Understanding sex and gender: distinctions, assumptions and violence

Understanding sex and gender is imperative in ending violence and marginalization of transgender persons

Overwhelming evidence affirms that gender identity is an innate part of our being, and sex and gender are two separate categories that all human beings have. Neither sex nor gender are binary, meaning consisting of only two identities.

Sex – a combination of our chromosomes, external and internal sexual reproductive organs, hormones, and secondary sexual characteristics – is a spectrum, and does not determine our gender identity. 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. Persons with intersex characteristics face unique challenges to fit into the male/female binary, including genital mutilation without consent, body image issues, and restrictions to compete in sporting events, among others.

Gender identity, on the other hand, is our personal sense of how we feel, see, and identify as a boy/man, girl/woman, both, neither, or combination.

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.”

When a child is born, she/he/zie[1] is assigned a category based on their genitals. For example, a child with a vagina is assigned female/girl at birth, and subsequently expected to perform gender roles specific to that identity such as cooking, cleaning, and being submissive, among others; while those assigned male/boy at birth are expected to be strong, aggressive, protective and so on. However, these assignments and assumptions are not accurate all the time, as our genitals do not determine our gender. Sex and gender are two different categories, and determined by different components of our body.

People whose lived experiences match the sex and gender they were assigned at birth are known as cisgender, while people whose lived experiences do not match the sex and gender they were assigned at birth are known as transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid and others.

A study conducted in January 2015 of 32 transgender children aged between five and twelve, led by psychological scientist Kristina Olson of the University of Washington, found that “the gender identity of these children is deeply held and is not the result of confusion about gender identity or pretense.” The researchers noted that “our results support the notion that transgender children are not confused, delayed, showing gender-atypical responding, pretending, or oppositional – they instead show responses entirely typical and expected for children with their gender identity.”

The researchers found responses from transgender children were indistinguishable from those from cisgender children. The data from transgender girls showed the same pattern as the data from cisgender girls and the data from transgender boys showed the same pattern as the data from cisgender boys. For instance, transgender girls preferred to be friends with other girls and they tended to prefer toys and foods that other girls liked, just like cisgender girls.

Understanding gender dysphoria

In addition, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) 5 explains gender dysphoria as something experienced by people whose gender assigned at birth differs from their lived experiences. The DSM-5 further provides recommendations to reduce stress and anxiety caused by inability to express their authentic gender identity.

The DSM-5 further rightly emphasizes that gender dysphoria is not a mental health disorder. Gender identity disorder (GID) was replaced with gender dysphoria in the latest DSM to avoid stigma and ensure access to care and support for people who do not identity with the gender assigned at birth based on their genitals.

Gender diversity throughout the history of humanity

Transgender and gender-diverse persons have always existed throughout the history of humanity. Michael Peletz in his book Gender Pluralism in South East Asia documents the existence of sida-sida, gender-diverse identities similar to present-day transgender persons, in the palaces of Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, Johor, and other parts of the Peninsula Malaya and parts of Indonesia. Sida-sida resided in the inner chambers of the palace, and were ‘entrusted with the sacred regalia and the preservation of the ruler’s special powers’.

Further references to sida-sida can be found in the Hikayat Melayu, such as Hikayat Amer Hamzah. Professor Datuk Dr. Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, a Malaysian anthropologist, also provides a first-hand account of seeing sida-sida in a palace as a child, describing them as people who were assigned male at birth, who dressed and performed gender roles of women.

In Borneo, there are accounts of identities such as manang bali, basir, and balian are described as people who were assigned male at birth, who embodied female identity and performed gender roles performed by cisgender women. Basir, in Gender Pluralism in South East Asia, are described as someone who “dresses like a woman in private life as well, and parts their hair in the middle of their forehead just like a (cisgender) woman.” Manang bali, basir and balian were also ritual specialists, shamans and healers, among others.

Similar identities are seen through out the world – hijra in India; calabai, calalai and bissu in Indonesia; asog/bayugin in the Philippines; mukhannathun in Mecca and Medina; Fa’afafine in Samoa and New Zealand; Māhū in Hawai’I; two-spirit in North America, and more.

Changing attitudes

Given developments in the understanding of gender, many countries in Latin America, South Asia, Europe, North America and others have introduced gender recognition laws that allow transgender persons to change their name and gender markers in their legal documents without medical interventions or surgeries. The process is envisioned to be ”quick, transparent and accessible” gender recognition procedures, based on self-determination. The Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act in Malta, for example, requires a simple declaration based on a person’s self-determination procedure before a notary, and prohibits requests for medical information. The entire process does not exceed 30 days.

