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Justice for Sisters is elated by the historic judgment by Justice Mohd Hishamudin Mohd Yunus, Justice Aziah Ali and Justice Lim Yee Lan that declared Section 66 of the Negeri Sembilan Syariah Enactment as unconstitutional with Article 5(1), 8(1), 8(2), 9(2) and 10 (1)(a). We applaud the judges for taking a bold step in protecting and promoting human rights of all people, regardless of gender identity and gender expression. We are excited by the positive and overarching impact that the judgment will have in the promotion and protection of human rights for all in Malaysia.
“This is indeed a joyous moment for the transgender community, especially the transgender community in Negeri Sembilan, as they have directly experienced the violent impact of Section 66. Section 66 has created severe trauma and distress to the community, as it was continuously used to harass, humiliate, suppress gender identity of transwomen and violate them in the most inhumane and uncompassionate ways. Justice for Sisters commends the resistance of the Negeri Sembilan sisters in leading this challenge for 4 years,” says thilaga of Justice for Sisters.
However, Section 66 is only one out 14 state syariah laws that criminalize gender identity and gender expression.
A survey conducted by Justice for Sisters found 37 out of 76 transwomen had been arrested because of their identity and attire. 23 out of the 37 transwomen had been arrested more than one time. 25 out of 37 transwomen who had been arrested had been subjected to physical, emotional and sexual violence by the state religious authorities, police and local municipal council. State authorities continue to act with impunity, as the law blatantly discriminates and violates the rights of transgender persons.
I am Scared to be a Woman, a report launched by the Human Rights Watch in 2014 further illustrates the multiple forms of violence and discrimination faced by transgender persons, including lack of access to employment, education, and the right to live with dignity, manifestations of the criminalization of gender identity.
We understand that while section 66 is now unconstitutional and void, it will take time to change the hearts and minds of people. However, we are encouraged by the positive changes in the media and solidarity by people regardless of gender identity and gender expression.
“Public education and awareness is key in changing public opinion and perception towards transgender persons. Justice for Sisters is happy to dialogue and have meaningful discussions with government agencies with our experts from the medical field to further explain issues pertaining to transgender persons,” says Nisha Ayub of Justice for Sisters.
We encourage all people to continue to speak up against injustice, oppression and inequality against humanity in solidarity.
Resistance is fertile
James Lim | October 17, 2012
The Malaysian AIDS Council supports the four transgenders who challenged a dress ban on Muslim men dressing as women.
PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) stands in solidarity with the four transgender individuals who lost their bid in challenging the ban on Muslim men to dress and pose as women.
MAC said it is deeply concerned over any negative impacts on the greater transgender community as caused by the Negeri Sembilan Syariah court judgment.
“Transgenders too are productive members of society.
“Denying their gender identity or expression will only cause them to live their lives in constant fear, and limit their opportunities to attain meaningful livelihoods.
“At MAC, we believe in compassion- the universal value that guides all our actions and responses – and strive to eliminate environments that breed intolerance, persecution and penalisation of marginalised communities,” said the Council in a statement.
Previously, the four transgender individuals applied for a judicial review to declare Section 66 of the Syariah Criminal (Negeri Sembilan) Enactment as unconstitutional. The enactment banned men from dressing and posing as women.
However, Justice Siti Mariah Ahmad ruled that it was undisputed as the four applications were Muslims, hence Section 66 applied to them.
Meanwhile, the MAC highlighted the misconceptions of HIV as pertaining to the case.
“MAC also strongly objects to the court’s insinuation that being a transgender will increase the person’s vulnerability to HIV infection.
“Gender identity or sexual orientation does not predispose one to HIV; unsafe sexual practices do,”the Council explained.
MAC together with partner organisation, PT Foundation, said it welcomed the call by Justice Siti Mariah Ahmad to work closely with the religious authorities of Negeri Sembilan.
