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Gender Identity

Hi, I’m from the Future

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Sometimes, I like to imagine that non-cis* folk are the next step in human evolution. Like the cis-person’s genetic future. We are amongst you present-day people, and when you interact with us, you’re interacting with the future – a two-thousand-years-ahead kind of future. We’re the 16.0 to your laggy-as-fuck 6.3 version. We’ve selflessly volunteered to travel back in time to be reborn and save the present-day people from fucking up the future by secretly altering certain world-changing events. How mind-blowingly cool is that?

I think about that when, for the gazillionth time on some hookup app, someone asks if I have a dick or tells me I’m not a real man. When, as the first thing after “Hi,” someone asks if I’ve had the surgery or if I still have my boobs. “Show me your pussy,” is what they say.

“I don’t expect you to understand because I’m from the future,” is what I want to tell them, sighing tragically as I type. I know they won’t even understand that they don’t understand, because they are simple present-day people, victims of our time and their own technological limitations. If they tried to understand, their brains would collapse.

I would shake my head in pity, chuckle and go tsk-tsk, like a grandpa tsk-tsking at a toddler grandkid who defecated all over the fancy family carpet that’s used only for Hari Raya – because babies don’t know any better.

A few months ago, my aunt, in a manner of friendly conversation, told me that some random person is going to feel me up and find out that I have a vagina, and then I’d be screwed. Her exact words were, “Kau nampak macam lelaki tapi nanti ada orang datang kat kau, raba-raba kau, jumpa pantat, baru kau tahu.” (You look like a man but then someone will come up to you, feel you up, find your pussy, and then you’ll know). She’s from Melaka, they talk like that with affection, and maybe she was only half-joking. People from Melaka will cuss at you to show you they care. She says pantat (pussy) all the time. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my family.

I took it to mean that I could be on a Netflix date, and after three episodes of Bojack Horseman, my sexy date and I would be deep into a heavy makeout session, and then they’d slip their hand down my shorts and …aik? Sapraisss! (At that time of the Aunt Incident, I had not been on a date in 15 months.)

I know she’s worried about my safety and was expressing it in her own special and unique way, so I wasn’t shocked or upset. Anyway, I’m from the future, so how could she ever comprehend?

Instead of explaining the future thing to her, I asked her why she felt random people would suddenly want to feel me up. It’s silly. I demonstrated to her what going up to random people and feeling them up would look like:Ahem, excuse me, boleh raba tak?” (Can I feel you up?)

A distant relative I hadn’t seen in five years thought I was my brother and slapped me on the back when he saw me at my uncle’s funeral. I didn’t correct this distant uncle and humoured him, telling him about my (brother’s) job, when he called me by my brother’s name and asked me, kerja macam mana? (How’s work?) Ok, I didn’t need to be a future person at this particular time. I later told my mother, and she didn’t think it was funny. I assured her I knew enough about my brother’s job, and the information I gave my relative was accurate and up-to-date.

My mother hates my moustache and I don’t want her brain to collapse, so I refrain from telling her about what it is like in the future. The future where no one has diabetes because it has been eliminated and people can eat all the cake they want. She’s diabetic and likes cake, although she shouldn’t.

She hasn’t said anything about my deeper voice or my changing body, but she has told me she wants me to be a girl and get a handbag.

I don’t need to grow my hair long because girls have short hair these days, but I should get a handbag. I told her to specify what kind of handbag so I would remember and not get the wrong one. I declared, these things are important, Mother, these handbags.  

Whenever I tease my mother in English, she takes one key word from my sentence and turns it into Shm-english. “Handbag, shmandbag,” she said, laughing, index finger poised in the air, ready to fake-cane me. She likes to jokingly fake-cane her kids because we’re too big for her to real-cane now.

I love my moustache and hope I eventually get to grow one like a Tamil movie star, or a Gerak Khas extra.

Should I have been upset in those cases and corrected them? I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things about why people say the things they do, or react the way they do. I’ve gently corrected many people, in real life and on apps. Sometimes I run out of gentle corrections. I don’t want to get angry, and tweet angry things in frustration while shaking my fist at God in the fat clouds (as a kid I assumed this God-entity lived there and sat on a throne, genderless and proud, waving their hand to casually create things like cows and planets and Michael Jackson). Some people take longer than others to open up to new things, but sometimes I just get tired of explaining why I am me. This is when I am a super-cool, ultra-advanced, future-person. So, fuck everyone else.

*I used ‘non-cis’ and put that asterisk ‘*’ there because, while this fantasy is for me, a trans man, this is an all-inclusive scenario and everyone along the gender identity spectrum can have a fantasy and feel superior and cool whenever they like except if they are an asshole.

Cisgender (shorthand cis) – a person whose sex assigned at birth ‘matches’ their gender identity OR a persons whose lived experiences ‘match’ their assigned sex at birth.

Cis-temic Oppression

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The radio was blasting pop tunes, my car going 110 km/hour. I was singing along to the songs at the top of my lungs with a huge grin on my face. A cute boy had just invited me to a house party. I was feeling great and looking super cute as I made my way there. My makeup was on point, my outfit took an hour to be picked out and I was ready to party. I got to the Airbnb they rented and we started drinking, smoking and having a good time talking and laughing. That was how the night started: with me, a regular 22 year old girl, going to a regular house party and doing regular things. But little did I know, what started out as a great night turned into the most traumatizing experience of my life.

The police raided the house. One of them whipped out his badge but that one badge didn’t allay our suspicions as to whether they were real cops as none of them were in uniforms and they were behaving incredibly shadily. They didn’t allow us to call our parents and started confiscating our phones as soon as they could. “No recording, we don’t want this going viral.”

If they were truly cops, conducting legal raids and going by procedure, why would they be afraid? Surely they would have wanted our parents to know what was happening to their own children? One girl’s parent tried to call her repeatedly only to have one of the female cops tell her to ignore it. That certainly raised warning bells. Despite that, everything was still under control until they made me hand over my identity card. From there, everything went downhill.

First came the confusion, then the insensitive and downright derogatory questions. “Tulen ke palsu?” they wanted to know. Was I a “real” woman? I looked them straight in the eye and told them that I am transgender. They exchanged looks. Then they laughed at me and called me names. Up till that moment, I was just a regular girl attending a party. Suddenly, I wasn’t a regular girl anymore. I was a ‘bapok’. I was less than human. I was something not worthy of being treated with respect and basic human decency

I was on the verge of having a panic attack but despite the turmoil going on within me, I plastered a bored and dismissive look on my face to let them know that I wasn’t about to engage with low-lives like them. They were not going to have the pleasure of seeing me vulnerable. I tried to get my breathing into a steady rhythm and silently prayed to the Goddess that they would leave me alone.

I later learned that they were narcotics and I felt a little relieved, hoping that they would soon leave as they had found no drugs.

Until they did.