Reality in Malaysia

Discrimination and violence towards transgender persons is a phenomenon that began in the 80s. Prior to that time, transgender persons enjoyed some rights, including being able to change their name and gender identity in their legal documents, namely identification cards, based on operative status.

All 14 states in Malaysia have laws that criminalize transgender women based on gender identity and gender expression, while three states have laws that prohibit female persons who pose as men or wear men’s attire in a public place for immoral purposes. These laws were introduced between 1985 and 2012.

Prior to the fatwa in 1983, which prohibited gender affirmation surgeries for trans people, local doctors provided the surgeries in University Hospital. Consequently, transgender persons were no longer able to change their name and gender marker in their legal documents. The laws and fatwa introduced in the 80s further deteriorated access to fundamental human rights, including education, employment, healthcare and housing, and further marginalized the transgender community.

It is time for people to understand that trans persons are normal, and are not in any shape or form pretending, cross dressing, going though a phase, or uncertain of their gender identity. Transgender persons are merely expressing themselves, like cisgender persons.

The lack of understanding of sex and gender has caused stigma, discrimination, violence and barriers to people being their authentic selves. Thus, it is imperative for people to educate themselves and each other about the basic concepts of sex and gender guided by lived experiences of people and evidence-based approaches.

[1] Gender-neutral pronoun. Other gender-neutral pronouns include they/their

Brief media analysis – Media reports on the violent death of a young trans woman on 9 March 2016 in Subang Jaya, Malaysia.

Only 1 out of 25 reports gathered by Justice for Sisters regarding the death of the trans woman on 9th March recognized her authentic and self-determined gender identity, by using correct term to address her.

6 out the 25 articles were sourced from Bernama. Only one media outlet, Malaysiakini changed the gender identity in its article to reflect her authentic gender identity. However, they did not use correct gender pronouns.

Further, there was an obscene and disproportionate  attention on her clothing, body, and identity as opposed to details of the case. Kosmo in one of its article included an unverified photo of her before she had transitioned or presenting herself in typically known as men’s attire. The Malaysian Digest included a photo of a trans woman with pixelated breasts for illustrative purposes..

No Media outlet Title Date & time
1 Kosmo Lelaki berpakaian wanita ditemui mati 09/03/2016 1:29pm
Pondan mati ditolak dari kondo 9 march, 2016
2 Harian Metro Mati berpakaian wanita

 

9 Mac 2016, 2:43 PM
3 Malaysiandigest Male Cross-Dresser Killed After Being Thrown Off Apartment In Subang Jaya 9 Mac 2016, 3:19
4 The Star Cross-dresser found dead at Subang apartment 9 March 2016 | MYT 3:26 PM
5 The Malaysian insider Man in women’s clothes found dead at Subang Jaya 9 March 2016 4:00 PM
6 The Sun Daily Transvestite falls to death, Kenyan suspect arrested 9 March 2016 – 06:01pm
7 Astro Awani, Mayat ‘pondan’ dalam bungkusan dicampak dari tingkat tiga kondominium
09, 2016 18:32 MYT

 

Mayat lelaki berpakaian wanita disangka sampah (video) Mac 09, 2016 18:45 (MYT)
Man in women’s clothing found dead after a fight on third floor of condominium (source: bernama) March 10, 2016 00:22

 

8 Malaysiakini Transwoman falls to death at Subang Jaya condo (source bernama) 9 Mar 2016, 11:24 pm
9 Malaymail online Man in women’s clothing found dead after a fight on third floor of condominium (source bernama) March 9, 2016
11:34 PM
10 Bernama Man In Women’s Clothing Found Dead After A Fight On Third Floor Of Condominium
11  

Sinar Harian

Lelaki berpakaian wanita terjatuh dari tingkat 3  

9 Mac 2016

12 Buletin utama TV3 Video + text March 9 2016
13 Projek MMO, Selepas bergaduh, lelaki berbaju wanita mati jatuh kondo (source: bernama) March 9, 2016
08:11 PM
14 Mstar Lelaki Berpakaian Wanita Mati Terjatuh Kondominium (source: bernama) 9 Mac 2016
15 Babab.net Lelaki Berpakaian Wanita Dijumpai Mati Di sebuah Kondominium Mewah 9 Mac 2016
16 suara   tv Mayat ‘Pondan’ Dicampak Dari Tingkat Tiga Kondominium 9 Mac 2016
17 Siakapkeli Lelaki Jatuh Dari Tingkat 3, Ditemui Mati Dengan Pakaian Wanita 9 Mac 2016
18 e-berita Pondan Melayu Ditemui Maut Jatuh Dari Tingkat Tiga 9 Mac 2016
19 Free Malaysia Today Man dressed as a woman falls to his death (source: bernama) March 10, 2016
20 Malaysia instinct Pondan kekasih negro maut jatuh kondo March 10, 2016
21 Utusan Malaysia Pemuda maut ditolak dari tingkat 3 10 Mac 2016 2:26 AM
22 WOWBERITA.ORG