“We believe this engagement is a step in the right direction to remove all structural barriers to health equities – particularly gender and sexuality-based discrimination – that has been known to negatively affect access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services,” added MAC
We, the transgender community, are very disappointed, distraught and disheartened with the unfavourable verdict of Justice Datuk Siti Mariah Ahmad on 11th of October 2012 in the High Court at Seremban, where the Judge held that section 66 of the Syariah Criminal (Negeri Sembilan) Enactment 1992 excludes our fundamental liberties under the Constitution.
We are saddened to hear that the court has ruled in favour of the State and its officials, thus condoning discrimination and violence on grounds of gender identity.
We are also shocked by the reliance on Islamic texts in her ruling to justify the existence of the law when it is the Constitution that is the supreme law of Malaysia. We seek a review of the constitutionality of the law as we believe that section 66 and other similar laws are inconsistent with our freedom of expression, right to non-discrimination, dignity, privacy and right to livelihood.
We believe the court erred in its decision in failing to consider all medical evidence and overlooked the mistreatment and violence that the transwomen in Negeri Sembilan have been subjected to because of this law.
Section 66 and similar laws in other states in Malaysia have been used for far too long to violate the rights of the transwomen in this country. Many transwomen, including the four applicants in the case, have been subjected to physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse by officers employed by the Islamic religious department. They have been beaten, punched, kicked, groped, molested, insulted, coerced for sexual favours and humiliated in public places by Islamic religious officers. On one account, one of the applicants was brutally beaten up in a public place by the religious officers, leaving her with physical and mental scars. She is still disturbed by the incident and is traumatized when recounting it.
Transgender people do not choose to be transgender and neither can we change it. We do not impersonate or pose as the opposite sex. We live in disharmony with our assigned gender, and express ourselves based on how we feel on the inside, which gives us inner peace and personal happiness. Many transwomen like ourselves start wearing female clothes and make-up at a young age; we prefer to play with girls rather than boys, and some of us intend to change our facial attributes and undergo sex reassignment surgery to live in the body that we are most comfortable with.
In the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) the American Psychiatric Association (APA) replaced the diagnostic term “Gender Identity Disorder” with the term “Gender Dysphoria,” “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender.” The APA too, in a statement urged the repeal of laws and policies that discriminate against transgender and gender variant people. (Refer to Appendix 1)
Transgender people are subjected to many forms of violence, stigma and discrimination because of our gender identity, because we are perceived as different. At a very young age, we are subjected to name calling and bullying in schools. As a result, many transgender children fall behind in school or display very little interest in continuing and finishing their studies. In some cases, families disown and kick out their transgender children simply because family members cannot accept a child who is different. Consequently, many transgender people are deprived of a loving support system that others enjoy.
Portrayal of transgender people as deviants and threat to public morality in the mainstream media too contributes to the stigma, discrimination and violence that are faced by the transgender community.
We believe as fellow citizens, irrespective of race or religion, transgender people are equally entitled to all the constitutional rights that are enjoyed by other Malaysians. As residents of this country, we are also entitled to protection by the state from any form of injustice, discrimination and violence. We believe the judge’s ruling is a regressive step and adversely affects the human rights of all Malaysians.