They looked extremely pleased as they announced that they would have to bring us down to the station. “Boys first!” they called out. I remained seated on the ground starting to hyperventilate when one of the cops pointed at me. “That means you too,” he said, with a smirk on his face. I can’t express how much I wanted to slap that smirk right off his face. We were taken to a station about five minutes away and had to be tested for drugs, which meant a urine test. We were numbered and given a container to pee in. No problem, right? Just pee in the container, prove that you’re clean and leave, right? Wrong.

I was worried that my hormones would affect the results as I have heard stories of hormones creating false positives during drug tests.

I was also dehydrated. I had been drinking all night and did not have a sip of water. I asked them to give me some water to drink but they told me that they didn’t have any. After much begging, one of the policewomen opened a drawer full of water bottles and handed me a tiny bottle. I gulped it down but it wasn’t enough. I begged for some more and one policeman brought yet another tiny bottle of water which I immediately chugged down.

I walked to the bathroom, and there was the third problem. I had to pee in front of a male policeman. I stood with my back facing him as he watched. He insulted me with slurs while the rest of them laughed at me. I really tried to pee but I just couldn’t. My anxiety was through the roof and their patience was wearing thin. One of the policemen threatened to beat me up while making violent gestures right in my face. He also threatened to throw me in lockup which scared the hell out of me.

I’ve read enough to know that trans women don’t fare well in prison. They were discussing if they could throw me in jail just for being me and wearing what I was wearing. “Unfortunately, she was in a private place and she didn’t resist arrest, so we can’t throw her in jail,” one lady replied.

I was humiliated.

The people who were at the party with me were people whom I had just met, and they had heard every single derogatory term hurled at me and watched as I was threatened violently. I felt less than human. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to die. I begged and begged for more water only to be told to drink from the tap or from the bucket of water in the bathroom. I couldn’t believe my ears. Were these people really the police? How could they treat people this way? I was trying my very best to cooperate! Everyone else had been cleared and my hopes were slowly fading. I did my best to prepare myself for the worst. I was already hyperventilating at this point and ready to pass out at any second, what with the slurs and threats.

It was then that my friends, who are prominent LGBT activists in Malaysia, showed up. I had used my phone to send them a location earlier, before it was confiscated, and they had managed to find the closest police precinct and found me. They convinced the police to let them give me water and the police finally agreed. A big bottle of water was given to me and not long after I managed to pee. When the results came, the two police officers exchanged looks. She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “well, what can we do?”

I was clean.

I got out of there as fast as I could, my whole body shaking. I was in shock till the next day, when the tears finally came. For the next few weeks, I found myself unable to sleep or eat and I was constantly anxious. I would see flashes of what had happened whenever I closed my eyes. I talked till I couldn’t talk about it anymore and cried until there were no more tears. I felt like my world had come crashing down and for weeks after I would not get my life back in order. My room was a mess, my affairs in chaos and my studies took a hit. I felt like the world was not real anymore. My reality and everything I knew had been disrupted, leaving me with a broken dystopian version which made me feel like a freak. I felt like my humanity had been stripped away.

This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to recover and heal from. The worst part of it all is that there would be no way to hold the police accountable for their actions. No means of recourse. They did whatever they wanted, however they pleased, with no standard operating procedures and that left me broken, angry and filled with hatred. I had to deal with these emotions with no outlet to vent and move on from my trauma. These people didn’t care, they had no training in gender sensitivity and no basic common decency – they were just agents of an oppressive system who got off on abusing their power. This is the same system that degrades and abuses trans people, making us more vulnerable to attacks, abuse and worse.

In Malaysia, I have no validity. I’m not allowed to exist.


Aku dan Cermin Itu

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Sewaktu kecil, tidak pernah aku ketahui, tentang apa itu perempuan, apa itu lelaki, dan juga apa itu gender. Aku bermain sepuas-puasnya bersama kawan-kawan dan alat permainan yang ada di sekelilingku. Aku makan semua makanan kesukaanku sama  ada yang dimasak ibu mahupun yang dibeli dari mana-mana kedai atau restoran dengan penuh nikmat. Aku ketawa terbahak-bahak dengan penuh girang apabila melihat atau mendengar sesuatu yang menggeletek hatiku. Aku juga menangis dan memberontak sepuasnya terhadap perkara yang menghalang kemahuanku. Seingat aku, aku hanyalah seorang kanak-kanak biasa. Sama seperti kanak-kanak lain.

Disebalik semua itu, aku selalu terdengar pesanan dan kata-kata nasihat dari orang sekeliling. Sehingga sekarang, kata-kata yang terngiang-ngiang di telingaku.

“Awak lelaki, awak kena tolong ayah”.

 “Awak lelaki, awak tak boleh buat macam tu”.

“Awak lelaki, awak tak boleh berkelakuan macam tu.”

Dan pelbagai pesanan dan kata-kata lain yang seangkatan dengannya. Kadang-kadang aku terfikir, adakah nasihat ini diberikan kepada semua kanak-kanak yang sedang membesar, atau hanya kepadaku? Aku tidak pernah dengar kata-kata seperti itu diungkapkan kepada kanak-kanak lain. Kenapa hanya aku? Kenapa semua orang di sekelilingku sangat obses dengan tingkah laku, cara pertuturan dan gayaku?

Saban masa berlalu, semakin aku menempuhi liku-liku kehidupan dengan penuh rasa keliru dan tanda tanya. Aku mula pergi ke sekolah, tempat untuk aku belajar dan bersiap sedia untuk menjadi insan berguna apabila aku dewasa kelak. Tempat untuk aku membuat ramai teman baru dan menempuhi pelbagai pengalaman sebagai seorang pelajar. Namun, pengalamanku di sekolah juga sama seperti di rumah.

Aku semakin keliru dengan teguran dan pesanan orang sekeliling tentang jantina, tentang perwatakan dan tentang tingkah laku. Jika dulu aku hanya mendengar teguran seperti itu di rumah dari ibu, ayah, makcik dan pakcik; kini kata-kata yang sama juga diungkapkan oleh guru-guru dan teman sekelas. Bagaimana semua orang seperti tahu sahaja cara yang betul untuk bertingkah laku dan bertutur kecuali aku? Buku apa yang semua orang baca yang aku langkaui? Di mana mereka tahu semua ini?

Sampai di suatu tahap, aku mula merasa tekanan sedikit demi sedikit. Segala apa yang aku dengari, setiap saat dalam kehidupanku, memberitahu hati kecil aku bahawa ada sesuatu yang tidak kena degan aku. Sesuatu yang salah dan lain daripada yang lain. Segala apa yang aku lakukan hanyalah mengundang perasaan hairan dari orang sekeliling. Dan aku? Aku juga berasa hairan mengapa hanya aku yang asyik ditegur sebegitu.

Aku kemudiannya menjadi amat cenderung dan nekad untuk mencari kebenaran tentang segala apa yang aku dengar selama ini. Apakah terdapat kebenaran dalam nasihat dan pesanan dari orang sekelilingku?

