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“I’m just like any other person in the street”

“I’m just like any other person in the street”

When a transgender is arrested, more often than not, they are stripped, molested and coerced to perform oral sex. The fight for transgender rights is real but Nisha Ayub is here to make a change. By BMCC undergrad Josephine Ong.

“They arrested me just because I was wearing women’s attire,” Nisha Ayub said.

“I had to do sexual favours.”

“And that was my first experience of sex…in prison…and it wasn’t something I want to do…I was forced to do sex.” Nisha told the class of college students in IACT.

“Although I love men, men in prison can be really heartless.”

Nisha was reliving her experience 16 years ago when she was only 21 in men’s prison during a talk entitled “Sexuality as a Human Right”.

She has been stirring the waters of transgenderism in Malaysia and has been advocating for the transgender rights since 2006. Hitherto she has won at least two international awards; Allison Des Forges Award For Extraordinary Activism in 2015 and the International Women of Courage Award earlier this year.

In Malaysia, a country with firm religious beliefs, transgenderism is very much frowned upon by the conventional. The Sharia Law specifically criminalises transgenderism and has laws implemented to inhibit the rights of a Mak Nyah, a male to female transsexual.

Under Section 66 of the Negeri Sembilan Sharia Law, it is stated that ““Any male person who, in any public place wears a woman attire and poses as a woman shall be guilty of an offence.” If convicted, one may be fined and imprisoned as well.”

Nisha is part of a campaign and a foundation; Justice for Sisters and the Seed Foundation.

Justice for Sisters is an organisation to elevate awareness amongst Malaysians regarding issues pertaining to the violence and persecution faced by Mak Nyahs. It also serves to raise funds to finance court cases brought up against transgender who are being charged in the Sharia court.

The Seed Foundation on the other hand is a foundation built to support the marginalised community, particularly the homeless, people living with AIDS as well as the transgender in Malaysia.

She has till today been searching for allies to support her activism.

“It’s difficult [fighting for transgenderism] because it’s hard to get allies,” Nisha said during an interview at her office.

“I have many supporters. You may be shocked when I say that there are religious parties and politicians who stand by me. But not all of them can support me openly, to which I understand.”

“I have governmental organisations who have helped me, but it was mainly for causes related to HIV and not transgenderism,” she added.

According to a survey by Justice for Sisters, in 2014, 25 out of 37 transwomen have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused. When captured by public officials, 71 per cent of 507 respondents to the research paper entitled “The Mak Nyahs: Malaysian Male to Female Transsexuals”, admitted to being forced to strip in detention.

“Each time a transgender is arrested in Chow Kit, the first thing the police would do is to touch their breasts.”

“Most have been forced to strip, been molested and even coerced to perform oral sex.”

The activist also questioned the logic behind those who condemn the transgender community.

“It’s really funny though, a lot of men out there say that they dislike transgender people la, geli la itu la. But when they have a chance to be with a transgender woman, the first thing they want to do is to take advantage of us.”

“And when they have power against us, they use it for their sexual pleasure.”

When asked what can the society do to help break the stigma attached to a transgender, she said:

“Give us space for us to come in and be a part of the society. Listen and understand us. Don’t shut us out from society. You have to remember that we are part of the society and try to be our allies.”

And to the journalists out there, Nisha has something to say:

“Your work as a journalist is very important. It is a part of activism and it helps me to reach out to the world.”

“I hope you will bring out the truth in stories.”

“You are my voice. When you write, you are advocating for me.”

Towards the end of the interview, she expresses her wish to be just like an ordinary person.

“There are only two reasons for an issue to arise; it’s been politicised or it’s been misunderstood.”

“When people don’t know something, they fear. Hence, by me going out there, I hope I am able to proof that I’m just like any other person in the street.”

She also left a sweet note to all haters out there:

“I forgive them although they have mocked me…To be honest, the more people condemn me, the more it encourages me to prove them wrong. Thank you for putting me where I am right now.”

“Thank you, haters.”

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