1. Aliran, Malaysia
2. Anjaree Lesbian Group Thailand
3. APCOM (Asia Pacific Coalition On Male Sexual Health)
4. Arus Pelangi, Indonesia
5. APROASE A.C.
6. Asia Pacific Transgender Network
7. Asia Pacific Network for HIV+ People (APN+)
8. Blue Diamond Society, Nepal
9. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
10. CARAM Asia
11. Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at UCSF
12. Colors Rainbow, Burma
13. Community Action Network, Malaysia
14. Federation of Sexual and Gender minorities, Nepal
15. Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas
16. Gendercare.com (Dr.Torres)
17. GATE (Global Action for Trans* Equality)
18. Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), Burma
19. Indonesia for Humans
20. Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF)
21. Justice for Sisters
22. Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS)
23. Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM)
24. MSMGF Trans Ref Group
25. Pacific Sexual Diversity Network (PSDN)
26. Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor dan Wilayah Persekutuan (PERMAS)
27. Pertubuhan Advokasi Masyarakat Terpinggir Kuala Lumpur dan Selangor (PAMT)
28. Pink Therapy
29. PT Foundation, Malaysia
30. Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (KOMAS)
31. Project X, Singapore
32. Rainbow Genders Society (RGS)
33. Seksualiti Merdeka
34. Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII)
35. Tenaganita, Malaysia
36. Te Tiare Association, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
37. Thai Transgender Alliance
38. Transgender community advisory board of Thailand
39. Transgender watch dog group of Thailand
40. Transmen of Malaysia
41. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
42. Wonetha Uganda
43. Yayasan Lintas Nusa, Batam, Indonesia
44. Youth Lead Organisation
APA Stands Up for Transgender, Gender-Variant Individuals
by Deborah Brauser, Medscape Medical News.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has issued official position statements of support for access to healthcare and a repeal of laws and policies that discriminate against individuals who are transgender and gender variant.
In a release, the APA said it will advocate for the removal of barriers to care for gender transition treatment and for the protection of civil rights. The organization has supported lesbian and gay rights since 1973, when it removed homosexuality from the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II), and now it wants to publicly support the transgender community.
“Transgender and gender variant people are frequently denied medical, surgical, and psychiatric care related to gender transition,” notes the APA statement. The new position statements were created by the APA Caucus of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Psychiatrists.
“The APA has officially put itself on record as being in support of these issues. Being transgender should not imply that a person is not a fully capable citizen,” Jack Drescher, MD, who is coauthor of the statements and who is a training and supervising analyst at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology in New York City, told Medscape Medical News.
The 2 position statements join a recent report from an APA task force published earlier this year in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that lists treatment recommendations for individuals with gender identity disorder (GID).
This treads into thorny territory. Many people, including protestors at the 2009 APA Annual Meeting, have questioned whether GID should be considered a mental disorder and whether it should be included in the upcoming fifth edition of the DSM (DSM-5).
“The motivation for originally putting GID in the manual was to try to create access to care,” said Dr. Drescher, who was a consultant on the report.
“But you have sort of 2 conflicting interests: reduction of stigma by removing it from the manual vs access to care, because you can’t get medical treatment unless you have a diagnosis. It’s complicated.”
“Discrimination and lack of equal civil rights is damaging to the mental health of individuals,” writes the APA.
“For example, gender-based discrimination and victimization were found to be independently associated with attempted suicide in a population of transgender individuals, 32% of whom had histories of trying to kill themselves.”
Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have previously released strong policy statements of support for these individuals.
The APA’s new Access to Care position statement declares that the organization
• recognizes that these individuals “can benefit greatly from medical and surgical gender transition treatments”;
• supports public and private health insurance coverage for this treatment; and
• is against the rejection of this coverage when it has been prescribed by a clinician.
The new discrimination position statement declares that the APA
• supports all laws that protect the civil rights of these individuals;
• urges the repeal of any discriminatory laws and policies;
• opposes discrimination in the areas of healthcare, as well as in employment, housing, and education; and
• “declares that no burden of proof of such judgment, capacity, or reliability shall be placed upon these individuals greater than that imposed on any other persons.”
“Speaking out firmly and professionally against discrimination and lack of equal civil rights is a critical advocacy role that the APA is uniquely positioned to take,” writes the organization.
Dr. Drescher noted that although the APA has long been an advocate for gay and lesbian civil rights, until now it has not officially released support for the rights of transgender people.
“It was completely silent on transgender issues. These are really the first public position statements that APA has supported. But they oppose stigma of any kind, and these statements are consistent with APA’s mission,” said Dr. Drescher, who was also chair of the APA’s Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues from 2000 to 2006.
He noted that he has also been advocating for a task force on treatment recommendations since leaving the committee 6 years ago.