Aku membawa diriku yang penuh dengan rasa keliru, ke hadapan sebuah cermin. Cermin yang gah dan besar, yang boleh memberi pantulan tepat supaya sesiapa sahaja yang memandang ke dalam cermin itu, akan dapat melihat refleksi diri mereka yang sebenar. Cantik kah? Betul kah? Senget kah? Salah kah? Mana dia bayangan aku? Mari sini aku lihat, mana yang perlu aku betulkan.

Pelik, lama aku pandang ke dalam cermin itu. Aku pusing ke kiri dan ke kanan. Atas, bawah, atas, bawah. Tidak ada apa pun yang aku rasakan salah. Walau sudah beribu kali aku berhadapan dengan cermin itu, tiada apa yang membuat aku rasakan seperti… di luar tempat yang sepatutnya. Apa yang sering orang bicarakan, sambil menunding jari mereka kepadaku, seolah-olah menunjukkan sesuatu yang tidak kena pada mata mereka, apa yang mereka nampak? Bayanganku di dalam cermin itu tidak pernah memberi kejutan besar. Aku mula bertanya pada bayangan diriku di sebalik cermin itu.

“Kenapa mereka suruh aku jadi keras?”

“Mengapa mereka selalu cakap aku lembut?”

“Apakah itu lembut? Apakah itu keras?

“Mana yang yang mereka nampak lembut?”

Setahu aku, aku cuma melakukan rutin harianku seperti biasa sejak kecil. Di saat itu, secara tiba-tiba berdesing di dalam fikiranku tentang apakah itu maksud sebenar gender, lelaki dan perempuan.

Aku yang selama ini diberitahu oleh semua orang bahawa “sepatutnya” menjadi dan berlagak seperti seorang lelaki, menyedari bahawa aku bukanlah lelaki. Lelaki tidak ada di dalam diriku. Segala teguran yang aku dengar dan serap dari orang sekelilingku selama ini, membuat aku berbisik kepada diriku. Perlahan, tetapi tegas.

“Bukannya salah aku! Aku cuma buat semua benda macam biasa! Aku tidak cuba tiru sesiapa! Aku tak sedar pun aku seperti yang orang katakan!”

Aku mula melihat bahawa bayangan di sebalik cermin itu adalah bukan bayangan sebenar diriku, tetapi sebaliknya bayangan yang telah ditetapkan bentuk dan sifatnya oleh orang sekeliling.

Saban tahun berlalu, aku semakin kenal tentang gender dan identitiku yang sebenar. Aku semakin menerima diriku, dihadapan setiap cermin. Dengan bayangan yang terpantul pada setiap cermin dihadapanku kini, aku berasa semakin selesa dan semakin kena dengan watak yang aku dituduh dibuat-buat selama ini. Tidak perlu lagi bersembunyi. Tidak lagi memenuhi kemahuan masyarakat yang tiada tahap puasnya. Peritnya untuk aku tempuhi saban tahun tersebut, sehingga menjadikan diriku seperti pada hari ini, dengan tahap keyakinan dan keberanian yang di luar jangkaan aku sendiri. Namun, sudah tentunya bosan sesebuah kehidupan itu tanpa sebarang dugaan dan cabaran. Dan ini adalah cabaran aku.

Debunking LGBTIQ Myths and Misconceptions in Malaysia

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The two consecutive anti-LGBTIQ events by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) in Universiti Malaya (UM) and the Selangor State Islamic Department in Shah Alam on October 13th and 14th respectively are a genuine cause for alarm. From their biased content and the use of public funds, to the support by a public university and Selangor state government, the events reflect a slew of problems. Above all, the content disseminated directly discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) persons as they perpetuate harmful stereotypes and misrepresent the realities of LGBTIQ persons.




Myth #1: LGBTIQ Persons are Morally Bankrupt

Both events by JAKIM used the narrative that LGBTIQ persons are lost and confused, hooked on drugs, alcohol and sex, and are morally bankrupt. The event in UM featured two “repented” LGBTIQ persons, focusing mainly on their history of sexual experiences, drug use and other personal choices. While the experiences portrayed had no connection to sexual orientation and gender identity whatsoever, there was no structural and systemic analysis on the factors that may contribute to such experiences.

LGBTIQ persons do not exist in a vacuum. Social, cultural, economic and political contexts affect their experiences, just like everyone else. Consider the continued refusal to recognise their lived experiences; discriminatory laws; and barriers to access basic rights. All these contribute to increased health burden including stress, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideas; increased poverty; lack of social safety nets; and lack of support and affirmation from family members and friends which further isolate and traumatize LGBTIQ persons.

The assumptions and stereotypes that depict LGBTIQ persons as not religious, spiritual and/or morally bankrupt are completely untrue. The reality is there are many LGBTIQ persons who actively practice and deeply believe in their religion and spirituality. LGBTIQ persons have the same right to religion and spirituality as cisgender heterosexual people. In fact, it is the rejection and ex-communication by religious institutions (not limited to state Islamic departments) that cause deep conflicts within LGBTIQ persons.



Myth #2: Suppression of LGBTIQ Identities is not Discriminatory

In line with JAKIM’s “soft approach”, the organizers highlighted that LGBTIQ persons should be encouraged to suppress their sexual identity rather than be bullied. However, the organizers failed to recognize that suppression of identities is still a form of discrimination, violence and torture. Forcing people to confine themselves to binary constructs amounts to the erasure of their diverse identities. This forced suppression is the very reason many individuals resort to drugs, alcohol and other destructive practices as a way to deal with the mental health issues and rejection that they face.



Myth #3: Five Factors That Make One LGBTIQ

JAKIM claims that there are 5 factors that make one LGBT: parenting, traumatic events (sexual violence), pornography, bullying, and environmental factors. These are myths that have in fact been debunked.

Historical and anthropological evidence show that sexual and gender diversity have always existed across the world. This includes hijra in Indiacalabai, calalai and bissu in Indonesiaasog/bayugin in the Philippinesmukhannathun in Makkah and MedinaFa’afafine in Samoa and New Zealand; Māhū in Hawai’I; two-spirit in North America, and let’s not forget the existence of sida-sidagender-diverse identities similar to present-day transgender persons, in the palaces of Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, Johor, and other parts of the Peninsula Malaya. It cannot be stressed enough that diversity of sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions and sex characteristics are normal occurrences in life.

There is no evidence to support the claim that childhood trauma, experiences of abuse in childhood, parenting skills, absent fathers and domineering mothers or tension in the family are factors that cause one to become LGBTIQ. In 1975, the American Psychological Association (APA) removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), as “research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology” and “heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality.”



Myth #4. LGBT Persons can be Corrected or Return to the ‘Right Path’

A central theme in JAKIM’s anti-LGBT messaging and efforts is that sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed through rehabilitation, conversion therapy and suppression.

Mukhayyam, a rehabilitation programme by JAKIM for LGBTIQ persons claims to be a strategy to reduce the prevalence of HIV. However, the Global AIDS Response Progress Report 2016 notes that there is no evidence to prove the efficacy of this programme. More importantly, we need to recognise that rehabilitation and corrective therapy are not just ineffective, but they create more harm. All major national mental health organizations have rejected and expressed concerns regarding therapies that aim to correct or change gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation, as there are risks of depression, social withdrawal, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse, stress, hostility problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, as well as a feeling of being dehumanised and loss of faith.


