This critique is not a personal attack, rather it is a critical view into how we, and even me, can improve on our writing in order to reach out to a bigger audience.
As much as I like this letter and agree with most of its contents, there are a few troubling aspects of the letter that requires correction and commentary:
“The content was written based on quotes made by a certain individual named Mohd Khariri Ramli, 36, who was “so called” self-acclaimed an ex-transsexual woman who goes by the name of Erin.”
So now we have established that we are talking about the quotes based on an ex-transsexual, as perceived by the writer.
“Transgenders are born, not formed. They are individuals born with Gender Identity Disorder or Gender Dysphoria.”
Okay, refer back to the established statement. The writer’s language is confusing because as she herself would know, transsexuals are part of a larger umbrella of transgenders, ie while all transsexuals are transgender people, the majority of transgender people are not transsexuals.
So this statement is invalid. Because all the other factors within the transgender umbrella, mostly cross-dressers, drag queens and drag kings for example, are certainly not born. And the only people having actual Gender Identity Dysphoria, are actually classic transsexuals. Therefore, the title of her letter “Transgenders Are Born, Not Made”, could not be more incorrect and contradictory to having transsexuals born with Gender Identity Dysphoria.
I will address this issue only once, but the distinction needs to be made especially when experiences of transsexual women and men differ greatly from the vast transgender umbrella. However, the whole article is a confused interchange of the terms transgenders, transsexuals, and transvestites even (the latter I will address later).
“But transgender babies have a female gender imprinted in their brains if their anatomical sex was male…”
It would have been less confusing if the writer would just use the term brain sex, something I learnt from a good transsexual friend from Australia, because there is no female gender in the brain. Gender is the translated expression of the sex.
“Every male have certain female attributes and every female have certain male attributes. They are called sexual characteristics.”
I think she meant gender expressions, because sexual characteristics are fixed to sexual organs. This is why people with Gender Identity Dysphoria needs to trans-sex. This is also why, for example, a man with Klinefelter Syndrome may have a penis that satisfy the brain sex, but will need to go under the knife to remove the breasts.
“These characteristics can be adopted developed through surroundings and environment, or it could be inert since birth.”
Now this is confusing again from the writer, because sexual characteristics are formed by the brain and sex organ’s signals to the body, and is certainly not adopted or developed through external climate. Unless she meant behaviours of a certain gender, therefore implying that gender can be changed, and blow the point of this letter apart.
“A transgender woman who was mute from birth (couldn’t speak) and who was living off the streets and also with the little money she got from sex work had been kidnapped by a group of men, molested, raped, stabbed 5 times at her back and thrown in a river in Setapak few years back. News like this you don’t see being published in the media.”
It was also in Malay Mail, though the link is no longer available.
“There are many transvestites like Erin too in this world. They are men who simply would like to associate with transsexuals to look and be like them, but the fact is they are NOT them at all.”
But transvestites are transgender people…
“If he has, then why did he “reverse” himself since the fact that you cannot reverse gender? If you are going to talk about Islam, what is being practiced here is very hypocritical.”
If I do not get this… straight people will not get this too from the writer… they may even applaud Erin for his religious faith…
“A mukhannath is the one (male) who carries in his movements, in his appearance and in his language the characteristics of a woman. There are two types; the first is the one in whom these characteristics are innate, he did not put them on by himself, and therein is no guilt, no blame and no shame, as long as he does not perform any (illicit) act or exploit it for money (prostitution etc.). The second type acts like a woman out of immoral purposes and he is the sinner and blameworthy. (emphasis mine)”
Both lines with emphasis, as mentioned expertly by my friend who is a Muslim scholar, in summary, denotes the condemnation for acting out the female self. For example, a man may be girlish, but he is not to wear women’s clothes. This passage is not in any way affirming transgender people, rather, it is a rejection of “becoming” transgender.
“The thing with hormones is that if you are a real transwoman, either you do not use your male genital that you are born with or it is naturally dysfunctional. There is no production of sperm and you are not active sexually as a male. That is why the hormones work in transforming your appearance physically from male to female, and vice versa. If you are indeed a man, then you would not experience this change because you are sexually active as a male.”
This statement is so wrong in many ways. Firstly, there are trans lesbians who would consider keeping the natural dildo. Secondly, there are non-operative transsexual females out there that are still sexually active. Thirdly, why are we even talking about sex organs, when the subject is about transgender people?
“We have Kartini Salmah who is an international icon born in Malaysia, a transrights activist for 25 years in the country, we have Sulastri Ariffin, Nisha Ayub, and many other transsexuals who are working decent jobs and contributing to the development of the country. Why not interview them and publish their stories?
Kartini Salmah is popular among the Asian trans community with attachments to Malaysian NGOs, but is hardly known enough in Asian society, let alone internationally, to be an icon.
Sulastri Ariffin and Nisha Ayub’s “decent jobs” are NGO based in helping transgender people, called PT Mak Nyah. That hardly counts as authoritative. And there have been many transsexual females such as Jessie Chung, Leona Lo, and yours truly that have had their stories published as businesswoman and managers. Since the writer herself is among PT’s face – is there elitism leaking there? I hope not. We do hope the writer broadens her scope.
“Why, Erin should have already gone for sex reassignment surgery by now, in that case!”
The writer calls her a transvestite, a subset of the transgender umbrella, but repeatedly suggests sex-identified-organs as transgender’s characteristics. Confused? How about this, Erin as a transgender person would have no need for sex reassignment surgery unless she is a classic transsexual. No confusion there.
“The fact is that most of us here are working in companies and are paying tax and also contributing to the EPF.”
Wait, wait, transgender people, the whopping majority of them are sex workers, contribute to EPF?
“We can’t get decent jobs because of the way we are being portrayed in the media, thus we resort to sex work for survival.”
I will disagree with this excuse, however I shall reserve it on a later article.
“Is it because of the fact that you didn’t expect a transgender individual to ask you these questions? Is it because you chose to assume that all transsexuals are men who impersonate women for immoral purposes in public?”
But the first line is written by a transsexual. And the next line is what some transgender people does, that is doing bad as a transgender (read up on transvestic fetishim).
“As a transsexual woman who represents the voice of my brothers and sisters out there…”
I do not wish to get too involved with her gender misrepresentations, but she does not represent me…
“… I proceed with an official report and legal action towards Bernama and the reporter, editor and anyone else involved in the publishing of discriminatory articles”
I hope that happens. If ever. I certainly do.
“Sharan Suresh is a transgender advocate…”
Perhaps the only great thing about the article is the use of the correct social friendly term “advocate”, instead of activist. I am happy that some are beginning to learn to use terms that society can relate to, since I started using them many years ago.
As for a verdict, this letter is troublesome. It leaves too much for even this blog to tear to pieces, let alone haters.
And it presents too much confusion for transphobic straight people to read and digest, with a mash of transgender, transsexual and transvestite thrown everywhere, and failed to address what sex and gender truly is, making this letter an uncomfortable read.
Still, I must commend the writer Sharan for at least the effort, and for the improvements of her writing for advocacy in comparison to previous posts she used to make on her FaceBook. I wish her the best as she tries to move forward in her quest.
As we progress on, correct representations and use of language is vital to our cause for equality, which I will explain in detail on my next blog post here. Till then, happy weekend.