“There are a lot of controversies in this area, not so much with adults but around treatment of children. The Task Force came together and put out a document that was approved by the APA that said that treatment of adults was important. And there’s enough literature to justify the development of treatment guidelines,” he said.
Dr. Drescher is also part of the Workgroup on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders for the DSM-5.
“As part of my job there, I did a review of the history of homosexuality being taken out of the DSM, especially because a lot of people in the trans community have been demanding the removal of GID. And I was intrigued by the parallels,” he explained.
“On the one hand, I could see that by taking something out, you reduce stigma. But if you take homosexuality out of the manual, gay people don’t need anything else other than the diagnoses everyone else has. If you take out gender identity disorder, adults who require treatment don’t have any other diagnosis. So it’s not exactly the same.”
Jack Drescher, MD is the President of Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry. His position statements are available on the APA’s Web site. For more information on Transgender Issues in Psychology, please visit here.
October 11, NST
SEREMBAN: The High Court yesterday dismissed an application by a group of transwomen challenging Section 66 of the Syariah Criminal (Negri Sembilan) Enactment 1992 pertaining to men dressing like women.
Judge Datuk Siti Mariah Ahmad said the court had never questioned or disputed the section.
“The court finds that the applicants are embracing Islam as their religion, and thus should not be excepted from the section,” she said, adding that the court had also referred the matter to the muftis before arriving at its decision.
Datuk Ishak Sahari and Mohd Fairuz Iskandar, who represented the state government and state Islamic affairs department, prosecuted.
Lawyer Aston Paiva, represented the four applicants – Muhamad Juzaili Mohamad Khamis, 24, Syukor Jani, 25, Wan Fairol Wan Ismail, 27, and Adam Shazrul Mohd Yusoff, 25.
The section denies the right for men to dress or act as women in public and provides for a fine not exceeding RM1,000 or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both, upon conviction.
The applicants had claimed that the enactment was inconsistent with the articles enshrined in Federal Constitution as it violated:
* Article 5(1) of the Federal constitution which enshrines the right to personal liberty;
* Article 8(2) which states that “there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender in any law”;
* Article 9(2) which enshrines the right of every citizen to move freely throughout Malaysia;
* Article 10(1)(a) which states that every citizen has the right to freedom of expression; and
* Article 4(1) which declares void any law which is inconsistent with the federal constitution.
The applicants claimed to have undergone psychological evaluation in Hospital Kuala Lumpur in which a psychiatrist had classified all of them to possess gender identity disorder from an early age.
All four, who are working as bridal make-up artists, claimed that they developed the mannerisms of women since they were teenagers.
They also claimed to have been arrested, battered, sexually molested, and subjected to degrading treatment.
Muhammad Juzaili had been detained four times in 2010 and charged three times under the section. Twice he was convicted and paid fines of RM700 and RM1,000 respectively.
Shukor and Wan Fairol were separately detained twice.
Adam Shazrul had been arrested twice since 2005. He was convicted once and fined RM800
Posted on 10 October 2012 – 09:10pm
TODAY, a difficult decision faces a judge in the High Court. The constitutionality of the arrest of four transwomen – apprehended previously for cross-dressing under syariah law – will be decided as reported in “Seeking the right to be female in Malaysia” (The New York Times, Oct 5).
With regards to the case, one can only imagine how the judge must feel: burdened with the legal responsibility to interpret the Constitution, while wishing to give due respect to one’s personal beliefs, no matter how irrelevant they may be to the proceedings.
It is my guess that it is no easy task for any judge to legally decide a case that will determine the fate of persecuted and marginalised individuals, under the pressure of a society that discriminates against transgenders.
Given that the judge will deliver a judgment – not in a syariah court, but in the High Court that is bound by both the Federal Court and the Federal Constitution – it is hoped that the right courage will be exercised.
It is my belief that regardless of whether the law is man-made or God-given, this is a case where the decision is clear – to do justice to the laws of the land, we must practice compassion with those who need it the most.
