named Fereydoon. Fereydoon wanted to become a woman, but he could not afford to, plus he wanted religious authorisation to do so.
In 1975, Fereydoon began to write to the Ayatollah Khomeini, who was in exile, to get his blessings for a sex change. When the Iranian revolution happened in 1979, Fereydoon was fired, forcefully injected with male hormones, and institutionalised. Using his connections to be released, he started lobbying for his sex change with the leaders of the nation. Finally, he was given an audience with the Ayatollah Khomeini — after being beaten up by his guards — and was granted a letter authorising his gender reassignment surgery.
Today, she’s known as Maryam Hartoon Molkara.
In 2004, Singapore held their first transsexual beauty pageant, with the proceeds going to charity. With 1,350 people watching 13 finalists strut their stuff, they managed to collect S$120,000 (RM285,000) for the poorest in the island nation.
Now consider this. In 2000, 10.3% of people in Bachok lived in hardcore poverty. What if that 26 July beauty pageant, taking the example of Singapore, had been done as a charity event? Wouldn’t that have been more of a community service? Something for the state government to consider…
Bottom line, people are people. Gay or straight, transvestites or transsexuals, it bears no reason for us to hate, punish or ridicule them. While all religions say that such things are illegal, we are also taught to treat others with compassion. Forcing three guys to dive into a river to avoid a RM3,000 fine and the probability of jail time is definitely not compassion.
Ahmad Hafidz Baharom is a paradox. He’s an anti-smoking chain smoker, an environmentalist who leaves his office lights on, a centrist who’s a lalang, and a twenty-something yuppie who dreams of being a slacker. Basically, he’s a lovable moron.