Witness #23 | Paddy*
My name is Paddy. I am 28 years old. As you are aware, I am a transgender woman, also known as trans woman or mak nyah in Malaysia. I myself have experienced, and still face, discrimination in various ways — for example, in terms of asking for and finding work, the local community and government agencies, and even from my immediate family. In total, I have been caught three to four times for wearing women’s clothing.
The first time, I paid a fine of RM700. In 2009 I was again arrested by a religious department officer on the grounds of dressing and behaving like a woman in public, and I was abused and beaten during the arrest. I was scared at the time. During that incident I was arrested along with three other friends. We were detained overnight in a detention room at the state religious department office, and taken to the Syariah court to be charged the next day. While we were in detention, we were molested, made fun of, and so on. The third time I was arrested, I was wearing a unisex t-shirt and men’s tennis shorts above my knees. While in the van, I was molested by an officer who wanted to check if I was wearing a bra. At the time of the arrest, the evidence taken were the slippers I wore to go to the toilet, and a hair tie.
We were handcuffed in court. At the court, there was a police officer who asked for our IC [identity card] and called the name in the IC so loudly that it embarrassed us. People saw that this was a case involving mak nyah, and I ran to sit outside because I was embarrassed, as people knew that this was a case of mak nyah being arrested. The usual sentence for this offence at that time was a fine of RM1,000 and imprisonment for six months. If the offence had been committed once or twice previously, the risk of imprisonment was higher. Many people, including my own friend, ran away from court because a judge once said, “You haven’t learned your lesson from coming to court, do you want to go to jail?” Imprisonment is used to teach the mak nyah a lesson. In that situation I was scared. I needed to find an NGO [non-governmental organisation] or some help so I would not end up in jail.
For me, I strongly disagree with this law against dressing as a woman. To me, I am not committing crimes like robbing, stealing, or injuring people. I am only dressing in the way that I feel comfortable. I later asked for help from an NGO because of the threat of possible imprisonment on charges of dressing in women’s clothing in public. For Syariah cases, it is difficult to get a lawyer. I went to the legal aid bureau to get free legal aid but they told me to just plead guilty, as that would be easier. They treated the case as trivial. I got legal aid from an NGO, which sought the assistance of several civil and Syariah lawyers to obtain an adjournment and file an appeal to the civil High Court. The case dragged on in court until 2012 — alhamdulillah, victory was on our side at the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya.
After the court victory, I noticed a drastic drop in arrests within the mak nyah community, not only in this state but throughout Malaysia. There exists a platform to help people understand the mak nyah community. This victory also became a reference point for other LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] cases. This case also helped other recent Federal Court cases in various aspects.
But at the same time, hate crimes emerged against transgender and LGBT people by anti-LGBT groups. My own friend was once a victim of a hate crime, and was beaten by a group of men so severely that hospitalisation was required. I witnessed the incident. Coincidentally, my friend and I had the same hairstyle. At the time, I wondered if I was their actual target because of our court case, or whether it was a random incident. I was still scared and cautious although it had been years since the court case because I still felt vulnerable and at risk. But when I heard my friend’s explanation, I understood that the friend was the intended target. Since that incident, the community here has been fearful and on the alert. Despite having been severely beaten, my friend was still advised to drop the case. However, when they saw that we were determined to seek justice, the police patrolled more often.
After we won the case, my relationship with my family became more strained because they were ashamed of me. Only my name was published publicly, but because my IC name was recognisable, some members of my family were asked, “Is that your brother in the legal suit? Is your brother lembut [soft]?” I feel I am disappointed with my family because they cut all ties with me and did not contact me, merely because I am a trans woman.
While my case was ongoing, I had severe depression; I could not relate to my family, and I did not have anyone. I felt alone. My depression was so severe that I had to go to Kuala Lumpur to get treatment. But now the situation is different. For me, family is the key for living. There needs to be support, and contact. I feel jealous when there are mothers who accept their children who are transgender women. During this COVID-19 pandemic, I put aside my ego and stayed in touch with them. I had not been in contact with my family since 2009. But this pandemic led me to contact them. During this pandemic, most of the trans community were very affected, especially trans people who do sex work to survive.
During the pandemic, food aid did not reach our area, which is mostly occupied by B40 trans women, single mothers, and migrants. I asked for help from the baitulmal but did not even receive any. I struggled during the first lockdown last year, and had to borrow money from my younger sibling because I could not work. Last year I did not receive any help. And my phone was not functioning. Even though I lived in the town area, at the time of the lockdown the telephone shops were closed. I could not even apply for BPN assistance [government financial aid] on my own, and had to ask for help from others. The RM500 BPN money was all I had for my needs. I had to really tighten my belt during that period.
Besides me, there were trans women who returned to their families in the villages because they could not afford to pay their rent. I hope this new Government can open its eyes, and help our community fairly and equally as Malaysians. In terms of employment, trans women who do not have jobs should be given jobs. Many were laid off during the pandemic, and it is indeed difficult for them to find work. Assistance must be channelled fairly and equally. I hope the Government will give equal rights, including in terms of education and employment, and [we are] given rights like other Malaysians.
This is a translation of the original testimony in Bahasa Malaysia.