Having attended the case hearing a month ago, I was fortunate to observe that the judge appeared sympathetic to the applicants’ suffering, while experiencing great pressure to make the correct legal decision.
These transwomen have experienced immense physical, mental and sexual cruelty. Often, they serve as prisoners within their own homes – trapped inside by an outside world that believes they are less than human and therefore, should not exist.
In preparation for this article, I interviewed and read the works of those involved in transgender rights advocacy, which included transgender men and women, academic activists and writers concerned with the way transgenders are treated in this country.
A transwoman requested, “Hopefully your articles will open many more eyes and hearts… not to support us, but just to give a little tolerance.”
Hauntingly, this dignified transwoman did not ask for sympathy or even acceptance. All she asked for was tolerance, despite many in the community being driven to sex work with abusive clients and under cruel circumstances because they cannot obtain work elsewhere.
Within the context of a Malaysia that is supposed to celebrate diversity – how is it possible that all a transwoman can expect is “a little tolerance”? Why should a transgender be accepted as anything less than a human being deserving of the right to not only live free of the fear of persecution, but also with the expectation that he or she will be accepted and loved?
As pointed out earlier in my article “The right to be” (Freespace, Sept 13), one’s gender is not a choice. Women who are born biologically male and dress in female clothing, invite public ridicule, physical violence and sexual assault. Many men think nothing of sexually assaulting transwomen, thinking it is their right to do so and because they know that they can get away with it.
If ‘choosing’ one’s gender were a choice, it would be as simple as saying no. Given the choice, the physical and sexual assaults, monetary costs, surgical pain and suffering induced by familial rejection are just not worth it.
Hormones, to aid the transition from being biologically male to female, are expensive. Surgery, to construct breasts and to remove or reconstruct sexual organs, is a highly expensive, invasive, painful and time-consuming process that spans the period of months or even years.
Additionally, many are rejected by their families who love them still, but are unable to practice acceptance because of society’s inability to do so. As a result, many of them are unable to return home.
For the most part, society has neither aid nor sympathy to offer.
The decisions we make or decide not to make, impact those around us regardless of whether we are able to recognise ourselves as political actors with vital parts to play. Aside from one’s legal duties, we each have a role in deciding whether we will participate collectively in decisions that affect our most vulnerable.
Therefore, what will we choose? And what shall the outcome be?
The writer, a student completing her thesis, thanks all interviewees and writers who provided generously in time. All opinions here, unless expressedly stated, are her own. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2012 – 16:21
by Juana Jaafar
THERE are those among us who are ketinggalan zaman (not up to date) when it comes to certain things. For example, I had only recently heard of, and watched, a local drama film about sex workers in Kuala Lumpur that was released some 12 years ago.
Titled Bukak Api, the film is a Pink Triangle community project that serves as an advocacy tool for sex workers, highlighting the importance of safe sex and HIV/AIDS prevention. It portrays the crude and cruel realities lived by transgenders and women who need to cari makan (earn a living) on the grittier side of the city. Who are these people in real life, and where do they come from? Surely they are not just defined by the work they do.
These are people with personal histories and, for as long as they are breathing, have a future ahead of them. While Bukak Api may be fictional, that is it written by and for members of this community suggests that the stories within are not very far from reality.
Take the transgender character named Jelita, for example. She came to the city to run away from a world that was closing in on her. Nevermind the insults coming from the neighbourhood children, her own family members were abusive towards her because she was “different”.
They wanted her to become what she was not—a masculine straight man. But this is akin to expecting the Atacama Desert to turn into a rainforest.
Some might say Jelita could have easily prevented the abuse and subsequent separation from her family had she obeyed their wishes and lived as a man. Well, if it were so easy she probably would have opted for it. But it was impossible enough that Jelita, and others like her, see no choice but to run away. They leave their whole world behind including comfort and protection. This is the price they have pay to be able to live in their own skin without self-hate.