Myth #5: LGBT Persons are the Leading Cause of HIV

This claim is not just untrue, but also simply irresponsible. Such statements, especially in an environment where LGBTIQ people are already stigmatized, can lead to rollback of rights of people living with HIV. A media release by the Malaysian AIDS Council in October 2017 can debunk this myth as it stated that of the reported 3,397 new HIV infections last year, 84% (2,864 cases) were sexually transmitted wherein 46% (1,553 out of 2,864 cases) were related to homo/bisexuals  and 38% (1,311 out of 2,864 cases) were heterosexual transmissions.

We also need to examine the correlation between HIV transmissions and anti-LGBTIQ laws in Malaysia. A report by the United Nations Country Team in 2014 shows that the rise of criminalization and anti-LGBTIQ activities increases health risks (including HIV, STI and mental health issues) faced by LGBTIQ persons due to the discrimination, legal, socio-political and economic barriers faced by the community. This shows that LGBTIQ persons are not inherently at risk of HIV.


Reality of Sexual Violence Experienced by LGBTIQ Persons

LGBTIQ persons experience increased risks of sexual violence because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics. In some cases, LGBTIQ persons are sexually assaulted as a form of correction and most LGBTIQ persons’ first sexual experiences are sexual violence. In these cases, LGBTIQ persons are not able to share their experiences or report these incidences to the authorities. This creates an environment that disempowers and silences LGBTIQ persons and emboldens perpetrators. The experience of sexual violence do not make one LGBTIQ. These issues of sexual violence need to be addressed regardless of age, sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.

**The original article was posted on Justice For Sisters. You can read the full version of the article here

Gender: Antara Realiti Yang Dinafi dan Rutin Yang Ditradisi

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Bagaimana anda tahu identiti gender anda, iaitu sama ada anda lelaki, atau perempuan (atau lain-lain)? Pastinya ramai yang akan terdiam dan ambil masa untuk menjawab soalan ini bukan? Selama ini, identiti gender anda diberi oleh surat beranak berdasarkan alat kelamin anda sewaktu dilahirkan. Tapi, benarkah ianya semudah itu?

Sekitar usia 4 atau 5 tahun saya telah menyedari pemikiran dan hati yang sering mengatakan bahawa saya adalah perempuan. Saya gemar melakukan aktiviti yang dilakukan oleh kanak-kanak perempuan, seperti memasak dan bermain anak patung. Malah, saya juga mempunyai perasaan malu dan rasa tidak selesa berada dalam kalangan budak lelaki, saya lebih rapat dan mesra dengan kawan-kawan perempuan.



Image via: https://gendertrender.wordpress.com/tag/jacobin/


Banyak kajian dan perkongsian pengalaman individu telah menunjukkan bahawa manusia boleh menyedari identiti gender mereka seawal umur 4 ke 5 tahun. Lebih menarik lagi, fakta saintifik membuktikan bahawa identiti gender ini tidak terhad kepada lelaki dan perempuan sahaja berdasarkan kromosom XY dan XX. Terdapat konfigurasi kromosom lain seperti XXX, XXY, XYY, dan XO yang wujud dalam kalangan manusia.

Jadi bagaimana boleh kita klasifikasikan manusia sebagai lelaki dan perempuan berdasarkan alat kelamin sahaja?

Seks/jantina dan identiti gender adalah dua perkara yang berbeza. Secara ringkasnya, seks merujuk kepada kombinasi kromosom, organ dalaman, genitalia, hormon dan fisiologi manusia. Manakala gender merujuk kepada pemberian makna sosial kepada identiti lelaki, perempuan dan sebagainya. Masyarakat sering menyalah anggap bahawa seks/jantina dan gender adalah perkara yang sama, dan ini hanya terdiri daripada dua identiti sahaja yang ditentukan oleh organ reproduktif mereka, yang digelar sebagai binari.

Masih segar dalam ingatan, sewaktu darjah lima, ada seorang teman sekelas yang bertanyakan saya mengenai gender saya. Dengan spontannya saya menjawab perempuan walaupun bersekolah di sekolah kebangsaan lelaki. Saya ditertawakan oleh teman-teman. Tetapi, walaupun dalam usia semuda itu, tanpa rasa ragu-ragu saya sudah yakin dengan identiti gender yang dimiliki dan tanpa rasa malu mengakuinya.



Sistem Binari Gender dan Kesannya

Tekanan daripada konstruk sosial dan sistem binari gender menjadi tunjang kepada pergolakan dan permasalahan bagi individu-individu di luar sistem binari ini, terutamanya interseks dan transgender.

Berulang kali individu transgender dilabel dengan gender yang berlawanan dengan apa yang otak dan jiwa mereka tafsirkan.

Sebagai contoh seorang kanak-kanak perempuan transgender yang diklasifikasikan sebagai lelaki pada dokumen rasmi, akan dibesarkan sebagai budak lelaki. Mereka dipaksa untuk melakukan aktiviti harian yang berada di luar minat dan kegemaran mereka. Mereka juga dipaksa untuk menggayakan pakaian dan potongan rambut lelaki. Sekiranya kanak-kanak tersebut bersifat feminin, mereka akan dimarahi, dipukul dan diperbetulkan termasuklah cara berjalan, cara bercakap serta posisi tubuh badan agar kelihatan maskulin.

Masih saya ingat insiden rambut saya dipotong secara paksa sehingga botak semasa kecil. Saya tidak mempunyai pilihan untuk memilih pakaian yang bersesuaian dengan identiti gender saya. Pendekatan ejekan juga digunakan oleh keluarga dan masyarakat sebagai usaha untuk memperbetulkan saya membawa kepada lebih banyak kemudaratan dari segi mental dan emosi. Ini merupakan antara contoh paling kritikal yang kanak-kanak trans alami dalam proses pembesaran mereka.

Sistem binari gender ini juga memberi kesan maha berat seperti pergolakan emosi, masalah penerimaan daripada keluarga dan masyarakat, akses kepada kemudahan awam (seperti tandas awam), kesukaran untuk mendapatkan pekerjaan, peluang membina kerjaya dalam bidang professional yang terhad, permasalahan mendapatkan kemudahan kesihatan dan perubatan yang bersesuaian, dan banyak lagi permasalahan genting yang dialami oleh individu transgender.



Bolehkah Transgender “Dipulihkan”?

Ramai yang beranggapan bahawa individu transgender boleh diubah dan diubati. Tanggapan ini adalah salah sama sekali. Pendekatan ‘corrective’ atau pemulihan akan memburukkan lagi situasi kerana ia akan menyebabkan kemurungan, gangguan psikologi dan pelbagai permasalahan lain seperti kes bunuh diri.