 

Mayat ‘Pondan’ Dalam Bungkusan Dicampak Dari Tingkat Tiga Kondominium

Terms

Except for malaysiakini, the rest of the 21 media outlets used pejorative terms to refer to the women

  • Lelaki berpakaian atau berbaju wanita (10)
  • Pondan (6)
  • Cross dresser (2)
  • Man in women’s clothes or clothing or man dressed as woman (6)
  • Transvestite (1)
  • Transwoman (1)
Terms Media outlet Type
Lelaki berpakaian atau berbaju wanita (10) Kosmo Online and print, BM
Harian Metro
Sinar Harian
Utusan Malaysia
Buletin Utama TV3 TV and online, BM
Astro Awani TV and online, English & BM
Projek MMO Online, BM
Mstar
Babab.net
Siakapkeli
Pondan (6) Kosmo Online and print, BM
Astro Awani TV and online, English & BM
suara   tv Online, BM
e-berita
Malaysia instinct
WOWBERITA.ORG
Cross dresser (2) Malaysiandigest Online, English
The Star Online and print, English
Man in women’s clothes or clothing or man dressed as woman (6) The Malaysian insider Online, English & BM
Free Malaysia Today Online, English
Malaymail online
Astro Awani, TV and online, English & BM
The Star Online and print, English
Bernama State news agency
Transvestite (1) The Sun Daily Online and print, English
Transwoman (1) Malaysiakini Online, English & BM

Other information regarding the reports

Language

BM – 9

English -16

Medium

Video – 2

Article – 23

Types of media

Only online

  • BM – 8
  • English -3
  • Both – 2

Print and online

  • BM – 4
  • English – 2

TV and online

  • BM – 1
  • Both – 1
Online and print, BM (4) Sinar Harian
Kosmo
Harian Metro
Utusan Malaysia
Online and print, English (2) The Star
The Sun Daily
TV and online, English & BM (1)

 

Astro Awani

(news published in BM & English)

TV and online,

BM (1)

Buletin utama TV3
Online, English & BM (2) The Malaysian insider (article published in English)
Malaysiakini

(article published in English)

 
Online, English (3) Malaymail online
Malaysiandigest
Free Malaysia Today
 
Online, BM (8) Projek MMO,
Mstar
Babab.net
suara   tv
Siakapkeli
e-berita
Malaysia instinct
WOWBERITA.ORG
State news agency Bernama

 

 

 

End arbitrary arrests and repeal laws that criminalize transgender persons

For immediate release

March 7, 2016

Justice for Sisters is extremely concerned and appalled by the arrests of 12 trans women, including an Indonesian trans woman in a police raid in Penang on 2 March 2016. The 12 are being investigated under various charges, including gang robbery, violation of social pass, and Section 28 of the Penang Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment 1996, which criminalizes male person posing as a woman.

Five women investigated for robbery, have been remanded for 6 days until 8 March 2016. No further information is available at the moment, including their cells, and the exact sections that they are being investigated for.

In a positive move in November 2015, Penang State EXCO for Youth and Sports; Women, Family and Community Development, and Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam YB Chong Eng recommended separate cells for transgender persons to protect their safety. Based on her correspondence with the Penang Police chief Datuk Abdul Rahim Hanafi in August 2015, she noted that there is currently no guideline for detainees who are transgender, however placed in separate cells based on sensitivity and discretion of the police.

We echo YB Chong Eng’s recommendation, and urge the Penang Police Department to ensure that the detainees are being treated humanely. We further call Members of Parliament and State Assemblypersons to support the recommendations, as all detainees and prisoners have the right to humane treatment, including being treated as per self-determined gender identity. There is overwhelming anecdotal evidence of the multiple forms of violence experienced by trans women in detention, including disregard of gender identity (being treated as a cisgender man), physical and sexual violence, and lack of access to trans specific healthcare needs, which increases anxiety and stress due to changes in appearance and body.

Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. Some of the trans women were arrested in their hotel rooms, while they were asleep. Six trans women, who are being investigated under ‘Section 28 Male person posing a woman’, which criminalizes any male person who wears women’s attire or poses as a woman in a public place for immoral purposes, were released on 3 March 2015 by the Penang religious department.

