8 Influential Malaysian Transgenders You Didn't Know About

In Malaysia, transgender people are often looked down upon, humiliated, and discriminated against simply because they do not fit into the standard conventions of genders and sex. These are the people who have braved through society's barriers to make their ways through life, with some getting involved in efforts to create awareness in helping others who are like them.

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1. Khartini Slamah, Program Manager of ISEAN Hivos Program at Pink Triangle (PT) Foundation

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Khartini Slamah is a Malaysian transgender human rights defender working on HIV/AIDS and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. She has more than 27 years of experience working closely with the transgender and sex worker communities at the national, regional and international levels.

Khartini began her work as a human rights defender when the Malaysian authorities charged her for ‘cross-dressing’, under the Sharia law.

"I felt I was being treated like rubbish, and that made me desire to change things," she said.

After a painful two-year legal battle, which she lost, Khartini decided to keep on fighting. She did so not only for her personal sexual orientation, but also for the more ‘holistic purpose’ of advocating LGBT rights in her country.

2. Nisha Ayub, Program Manager at PT Foundation and member of rights group Justice for Sisters

When recounting her life as a transgender, 35-year-old Nisha said it was uneventful although she faced resistance from her strict family. It was not until she was arrested by religious authorities in her hometown of Malacca when she was 21 that Nisha learnt life could be pretty harsh for people like her.

Nisha was sentenced to three months to prison, where she was sexually assaulted and forced to perform lewd sexual acts on other inmates just because she was a transgender.

Upon her release, Nisha began working at a nightclub in Malacca to support herself and her mother. But life in the vice trade made her stronger and taught her many things, particularly about transgender issues relating to health and other aspects.

"After four years, I moved to Kuala Lumpur where, although I received many job opportunities, I decided to become an advocate for transgender rights," Nisha said.

3. Hazreen Shaik Daud, Political Secretary to Tanjung Bungah state assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) in Penang

Hazreen Shaik Daud was appointed as political secretary to Tanjung Bungah DAP state assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu in July 2013. Hazreen, a diploma holder, was a former NGO worker for the Penang Family Health Development and is able to speak fluent Mandarin, English and Malay.

“Even with qualifications, we are turned down just because of how we look,” she said, adding that she would eventually want to operate her own boutique.

Hazreen’s responsibilities include overseeing the transgender community’s welfare via a transgender committee, which aims to collect data and alleviate the status and social stigma associated with the transgender community. Some of their activities will include public forums to spread awareness on the issue.

4. Sulastri Ariffin, transgender activist and Programme Manager of PT Foundation's SW Programme, Pusat Khidmat Sosial (PBKS)

Sulastri Ariffin was once a sex worker, forced into the trade after leaving her family in Kuching to live her life as a transgender in the capital city. She was also arrested when living on the streets and charged, escaping with a light punishment after being fined RM25.

She later realised that she should snap out of her self-loathing and do something more for herself.

"That's when I joined an NGO and became an advocate for transgender rights. At that time, it was not easy to get support. I myself only became more familiar with transgender issues after I joined social work,” Sulastri said.

She is now the manager of a women's programme and works with those facing issues with their families and job discrimination.

5. Yuki Vivienne Choe, transgender activist and founder of TransMalaysia

Yuki Vivienne Choe, 34, is a transsexual lesbian, advocate and feminist who watches both the LGBT movement and the ex-gay movement from a distance, writing for different webzines and blogs on her observations; while she considers herself a true Woman-Born-Transsexual, she still stands for equality and rights of all gender variant individuals and homosexuals.

A licensing executive in an organisation that provides the licensing rights for cartoon brands by day, Choe is one of Malaysia's most recognisable transgender activists. In addition to blogging and writing for Tilted World, a Malaysian LGBT Community Project and US-based Ex-Gay Watch, Choe also runs TransMalaysia, a group to support Malaysian transgender people and their family and friends.

6. Sharan Suresh, transgender advocate & Policy Advocacy Officer of the Islands of Southeast Asian Network on Male and Transgender Sexual Health (ISEAN) Program at PT Foundation

Since her early childhood, Sharan tended to look at herself as a female more than a male.

“Being the oldest in my family, I was not influenced by anyone to the way I act and there’s no such thing as parents will teach their children to act as the opposite sex,” she said. “At the age of 14 where I didn’t know what is sex is, I was sexually assaulted in school and I didn’t tell anyone because I know they will point the blame on me for acting like a girl, which I’m not.”

When she made the decision to change after 21 years living as a boy, her family denied her decision, so Sharan left her home and began doing her transitions during her college years with the help of her friends. Sharan eventually married her husband of three years and are planning to adopt a child together.

7. Dr. Jessie Chung, founder of Natural Health Farm and Vice President of the Malaysia Anti-Cancer Association (MACA)

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Born Jeffrey Chung to a prominent family in Sarawak, Dr. Jessie Chung successfully completed her sex change operation in 2003. She boasts impressive academic qualifications too – she has a PhD in Clinical Medicine from Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, with a specialisation in oncology. In Malaysia, she is a certified TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) practitioner.

In 2005, Chung married Joshua Beh in a lavish wedding ceremony, believed to be the first same-sex union in Malaysia.

Chung founded Natural Health Farm, a health products business with 56 retail outlets in 1998 and was appointed Vice President of the Malaysia Anti-Cancer Association (MACA) in 2010. She has also written several medical books as well as the "Jessie's Diary" series, some of which have been translated into English and Malay.

Additionally, Chung has also dabbled in the entertainment business, having released a number of albums as well as gotten involved in a few local and international film productions.

8. Dorian Wilde, LGBT activist and founder of Transmen of Malaysia (ToM)

Dorian is an advocate of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) rights in Malaysia, with particular emphasis on trans rights. He is the founder of the first and only online community of Malaysian transmen, Transmen of Malaysia (ToM). He also co-runs the largest Malaysian joint trans network, and the Malaysian Network of Transsexuals (MyNETRA), as well as a key member of Seksualiti Merdeka (SM) and Justice for Sisters (JFS).

Since he was three years of age, Dorian has felt and realised that he was actually a boy trapped in the body of a girl. He went through life thinking he was the only person who felt this way, until he ventured to Singapore at the age of 18.

In Singapore, Dorian met a trans-male individual, a person born with a female sexual identity but identifies with the male gender identity. Through him, Dorian discovered the LGBT society, giving him the courage and confidence to decide who he wanted to ultimately be. Dorian's would-be mentor also provided guidance and recommendations on what he should do when transitioning into a man, including which specialists he should refer to in his efforts.

When Dorian moved to Kuala Lumpur, he realised that the LGBT community in Malaysia often become victims of oppression in their own country. It was then that he decided to become an activist for LGBT rights as well as to provide awareness to the public in regards to the reality of being LGBT.

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