Ketika memasuki alam persekolahan, walaupun ada sekolah kebangsaan campur yang berdekatan, ibu bapa menghantar saya ke sekolah kebangsaan lelaki semata-mata untuk mengubah tingkah laku dan identiti saya. Dari situ kita dapat lihat sebenarnya ibu bapa juga sudah mengetahui keadaan anak mereka yang mengalami “gender dysphoria” atau tekanan yang disebabkan oleh ketidakupayaan mereka untuk mengekspresikan identiti gender yang sebenar.

Saban tahun kita dapat lihat ramai individu yang menyertai program pemulihan kerana mahu “kembali ke pangkal jalan”, namun adakah ianya benar? Adakah perubahan dibuat kerana mereka benar-benar percaya yang mereka sudah tersesat atau ianya hanya sekadar lakonan di mata masyarakat?

Program Mukhayyam dan program pemulihan yang lain menyebabkan individu transgender untuk “berubah” semata-mata kerana paksaan untuk memastikan diri mereka diterima masyarakat dan keluarga. Mereka serik dengan diskriminasi dan peminggiran, terutamanya apabila ditangkap oleh pihak berkuasa dan mengalami masalah ekonomi kerana sukar mendapat pekerjaan. Desakan individu sekeliling yang rapat yang cuba membuat mereka rasa bersalah dengan ancaman dosa dan neraka menyebabkan mereka menyerah kalah. Sebab itulah kita lihat setelah mereka “berubah”, mereka dengan terdesaknya menayangkan aktiviti kebajikan yang dilakukan di media massa agar mendapat kemaafan dan penerimaan masyarakat.

Pernahkah anda fikir mengapa sesetengah individu masih tekad menjalani kehidupan mereka sebagai transgender mahupun dicerca, dinafikan hak, dikenakan tindakan undang-undang, malah dipukul atau dibunuh?

Bukankah lebih senang untuk memenuhi kehendak masyarakat? Ini menunjukkan bahawa isu transgender ini bukanlah melibatkan kecelaruan minda atau pengaruh budaya negatif atau sesuatu yang dibuat-buat. Isu transgender adalah berkenaan identiti gender yang “authentic” kerana setiap manusia mahu menjadi diri mereka yang sebenar seperti mana yang hati dan pemikiran mereka tetapkan. Oleh yang demikian, identiti gender tidak seharusnya dipaksa oleh sesiapa dan haruslah dihormati oleh semua pihak.


Cover image credit: https://hellogiggles.com/news/my-gender-identity-struggle/

Hello Miss

thegblogteam one comments


M : Hello Miss.
F :  I’m never usually gender identified correctly.
M : Hello Miss.
F : People would usually mistake me for a male; a guy.
M : Hello Miss
F : They tend to only see the hair, the build, the clothes. Mostly the hair.
M : Hello Miss
F : Whenever I go into a public restroom anywhere in the world, I feel the need to prove to is occupants that I belong there.
M : Hello Miss
F : Me, a female. Needing to pee. In a public female restroom.
M : Hello Miss
F : Each and every time, I enter with my breasts pushed out. The need to show them I’m a woman. To prove that i do belong there, the same as all of them. I enter, heart racing, hoping they don’t single me out.
M : Sir, the men’s is over there.
F : Some people don’t speak out. They just stare at me, accusingly. Waiting for me to realize my ‘mistake’.
M : Tandas laki kat situ ler.
F : Others can be very aggressive with me; they assume I’m up to no good. (To M) Saya perempuan la.
M : Oh? Ye ke? Kak ingat lelaki tadi (laughs)
F : What would you reply to something like that?
M : Hello Miss
F : When one does get it right, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Funny how you can get so used to something happening all the damn time.
M : Hello Miss
F : I just don’t like going into public restrooms. It’s too much of a hassle. (Walks off)

This piece is part of our month-long collaboration with The VSC Project, exploring the concept of ‘Duality’, which delves into the idea of a gender blind world. How would we act and what would we be if there weren’t preconceived ideas of how a person should be based on what their genitals look like?
DUALITY; is based on the lived realities of many who have stayed hidden for decades of their lives, masking themselves just to be accepted in this “normal” world. It is about repressing the person that you really want to be while maintaining a more culturally, religiously and socially acceptable version of yourself. It explores inner conflict and contradictions, and the incongruities that tug at the elements of our identity.

Delusi “Choice Feminists”

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“Feminisme adalah mengenai memberi wanita kebebasan untuk memilih. Ia bukanlah satu peralatan untuk menjatuhkan wanita lain. Ia mengenai kemerdekaan, kebebasan dan kesaksamaan,” kata Emma Watson kepada wanita-wanita disambut dengan sorakan gemuruh di seluruh dunia. Jika terdapat contoh feminis abad ke-21, Watson merupakan wirawatinya dan kata-katanya merupakan motivasi kepada para feminis.

Choice feminism (salah satu cabang dalam feminisme yang mengutamakan kebebasan wanita untuk memilih) begitu dipuja dalam budaya kini sehinggakan apabila terdapat wanita yang mengkritik sebarang industri, institusi, dan konstruk sosial sebagai berunsurkan partriarki, wanita-wanita ini akan dituduh menyerang wanita lain yang memilih untuk menyertainya. Tidak kira apa pilihan mereka, bahagian komen akan sentiasa mengaitkan hak peribadi dia untuk memilih. Mengatakan perkara sebaliknya dianggap sebagai menghentam kebebasan peribadi dan pilihan dia sebagai anti-feminis. Tuntutan mereka mengenai wanita berhak memilih itu betul, tetapi adakah semua pilihan merupakan pilihan yang baik untuk kebebasan kolektif semua wanita?

Kesilapan rangka tindakan feminis ini adalah ia menganggap kita hidup di era selepas patriarki di mana setiap pilihan yang dibuat oleh wanita merupakan pilihan yang dibuat secara bebas tanpa pengaruh patriarki yang melemaskan. Ia menganggap bahawa pilihan kebebasan yang dibuat wanita dalam demokrasi dunia pertama tidak mempengaruhi dalam menguatkan lagi institusi-institusi patriarki untuk menghalang kebebasan untuk memilih wanita dalam negara-negara dunia ketiga. Paling penting, ia menganggap bahawa sesetengah pilihan dibuat tanpa mengorbankan kebebasan kolektif semua wanita.

Tonggak utama kepercayaan choice feminism adalah setiap pilihan yang dibuat untuk keinginan sendiri adalah gerakan feminis. Cerita di belakang tabirnya adalah mulia: pilihan wanita dibuat ketika mereka dipengaruhi patriarki masa lampau yang lebih teruk, jadi keupayaan untuk memilih merupakan suatu bentuk kebebasan. Kelemahannya adalah apabila pilihan-pilihan yang menghambakan wanita kini diberi nafas baru kononnya sebagai pilihan peribadi yang membebaskan; dengan mengenepikan hakikat bahawa patriarki, budaya popular, peruncitan korporat dan media massa semuanya beriya-iya menyalahgunakan pilihan wanita untuk keuntungan mereka sendiri.