These on-going arbitrary arrests of trans women further affirm Justice for Sisters’ call for the repeal of all laws that criminalize transgender persons based on gender identity. These laws are not only discriminatory and violate fundamental human rights of transgender persons— including right to self determination, freedom of movement and freedom of expression—but these laws are also open to abuse. In this case, although the women were asleep while they were arrested in their hotel rooms, they are still being investigated under Section 28.

We strongly emphasize that gender is not determined by genitals. In fact, it is a widely accepted and evidence-based fact that gender is a spectrum signifying personal sense of belonging and identification (as a girl/woman, boy/man, both, neither, other gender identities). Transgender persons do not pose, pretend or cross dress. Transgender people are merely expressing their identities, like cisgender persons. Parallel with this, gender recognition legislations in many countries now, no longer require medical intervention.

Dehumanizing Media Coverage of the Arrests

We are also extremely appalled by the media coverage of the arrests. The media cannot continue to dehumanize, dismiss and erase identities of trans people by misgendering (using the wrong pronouns) and using derogatory terms, like transvestite and cross dressers to refer to trans women. Further, it is disappointing to note that some media, which had in the past used trans affirming language, has reverted to using discriminatory, dehumanizing and outdated terms in their coverage.

At least one media outlet, The Star Online had published a photo of one of the detainees. Trans women are often subjected to public humiliation and violation of privacy during raids and arrests, including through the presence of media. I am scared to be woman, a report by Human Rights Watch that documented violence against transgender persons in Malaysia included an experience of a woman who lost her job after her photo and news of her arrest was released in the media.

Anecdotal evidence shows that arrests and disclosure of details, including name as per identification card and photo in the media causes increased mental health issues, like trauma, anxiety, stress and isolation; and has the effect swaying support provided by family members. It exacerbates further humiliation and condemnation by friends and family members, and impacts future livelihood through the loss of employment.

In addition, we strongly emphasize that hate crime and violence against transgender persons are real. The lack of positive portrayal of trans people, and the overwhelming negative and sensationalistic articles further increase anxiety and fear over personal security and safety among transgender persons. It further creates an unhealthy and unsafe environment for trans people in this country.

Justice for Sisters firstly calls on all media outlets to treat transgender persons with dignity, and use respectful language to refer to trans people. We also call the media to play a role in public education to reduce intolerance and hatred towards communities already marginalised, misunderstood, and deprived of access.

media guides – panduan media BM | GLAAD media reference guide

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For more details, please contact justiceforsisters@gmail.com

 

 

Violence against trans women increase following the decision by the Federal Court

For immediate release

26 October 2015

Justice for Sisters strongly criticizes and deplores the arrests that have taken place following the decision by the Federal Court on Section 66 on 8 October 2015. Since the decision by the Federal Court that set aside two court orders, and reinstated Section 66, raids and arrests have taken place in Kuala Lumpur, Terengganu and Penang, triggering a wave of fear among the transgender community to freely move.

Kuala Lumpur

On 12 October 2015, three trans women from Seremban were arrested while shopping in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. The three were approached by a man requesting sexual services, a common assumption that all trans women are willing to provide sexual services in exchange for money or otherwise. They refused, and the man later accused them of stealing his wallet, which actually fell on the ground and was immediately found. The police arrested the trans women anyway, and detained them at the Dang Wangi police station. The three were remanded for three days under Section 380 of the penal code – Theft in dwelling house, etc.[1] The three spent an extra day in detention due to a public holiday. The women were allegedly asked to remove their clothes and were subjected to further humiliation in detention. There were also reports of physical assault. The three women are Indian.

On 15 October 2015, 15 trans women of various nationalities were arrested in a raid in Bukit Bintang, Pudu and Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur. Four of them were charged in court under Section 28, which penalizes male persons who pose as women or wear women’s attire for immoral purposes. The four, two of Indonesian nationality, were fined RM 990. According to Sinar Harian’s article “Berpakaian wanita; Mak Nyah kena denda” the four appeared in court in JAWI’s gray lockup garbs with shaved heads following the arrest six days ago. The accompanying photo in the article further proves that their hair was shaved in detention. We strongly condemn degrading treatment of detainees, and all forms of corrective measures of transgender and gender non-conforming persons by the state. We emphasize that changing someone’s appearance against their will, including shaving someone’s head, is a form of torture. The state’s role is to promote and protect the rights of all people, regardless of gender identity.

The arrests and detention of the trans women pose serious questions regarding JAWI’s jurisdiction in relation to arrest and detention. We demand answers to the following questions:

  1. Why were the trans women detained for six days? And where were they detained?
  2. Do the religious authorities have jurisdiction to carry out arrests and detain people?
  3. Why were their heads shaven if they were only being detained, and had not been convicted in the court of law?

