From The '70s Until Now: The Life Story Of A Transwoman In Malaysia
"I have to be very secretive for my own sake. I'm forced to be a hypocrite."
Those were the words of Ms Ana (not her real name), a 55-year-old transgender living with HIV whom SAYS met with recently.
We sat down to talk to her, wanting to know more about her and her life's story as a transgender, as such a story is often left untold and hidden from the public.
The whole hour we spent together was nothing short of interesting.
We learned that Ms Ana was born in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, and she grew up in a country where the treatment against the transgender community has been increasingly hostile and violent while discrimination has been persistent.
Transgenders are often considered as aliens and outcasts in the society, and Ms Ana did not enjoy the best kind of treatments, even from her closest family members
She grew distant from her strict father, who was not pleased that she identifies as a transwoman. Her own brother, called her a "disgrace" to the family.
Her mother was initially unhappy when she realised what was happening. However, Ms Ana's mother became more accepting of who her daughter is over time.
As Ms Ana sat there talking to us, she recalled the fond memories she shared with her mother - how her mother had loved and protected her from her father's wrath and they maintained a fairly good relationship until her mother breathed her last.
As a young teen, Ms Ana decided to leave home because she felt pressured and was overwhelmed by the social expectations on her
She stopped schooling at Form 3, because she was unable to cope with the pressure at school.
Ms Ana told us she has always displayed more feminine traits and was forced to mingle with boys at school. She recalled how she was often bullied by her peers because she had a different interest from them. Teasing was a norm, and physical bullying was unfortunately, part and parcel of her school life.
"It was hell," she said.
Ms Ana eventually decided to move to Kuala Lumpur in the late 1970s and life became happier when she found a community whom she could connect with. She also met someone, who eventually became her best friend.
While she found a friend that she could rely on, Ms Ana became disillusioned with the prospect of finding love after three failed relationships
Ms Ana had three serious and long-term relationship that lasted for years, but nothing seemed to work out.
In one of those relationships, she had spent 11 years with a man but they eventually separated when she found out that he got married secretly without her knowledge.
She met another man later and spent many years together, but he went back to his hometown in Sabah one day to meet his family... and never returned.
"Disappointed, disappointed, disappointed," Ms Ana said in her own words.
Since then, she gave up the idea of finding someone in her romantic life and started engaging in "touch-and-go" relationships.
In 2009, everything changed. She found out that she is HIV-positive.
"I couldn't accept it."
Ms Ana remembered vividly how she cried her eyes out the day she was diagnosed with having HIV. She was afraid, especially since there was little education then about what is it like to live as a HIV-positive.
She was already carrying so much burden and secrets as a transgender, and she became even more insecure with the social alienation and stigma associated with the disease.
At that time, a friend took her in to care for her since she was always falling ill. Ms Ana’s friend did not know that she was HIV positive, and the former became very worried and self-conscious about the risk of transmission.
It was also at this time when she turned to religion and found solace.
After the diagnosis, health became an issue and age was also catching up with Ms Ana
Ms Ana, who was already in her 40s, decided to move to a safe house for women she came to know about because she didn't want to be a trouble to her friend, whom she had been living with.
However, she ran away to another charity home, after someone from the safe house scared her off by saying that she could be nabbed because she was a transgender living in a safe house that was strictly for women only.
Although the "guardian" of the house had assured Ms Ana that she would be protected and nothing would happen to her if she chose to stay back, Ms Ana couldn't find the courage to do so. So, she left.
Time flew by quickly and Ms Ana found herself spending the next eight years in the charity home
Throughout this period of time, Ms Ana stayed connected with her close friend and often helped her friend man a stall.
Life at the charity home was often mundane and while the caretaker of the charity home was extremely kind towards all residents, it became increasingly difficult for Ms Ana to stay there because one of the residents had the habit of using drugs in her room. It got so bad to the point that it was starting to affect Ms Ana's health.
Ms Ana never blamed that resident, as she said that the resident could have been dealing with personal issues but just didn't know the right way to deal with them.
Not wanting to trouble the caretaker and the resident, Ms Ana finally moved out to live in a new home for elderly transgender women that was set up by Pertubuhan Pembangunan Kebajikan Dan Persekitaran Positif Malaysia (SEED) founder, Nisha Ayub last year.
This is a place that Ms Ana knows she is safe in, and she is happy that she could have the freedom to stay true to herself.
Ms Ana, like many other people, has her own dreams and aspirations
Some may say that Ms Ana has it better than most of the other transgenders in the country because despite her adversities, she didn't need to resort to being a sex worker to survive or get into drugs.
However, Ms Ana revealed that she has quite a few unfulfilled ambitions that she have never considered due to the discrimination and phobia against the transgender community.
We asked her about what she would consider doing if the conditions were better for the transgender community here in Malaysia. It took her awhile before she answered us. She paused, and then finally said, "A businesswoman, or... working in the army."
Before we could reply, she quickly chimed in and clarified that she does not want to be the kind of "army officer that marches" but the kind that "sits in the office". All of us laughed together.
She also told us that she would build a charity home for the less privileged, from the elderly to young children and people with disabilities, if she had the money to do so.
If she could, she would have adopted a child.
Ms Ana is currently living with a few other elderly residents in the home by SEED, and you can help contribute to support these individuals
Due to her health condition and age, Ms Ana is no longer as fit to help out at her friend's stall. Instead, she spends most of her time these days to help make sure that the SEED home is clean.
While this home is a place of refuge for elderly individuals such as Ms Ana, funds are needed to help bear the cost of the rental.
SEED Foundation is running a crowdfunding campaign on NGOHub to raise a total of RM24,000, in which the proceeds will go to helping pay the rent for those who are unable to work or find a job
Located in Klang Valley, the SEED home was set up with the intention to enable transgender people to have their own individual space and a place they can truly call home.
The home can currently house up to 10 residents at any one time and homeless transgender people above 40 years old are welcomed with open arms regardless of their race or religious beliefs.
If you want to make a contribution to SEED, head over to the crowdfunding platform on NGOHub and make a donation in just a few simple steps. SAYS is NGOHub's official online media partner.
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