Bukak Api reminded me of Ana, a transgender hairdresser who used to work at my neighbourhood salon. With her there was no time to read a magazine while getting my hair done because we always had something to talk about. We had a very nice relationship in a very nice environment. More than half of the salon’s staff were transgender folk who reported to the salon owner, Liza.
Liza, married and with children, took Ana and friends under her tutelage. They came with no skills but over time she taught them everything they needed to know, from hair treatments to colouring and basic haircuts.
On the eve of Hari Raya a few years ago I waltzed into the salon to get my hair done. Before I left I (stupidly) asked Ana when she planned to balik kampung for the holidays. I realised she had stopped meddling with my hair and was looking at me in the mirror.
I felt like a complete jerk when I realised Ana and the other transgender staff were dressed in their brand new baju kurungs on the eve of Hari Raya with absolutely nowhere to go.
Luckily Ana knew me well enough to know I meant no malice with the question. And luckily she had a great sense of humour. “Bulu kening mak lawa sangat untuk orang kat kampung,” she replied with a half-hearted laugh.
Her perfectly trimmed and shaped eyebrows were too fabulous for her village folk.
I was happy to find out later that Ana and friends had spent Hari Raya at Liza’s house stuffing themselves with cookies and watching cheesy programmes on television. Thank God for people like Liza.
Juana Jaafar is a regular Malaysian. She Tweets as @juanajaafar. Brickbats at email@example.com
By LIZ GOOCH
Published: October 5, 2012
SEREMBAN, MALAYSIA — The feminine figure dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, makeup carefully applied, drew little attention from other customers at the fast-food restaurant in Seremban, a city about an hour’s drive south of Kuala Lumpur.
The 26-year-old began wearing women’s clothing at age 13. Thanks to plastic surgery in neighboring Thailand, a daily dose of hormones and a feminine nickname, she is able to present herself as female to the outside world.
But her official identification card — which Malaysians must produce in dealings like job interviews — declares that her name is Adam Shazrul Bin Mohammad Yusoff and that she is male.
The discrepancy between her appearance and her officially recognized gender presents much more than just awkward moments in Malaysia, where Shariah, or Islamic law, bans Muslim men from dressing or posing as women.
Penalties differ in individual states, but in Negri Sembilan, where the 26-year-old lives, convicted offenders may be sentenced to up to six months in prison, fined as much as 1,000 ringgit, about $325, or both.
Tired of living in fear of prosecution, the 26-year-old — who has been arrested twice and was once fined 900 ringgit — and three other transgender people are challenging the law in the secular courts, arguing that it violates the Malaysian Constitution, which bans discrimination based on gender and protects freedom of expression.
A verdict in their case — the first time anyone has sought to overturn the law — is expected next Thursday.
“It’s for freedom — to be like everybody else, to wear what we like,” said the 26-year-old, explaining why she is taking part in the case. “This shouldn’t happen. It’s an unjust law. We are just human beings. We are not doing anything wrong.”
Transgender people — those who act like, dress as or feel themselves to be the sex opposite of what they were born — say they are often ostracized in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country where homosexual acts are also banned and punishable by caning and as much as 20 years’ imprisonment.
Some states also have laws that bar Muslim women from dressing as men, but activists say the religious authorities focus mainly on those born male who wear women’s clothes.
Across the Asia-Pacific region, transgender people are subject to discrimination, harassment, and verbal, sexual and physical abuse within their families, at school, in workplaces, in the provision of services and in society more broadly, according to a report released in May by the U.N. Development Program.
The report states that there could be as many as 9.5 million transgender people across the Asia Pacific region and that “alarming numbers” of transwomen — men who identify or present as women — are H.I.V. positive.
Support groups say transgender people in Malaysia face considerable discrimination. They say they often struggle to find work, prompting some to turn to sex work, and that they often face abuse, sometimes by the authorities.
The 26-year-old and the three other litigants in the court case — Mohammad Juzaili Bin Mohammad Khamis, Shukur Bin Jani and Wan Fairol Bin Wan Ismail — have all been arrested on accusations of dressing as women.