Pornografi dan pelacuran telah dijenamakan semula sebagai kebebasan seksual. Pembedahan kosmetik dan solekan telah dijenamakan semula sebagai keinginan peribadi. Sexual objectification (layanan terhadap seseorang hanya sebagai alat untuk kepuasan seksual) telah dijenamakan semula sebagai pemerkasaan peribadi. Malah perkahwinan, dan tindakan mengambil nama suami, kini sedang dibina semula sebagai pilihan feminis. Semua ini berlaku namun wanita masih menjadi mangsa diskriminasi sistematik pada dasar yang sama yang digunakan untuk pemerkasaan.

Wanita masih terpaksa menghadapi tahap keganasan seksual yang tinggi dan berjuta-juta wanita di seluruh dunia masih tidak mempunyai perlindungan undang-undang yang logik seperti rogol dalam perkahwinan. Aktivis masih berjuang di seluruh dunia untuk hak wanita dan gadis untuk tidak dicacatkan (mutilation) dan diekspoitasi. Pornografi dan pemerdagangan wanita dan kanak-kanak perempuan berkembang pesat terutamanya dalam eksploitasi seksual. Menyokong pilihan yang mengukuhkan institusi-institusi ini bermaksud untuk  mengabaikan jumlah tinggi wanita di seluruh dunia yang masih menjadi mangsa kepada penindasan dan ketidaksamaan hak.

Kita juga harus mengakui bahawa pilihan tidak muncul dari udara, tetapi dibentuk oleh norma masyarakat yang mengelilingi mereka.

Kami tidak tahu sama ada pilihan peribadi ini dibuat kerana patriarki ataupun tidak. Dalam banyak kes, budaya kini membina pemikiran di mana wanita mendapat keinginan, kepuasan dan kebahagiaan dengan memenuhi peranan yang lelaki inginkan. Walaupun pilihan ini tidaklah dipaksa, kepercayaan bahawa wanita sedang menjalankan hak mereka hanyalah sebuah ilusi, jika dia tidak bertanya pada diri sendiri tentang sebab mengapa pilihan yang “membebaskan” ini dibuat. Walaupun dia memakai solekan untuk keinginannya sendiri, adakah dia sedar bahawa keinginannya dibentuk oleh taraf kecantikan yang menindas yang dicipta oleh lelaki? Misogini boleh disebatikan dalam diri dan pilihan wanita boleh disebabkan oleh hasil pengaruh patriarki terhadap wanita tanpa disedari mereka. Memandangkan tiada cara untuk mengetahui perkara ini, choice feminism menjadi cara mudah bagi institusi-institusi ini untuk menunjukkan kononnya semua wanita sedar akan hak mereka untuk memilih dan membebaskan diri mereka daripada tekanan sosial ini.

Namun, walaupun choice feminism menyatakan bahawa pilihan wanita dalam masyarakat liberal bebas daripada patriarki, feminisme jenama mereka juga telah menerima banyak perhatian dalam budaya kini sehingga memasuki masyarakat di mana kaum wanita sememangnya masih lagi dibelenggu oleh budaya patriarki ini. Video “My Choice” yang dilancarkan oleh Vogue India telah menjadi popular dengan ikon popular, Deepika Padukone menggambarkan pemerkasaan wanita melalui beberapa pilihan. Ini sangat ironik kerana video itu dilancarkan oleh industri yang menyokong taraf kecantikan yang seksis; dan membingungkan, kerana India mempunyai budaya keganasan seksual dan epidemik rogol yang tidak terkawal. Sesetengah pilihan itu bukan setakat mengukuhkan lagi penindasan wanita dalam masyarakat yang konservatif, tetapi wanita yang terperangkap dalam persekitaran ini sering tidak diberikan kebebasan untuk memilih.

Kita tidak patut menyokong kerangka feminis yang mempersoalkan pilihan yang mengukuhkan lagi penindasan wanita dan dikecualikan daripada kritikan. Kritikan ini bukan serangan peribadi terhadap sifat wanita ini, tetapi langkah untuk memeriksa pandangan dunia feminis mereka.

Realiti yang tidak dapat dielakkan adalah semua wanita melalui liku-liku kehidupan yang berbeza dan ini membataskan kita daripada menjadi adil kepada wanita lain yang tidak melalui pengalaman yang sama. Pergerakan feminis kita mempunyai keluk pembelajaran di mana ramai wanita berjuang untuk didengari dan dimasukkan ke dalam naratif feminis. Choice feminists mempunyai alasan untuk berhati-hati terhadap keluk pembelajaran ini: para feminis perlu diwajibkan untuk mengkritik satu sama lain kerana membuat pilihan yang secara tidak sengaja tidak feminis.

Tetapi ini bukanlah petanda kemerosotan solidariti feminis. Ini adalah pergerakan yang diperlukan dalam merumuskan versi solidariti yang dapat meningkatkan kedudukan wanita. Walaupun feminis mungkin berbeza dalam pendekatan terhadap feminisme, tiada yang menafikan bahawa kita berkongsi matlamat yang sama dalam mencapai kesetaraan sosial, politik dan ekonomi. Satu-satunya cara untuk mencapai kesetaraan yang tulen adalah dengan mengatasi pelbagai penindasan patriarki yang dialami oleh wanita yang berlainan latar belakang. Sebagai sebuah pergerakan, kita tidak boleh sewenang-wenangnya mengenepikan seorang wanita sebagai tidak feminis, namun kita boleh membahaskan pilihan mana satu yang akan membantu perjuangan ke arah kesetaraan kita.

Kritikan ini bukan hanya sebahagian daripada proses pembelajaran, jika dilakukan kepada tokoh-tokoh yang dihormati ramai seperti Emma Watson, akan memberi kesan kepada seluruh masyarakat. Dalam pergaduhan antara Nicki Minaj dan Taylor Swift di Twitter, Minaj telah mengkritik MTV Video Music Awards kerana terdapat unsur-unsur kecenderungan budaya yang memihak kepada taraf kecantikan dan seksual yang dipamerkan supermodel. Dalam apa yang dikatakan sebagai serangan terhadap pencalonannya, Swift yang mengakui dirinya sebagai seorang feminis, menulis: “Saya tidak pernah melakukan apa-apa selain daripada menyokong kamu. Ia tidak seperti kamu untuk melagakan wanita sesama wanita. Mungkin slot kamu telah diambil oleh seorang lelaki…” Ketika Swift menawarkan pengalaman dia sebagai seorang artis berkulit putih, dia mengabaikan pengalaman Minaj yang melalui diskriminasi atas sebab taraf kecantikan dan seksual yang seksis sebagai wanita berkulit hitam.

