Justice for Sisters calls for dialogues to dispel myths & end violence against transgender persons

Justice for Sisters is concerned by the unnecessary panic over the recent formation of the transgender committee in Pulau Pinang. The response completely overlooks the reality of violence, discrimination and marginalization faced by transgender persons in Malaysia. Justice for Sisters wholeheartedly welcomes the committee as a positive move in understanding violence and marginalization faced by transgender persons.

Based on media reports and our documentation, at least 63 trans women had been arrested in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Kedah and Pahang by police and the state religious departments for simply being themselves, between January and May 2016 alone.

Number of transgender women arrested by the authorities, namely police and state religious departments according to states in Malaysia between January and May 2016

State/Month January February March April May Total
Penang 13 3 16
Kuala Lumpur 4 6 5 11 9 35
Malacca 4 4
Kedah 1 1
Pahang 7 7
Total 4 6 18 12 23 63


In addition, there are also reported cases of transgender women arbitrarily stopped by the authorities and blackmailed for bribes. I am scared to be a woman, a report by the Human Rights Watch on violence faced by transgender persons in Malaysia further provides cases of arbitrary arrests on the basis on their gender identity, as well as physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual violence experienced by trans women during arrests and detention. The report also documents violence faced by transgender persons in accessing basic rights, including education, employment, and healthcare among others.

Overwhelming evidences affirm that gender identity is an innate part of our being. Sex[1] and gender are two separate categories that all human beings have, and gender is not determined by genitalia. Gender is a spectrum signifying personal sense of belonging and identification (as a girl/woman, boy/man, both, neither, other gender identities).

In 2015, research led by brain researcher Georg S. Kanz of the University Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the Medical University of Vienna demonstrated that the very personal gender identity of every human being is reflected and verifiable in the cross-links between brain regions. The report stated, “While the biological gender is usually manifested in the physical appearance, the individual gender identity is not immediately discernible and primarily established in the psyche of a human being.”

This research along many with psychological, anthropological and other evidences further affirm that transgender persons have existed throughout humanity, and they do not impersonate, pretend or cross dress. Transgender people merely express their identities, like cisgender[2] persons.

Moreover, contrary to popular beliefs, most major religions and faith, including Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism acknowledge the reality of gender diversity in humanity. Religious leaders, including Lord Rama, Prophet Muhammad, and Gautama Buddha have shown acceptance and recognized transgender persons in their lifetime.

BuddhismTwo of Gautama Buddha’s followers were transgender – trans woman and trans man. Gautama Buddha recognized their authentic gender identity, and ensured they were treated as their authentic gender identity.

Islam – Islam recognizes diversity in sex and gender. Islam recognizes that sex spectrum and is not merely determined by genitals, evidenced by the recognition of khunsa wahdid and khunsa musykil. Mukhannathun, term used for transgender women, existed Mecca and Medina, and worked as matchmakers among others. There are also references that show mukhannathun were permitted in cisgender women spaces, and cisgender women did not have to cover their modesty around mukhannathun.

Hinduism – Hinduism is rich with narratives that acknowledge diverse gender identities. In the epic Ramayana, Lord Rama, who is banished from kingdom, is followed by a group of people into the forest. He asks all the men and women to leave, and they do. However, those who do not identify with both categories did not move. Lord Rama was impressed by their devotion, and blessed them. In Mahabaratha, Arjuna transitions, and changes her name to Brihannala. Brihannala lives in a harem where she teaches women art, dance and music. Some transgender women also believe that they are descendants of Mother Goddess Bahuchara Mata.

Social justice and liberation from misery and oppression, including slavery, patriarchal systems, poverty, have been central themes of religion. Overwhelming evidence show that transgender persons being subjected to arrested simply for being who they are; experience bullying and violence in school; lack employment opportunities; mistreated in healthcare settings and more. Transgender persons as a population is misunderstood, marginalized, and face multiple forms of violence and discrimination because of their gender identity.

We now live in a time with increased visibility, understanding and research regarding gender identity and transgender persons. We call for dialogues to dispel harmful myths and assumptions about transgender persons, and to understand the marginalization faced by trans people in Malaysia. Together we must end marginalization and violence towards transgender persons, and liberate each other from oppression.

[1] Sex refers to a combination of our chromosomes, external and internal sexual reproductive organs, hormones, and secondary sexual characteristics. The common misconception is that sex only consists of female (XY) or male (XX) chromosomes. However, there are also people with diverse types of chromosomes (XXX, XO, XXY, etc.), hormones, and physical characteristics outside of the male/female binary, who are known as intersex.

[2] A person whose lived experience match the gender assigned at birth based on genitals is known as a cisgender person.

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