The remaining 11 were released on bail at the JAWI office – seven on 15 October, four on 16 October 2015. However, JAWI made it particularly challenging for the trans women to be released. They imposed the condition that only cisgender men (men whose lived experience matches the sex and gender they were assigned at birth) could post bail for the trans women. As a result, some women were released on 16 October, as they were not able to find a cisgender man to bail them. It is important to note that the women were not informed of their rights and underwent many human rights violations in relation to access to justice, rights to redress and remedies.

Terengganu

On 21 October 2015, three trans women of Filipino nationality were arrested in Terengganu in a raid by the immigration department. In Sinar Harian’s article, ‘Taktik pondan tawar seks melaui WeChat terbongkar’, the Immigration Department had solicited sexual services from the women as undercover clients. The three are currently detained at the Ajil immigration depot, and will be investigated under Regulation 39 (b) Immigration Regulations 1963, which carries a fine not exceeding RM 1,000 or prison for not exceeding six months or both, if found guilty.

Penang

Raids have been carried out in Penang. However, no arrests have taken place.

Negeri Sembilan

In Negeri Sembilan, harassment and intimidation began on the day that the decision was delivered. The religious authorities warned some trans women that they would be arrested if they saw them again in the area. We deplore the intimidation and harassment by the authorities towards the women, as these actions are making people feel unsafe in their own homes and to move around freely.

Section 66 and similar laws that criminalize one’s gender identity and gender expression make transgender or trans women, or mak nyah, regardless of religious background, vulnerable to arbitrary arrests and violence. However, it is important to note that transgender sex workers are most vulnerable to arrests and violence because of their visibility. Stigmatization and criminalization of sex work under Malaysian law further make trans women vulnerable to violence and hate crime, and further create barriers to access justice and due processes.

However, it is important to understand that sex work is also a form of work, and the criminalization of sex work further contributes to violence against sex workers, creates barriers for sex workers to exercise their rights to due process and remedies, and disallow work with dignity.

We further condemn the shaming of sex workers in the media for making a living. While it is a known fact that arrests increase at the end of the year, we completely deplore the use of sex work to shame and stereotype transgender women.

The reality is that transgender persons face adverse challenges and barriers to access education and employment opportunities. Often, transgender persons face extreme hostility in schools and educational institutions, from gender binary policies that disallow children who are transgender or gender non-conforming to express their authentic gender identity and true self, to bullying and violence from peers and administrators. This often results in transgender students performing poorly in schools or dropping out altogether, as the environment is not conducive for learning.

Further, employers often prioritize gender identity over qualification, competency and expertise. Often, trans women are rejected from seeking employment and employers also impose policies that disallow trans people to express their authentic gender identity and gender expression. Given this hostile environment, sex work represents one of few opportunities for trans women to support themselves.

We further criticize some Malay-language mainstream media for using language that blatantly dehumanizes and degrades trans women. Since the decision at the Federal Court, some Malay-language media especially have been using language that is insensitive, ignorant, and plain rude to describe trans women. We are outraged and appalled by the use of language such as ‘wanita jadian’ and ‘pondan’, and the sensationalist reporting. We are also extremely surprised by the ignorance and insensitivity displayed by Malay-language media, especially in an age where transgender people and issues are visible and heavily discussed in the media everywhere. The Malay-language media must adopt ethical reporting and treat transgender persons with respect.

We call on all people to stand up and speak up against violence against transgender persons.

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For further details please contact justiceforsisters@gmail.com

[1] Theft in dwelling house, etc.
Section 380: Whoever commits theft in any building, tent, or vessel, which building, tent, or vessel is used as a human dwelling, or for the custody of property, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine, and for a second or subsequent offence, shall be punished with imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine or to whipping.

statement: appeal at the federal court

Justice for Sisters (8 Oct 2015)

The Federal Court in the appeal of Section 66 Court of Appeal’s progressive ruling dismissed the case on technical grounds, and set aside the two orders by the Negeri Sembilan High Court and Court of Appeal to hear the application. The Federal Court was of the view that the trans women should have sought permission (leave) of the Federal Court before instituting their constitutional review for breach of their fundamental rights.

Justice for Sisters is disappointed with the outcome at the Federal Court today. However, we applaud the trans community for all their efforts and courage in challenging the constitutionality of Section 66, which began in 2011. We are extremely proud of the trans community in increasing public awareness and visibility regarding the fundamental human rights violations faced by trans people in Malaysia. This is an achievement that can never be erased.