Apa yang berlaku seterusnya ialah Swift telah diajar semula untuk memahami apa makna menjadi seorang intersectional feminist. Dia kemudian memohon maaf dan menulis: “Saya terlepas pandang dan salah faham, kemudian salah memberi pandangan.” Pembetulan pandangan dunia feminis Swift adalah disebabkan oleh kritikan dan laungan ketidakpuasan hati daripada para feminis dan penyekolahan semula Swift menjadi satu titik pembelajaran bagi ramai perempuan yang telah terlepas pandang penindasan wanita dalam golongan minoriti. Malah ikon feminis yang terkenal tidak terlepas daripada keluk pembelajaran ini. Gloria Steinem membayangkan bahawa penyokong Bernie Sanders yang terdiri daripada wanita muda hanyalah di sana untuk mengikuti lelaki dan Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie memberitahu bahawa perempuan trans bukanlah perempuan. Ianya merupakan reaksi daripada feminis yang membuatkan kedua-dua ikon ini untuk mendalami semula pandangan mereka dan meminta maaf secara terbuka atas keterlanjuran mereka.

Satu-satunya cara untuk kita memastikan tokoh awam dan feminis untuk menyedari  kembali keistimewaan mereka, atau untuk menyedari kesan daripada pilihan mereka terhadap wanita lain adalah dengan mengkritik pilihan mereka. Kita tidak boleh lagi memastikan perkara ini apabila ‘pilihan’ digunakan secara terang-terangan sebagai pertahanan untuk menamatkan perbualan. “Itu adalah pilihan dia,” “Dia tidak dipaksa oleh sesiapa, dia yang memilih untuk melakukannya demi keinginan diri sendiri,” atau “Dia bukan seorang mangsa, pilihan dia telah meningkatkan kedudukan dia” kini menjadi taraf unggul dalam menentukan nilai pilihan feminis.

Pilihan itu mungkin boleh memberi manfaat kepada individu tersebut, namun ia juga berkemungkinan untuk tidak  bermanfaat kepada kebebasan kolektif wanita.

Memandangkan feminisme moden menghargai pelbagai cabang feminisme yang mengakui bentuk penindasan yang dihadapi oleh wanita berbeza bergantung kepada identiti dan konteks mereka, choice feminism yang melemahkan konteks pilihan tertentu adalah membingungkan. Kita mahu membina satu solidariti politik, namun kita enggan bersama dalam membantah pilihan yang mengukuhkan lagi penindasan wanita yang berbeza berbanding diri kita sendiri.

Sekiranya penderitaan kita dikaitkan bersama, maka jalan penyelesaian kita juga haruslah sama. Asal usul gerakan feminis tidak pernah bermaksud untuk kebebasan pilihan hanya untuk individu yang terpilih, tetapi untuk kebebasan seluruh jantina sebagai kelas sosial yang terpinggir. Pilihan yang melemahkan pergerakan ini, walaupun boleh dibenarkan, tidak patut diraikan oleh feminis.

Claiming Space

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When I got called, for at least the second time in just as many months, a Trans exclusionary radical feminist or TERF and a cis-gender sexist, I decided that was it. I’m giving up feminism. Inspired by an article I had read, called ‘Excommunicate me from the church of social justice’, I announced my intentions on Facebook. Where else does a feminist in 2017 go for public validation?

I was accused of being a TERF because I allowed a post that was potentially transphobic, and subsequently enabled a debate about whether or not the post or the person who posted it, was transphobic.

On another occasion, a party flier I designed for a queer women’s party using the word ‘womyn’ instead of women provoked a similar response by someone who quipped in the comment box, “Is this a TERF event? I wasn’t sure if the organisers intended it to be so. ‘Womyn’ is a trans phobic word”, and linked the post to an Everyday Feminism article on transphobic words cis gender women use without knowing it. I thought, well, it didn’t used to be.

It’s not that my group is exclusively lesbian or bisexual, but the people there are majority cis gender lesbians or bisexuals. The group caters specifically to that demographic. I became obsessed with what it meant to be intersectional and ideas around claiming space and why I potentially wasn’t intersectional enough in someone else’s eyes. I googled and read multiple listicles on how to recognize privilege, my own potential privilege, and looked for the answer to the question: do I have a right to claim this space – cis gender lesbian – without being accused of being un-inclusive?

I was having a distinct crisis of belonging. Being accused of being transphobic wasn’t just political, it was personal.



I run a few community pages and groups on Facebook. One in particular is for queer women, mostly lesbian and bisexual women. The group has never been self-consciously feminist nor has it been overtly politically engaged in LGBT advocacy. Where posts or discussions have covered those topics, it has only been instigated by a few members in between posts about Kirsten Stewart, badminton meet ups and discussions on coming out of the closet. Those posts tend to get one or two likes whereas the Kirsten Stewart memes are far more popular. But regardless of the community’s lack of a political consciousness, they have rightly claimed that space and more importantly, need that ‘safe space’, to live authentic lives. It is their right.

But the space was being questioned – the use of our language, the way we were identifying and defining these identities, even to the extent of how we saw ourselves. The group was never created to be exclusive, in fact the complete opposite, and the labels we use, however limiting are not definitive, they just were of the time and moment and what was important to recognize then.

I have noticed more and more content posted is trans gender related. Perhaps it’s easier to talk about someone else or feel engaged in someone else’s problems when your own are quite heavy. I didn’t question it at first. Maybe exposing lesbians to trans issues would make them more empathetic to the issues of being marginalized, maligned and criminalised, maybe it would inspire them to look at themselves, beyond themselves, to recognize their own issues there and to help them unpack their own prejudices, preconceptions and, dare I say, privileges?

There has been a mainstreaming of trans people’s issues with discussions about LGBTs focusing more and more on transgender issues. Where I think this is an inspiring and completely necessary thing, it has been problematic for me, admittedly, because I felt as lesbians, we were still not being seen or heard by society or even participating and acknowledging ourselves. For all intents and purposes, the lesbian community is still very much in the closet in Malaysia and still desperately need a space to exist as a unique identity and community all of their own and there’s nothing wrong with that. Having one space for a unique identity does not automatically make that space exclusionary.

With the focus on gender, sexual orientation was taking a back seat, especially in terms of identities being represented. After I re-wrote the group manifesto, which states what kind of group we are and what things we are interested in, I realized later, that I hadn’t even mentioned the word sexuality. Tides were changing and I was not sure what this meant for my identity especially since, I observed, that any critique of any discourse other than cis female and lesbian, was accused of being phobic. Was being a cis gender lesbian the new oppressor? Were cis lesbians more privileged than other queer people? Can’t we critique without being automatically labeled as phobic?



The way we deal with difference and engage in discussions about our differences is problematic. We still rely way too much on mainstream Western narratives and on binary languages. Especially younger people, whose access to feminist ideas is predominantly via an American biased internet. Where just a few years ago, young women were trying to disassociate themselves with feminism, the culture now looks like – “I am an intersectional feminist, your feminism isn’t as pure or good as mine.”

Like normal people, feminists make mistakes too. When Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments on trans women caused such outrage, I was annoyed because I don’t believe she deserved that kind of vilification. We all have an opinion and can criticize other opinions, but her unpopular views do not mean she is not a feminist and she’s been a feminist way longer than most of us. I’ve done my fair share of calling out and shaming, homophobes and sexist men mostly, and sometimes women who enabled them. But it’s important to recognize that outrage is toxic. Calling out culture, which often comes with public shaming is toxic and anti-intellectual. Feminism is not a one size fits all thing because women are diverse, and to not consider difference actually oppresses more people than liberates them.