Two of their cases are continuing, pending the outcome of the judicial review.
The four are arguing not only that the law is unconstitutional but also that it should not apply to them because they have been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder.
The 26-year-old, who supplements the money she earns as a makeup artist with sex work, said religious officers groped her when they arrested her.
“They were very rough,” she said, adding that she is fortunate that her family accepts her, unlike the case for some of her friends.
She said that she turned down a job offer at a bank when its managers insisted that she cut her hair short, and that she turned to sex work because it helped pay for the “monthly maintenance” required to keep her looking female, including hormones, and allowed her to dress as she liked.
One of the other litigants, a 25-year-old makeup artist who has been fined 1,000 ringgit on three occasions for dressing as a woman, said religious officers had once punched her in the face.
She said she wanted to officially change her name and gender, because it was stressful knowing that she could be arrested at any time and jailed.
“This is not just for me,” she said of the court case.
“It’s also for the community. This is something that needs to be done. We need to highlight the existence of transpeople in this country,” she said.
The Negri Sembilan State and central government departments responsible for Islamic affairs did not respond to requests for comment.
Thilaga Sulathireh, an independent researcher and rights advocate who has helped the four take their case to court, said that there were no publicly available figures indicating the total number of Malaysian men who have been prosecuted for dressing as women but that arrests were not uncommon.
“It’s unfortunate that there are Shariah laws to do moral policing,” she said, adding that two transgender people in Malacca State have also filed for a judicial review of the law since finding out about the Negri Sembilan case.
Ms. Sulathireh said that non-Muslim men who dress as women have been fined under a civil law governing public indecency but that this was less common.
She said that although Shariah judges could exercise discretion, they generally seemed to follow a “three-strike rule,” under which people are jailed after being arrested three times.
But that is not always the case.
Nisha Ayub was jailed for three months after her first arrest for dressing as a woman 14 years ago. Ms. Nisha, who was 20 at the time, said prison wardens forced her to walk naked in front of the male inmates.
“It’s something I can’t forget until today,” she said.
Ms. Nisha, who now works as the transgender program manager at the PT Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that provides counseling and health support for transgender people, said many were often afraid to go to hospitals because they feared discrimination from medical staff.
Support groups say a fatwa, or religious edict, issued in the 1980s that forbids Muslims from having sexual reassignment surgery has led many Malaysians to travel to Thailand for surgery.
While the current case is the first legal challenge to the law that bans men from dressing as women, several other Malaysians who were born male have sought to be legally declared women.
Last year, a court in Terengganu State rejected an application by a 26-year-old man to be legally declared a woman.
Horley Isaacs, a lawyer, said the court rejected the application of Mohammad Ashraf Hafiz Abdul Aziz to change her name to Aleesha Farhana Abdul Aziz, on the basis that “since she didn’t have a womb she doesn’t qualify to be a woman.” Ms. Aleesha, as his client was known, died about a month after the verdict. The local news media gave the cause as heart problems, but Mr. Isaacs said he had been unable to obtain a copy of the death certificate from the hospital.
“All she asked me was ‘please give me a chance to live,”’ said Mr. Isaacs.
He said that although several similar court applications had failed, in 2005 a Kuala Lumpur court allowed a man who was not a Muslim to change his identity to female on his identification card.
Aston Paiva, the lawyer representing the four in the judicial review, said that if the court finds in their favor, it would mean that they, and other transgenders in Negri Sembilan, could no longer be arrested for dressing as women.
Mr. Paiva said the decision could have implications beyond Negri Sembilan because transgender people arrested in other states could use the verdict to argue their case.
Despite the Islamic law prohibiting her from dressing as a woman, the 26-year-old from Seremban says she remains a practicing Muslim. She fasts during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and sometimes visits the mosque, where she wears men’s clothing.
She said while she knows that, according to Islam, men should not dress as women, “this is something that is in me. This is how I feel.”