While we should criticize sexism and homophobia and transphobia but especially as feminists, we should do so in a feminist way because passive aggressiveness and confrontational behaviours cannot be healthy, for anyone. We should also remember to allow for a certain amount of error, for people to catch up with the language and acknowledge that miscommunication occurs especially over social media and texts, and simply, that some people’s opinions may just differ from yours even when they are on the same team.

The point with all of this is – give people some space. Identity politics are changing faster than I can write this sentence.  Identity politics exists primarily to claim rights. Labels like ‘woman’, ‘lesbian’, ‘transwoman’ are tight little boxes that people have been forced into. There are also political reasons people claim these labels and they are not intentionally exclusionary. History, something we must all remember and study, has made them necessary. Instead these labels are protection and a sense of belonging and when the time comes that these boxes are no longer needed, for either safety or control, please give people the space to crawl out and at their own pace.

Because I am _______.

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Where do I start?

At what point of time did this begin?

I would have to take us back to the beginning of civilisation to explain it all

But let’s start from where this lifetime began

For me.


I was in mummy’s womb,

my heart started to have its own little beat

in it’s own rhythm that ran parallel to that of her own.

Mummy would work all day and night

Almost oblivious to the fact that I was in her belly.


Daddy was always away

Always out of town working hard to make ends meet

Mummy became lonely.

But when she remembered how her mummy had to go through the same thing

she was okay with it.



She lost her balance

Fell off a flight of stairs.

That hurt me.

Mummy was tough

No one to help her, she stood up

Brushed the dust off her knees

Assured that I was okay

And went on with her day.


The doctor told them I was a girl

They said,

“We’ll have another one.”


When I took my first breath of air

I took my time

Took my time to learn about this world

Savoring it through its smells and its sounds

Before I started relying on my eyes

My eyes that would see and judge those around me.


When I finally opened my eyes

I heard daddy whisper,

“She is so ugly, can I send her away?”

I learned that my eyes were too small and squinty

Not pretty enough

Whatever pretty meant.


I was bald until I was 3

My grandma would make sure people knew I wee, not pee

She dressed me up in hats with brown ringlets

I learned that girls had to have long hair

Looking like a boy was just an abomination.


As I began tottering on my own two feet

Mummy brought me to a store

To buy me my first baby loafers

Immediately, I picked up a purple and a red

But mummy bought me a pair of pink instead

I learned that girls had to wear pink and look impeccable

Mismatched shoes?

That’s unheard of in this time and day.


Back in kindergarten on days when the electricity did not work

Boys were allowed to strip naked

While the girls had to stay in their underwear

Because it was indecent and lewd.


In high school, my friends started dating each other

Girls and boys, girls and girls but never boys and boys

I always thought that was odd but never questioned it.


Another thing that I learned in those years

Was a lock that can be opened by many keys is considered a bad lock

But a key that can open many locks is a good key.


I was in a relationship where I strived on the approval of the other

Trying so hard to please

To be the person he wanted me to be,

I learned that a woman should not depend on a man’s approval

To lead the life she wants to live.


I was in a relationship where both him and I were equals

We shared all responsibilities but one;

I was the vessel that held all of our tears, angers and frustrations

I learned that a woman has to contain all of the emotional burden

Because men are just not wired that way.


I am now in a relationship where I am free

Free to explore, to make choices independent of the other

I was told that exploring my sexuality is inappropriate

So I learned that I should keep my mouth shut.

Legs shut.

They told me.


I learned and was told many things in my life

But Daddy told me one thing that really struck me:

I am only able to live this life because I am a girl

That, because I am a girl?

I won’t have the burden of taking care of my family

That, because I am a girl?

I can venture into the Arts

That my 9 year old baby brother

will never be able to make the choices I have made

because he is a boy.


Because he is a boy.

Because I am

A girl.


Young Women: Contesting Patriarchy in the City

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In every era, feminism has penetrated into the hearts and minds of women in their struggle to attain gender equality.

With intersectionality becoming the anchor to today’s feminists, more women of different backgrounds, classes and identities seek to diminish the influence of patriarchy in their own personal contexts, through their individual strengths.

Yet, in our daily lives as young women living in the city, the struggle against patriarchy can be very subtle, structured and real. It can come from the conditioning of our own upbringing, our workplace environment, and the constant bombardment of media that normalises gender stereotypes.

The impact of this social system is felt even more deeply by young women living in economically and politically disadvantaged environments, such as young women from the urban poor, refugees and minorities. The conversation on dismantling patriarchy and achieving gender equality in this country is still very much centred around activists and the NGO circles, while the wider society are not moved from the male-dominated status quo.

As Simone De Beauvoir put it, “One is not born but, rather, becomes a woman”. Unfortunately, the passage of becoming a woman is, for the majority of our young girls, mired in the daily pressure of having to live their lives according to the norms and expectations of society.

In capturing the current dynamic of young women in Kuala Lumpur contesting the cultural and structural norms of patriarchy, I spoke to four women from different backgrounds on their own personal struggles and the way forward towards equality.




Image from http://ppunlimited.blogspot.my/2012/01/


1) Can you describe your identity?

I come from a small, middle class Chinese family. Although our family is not rich, my parents took great care to afford us the best education to the best of their ability – that means high expectations on academic results, and a series of planned extra-curricular activities: piano lessons, dance classes, swimming lessons, arts workshops – I’ve done it all!

2) What does being a woman mean to you?

Growing up, I have always been told to pursue excellence and be successful in life. I am lucky in the sense that I was not subject to gender stereotypes as much as the other girls in my social circles – perhaps it was because I was the eldest in the family and I do not have any brothers. Being a woman to me means being able to pursue my life goals freely; to be loved and valued as a human being as much as the other sex.

3) What are your most common experiences as a woman – be it at home/at work/at school/in public? 

I have come across many smart, capable women at work and in life. These women are resilient and they can be assertive when they want to be. Unfortunately, a lot of outdated stereotypes about women still exist – unmarried women are said to be bitter and jealous, stern female bosses are typecast as ‘bitches’ and so on. Sometimes, these stereotypes are even perpetuated by women themselves, which is unfortunate.

4) How has living in a male-dominated/patriarchal society shaped you and the women around you?

As I approach 30, I am starting to feel the pressure of ‘being a woman’, with many friends and family constantly reminding me of my ‘biological clock’. I think this is a fact of life that we can neither change nor ignore, but society can be more supportive in helping women make their own choices about childbearing, ensuring a better quality of life for women (which helps in prolonging fertility) and creating more mother-friendly job environments.

Looking back, I think of the lives of many women like my own mother and grandmothers, who have sacrificed so much of their youth for the family and I wonder how their lives would have been different if they had opportunities equal to the boys of their time. Yet, it is these women who have made possible a better life for me as a woman today.

5) How can we can address this?

We need to acknowledge that all women are different and should be allowed various forms of expression, just as no human are the same. At the same time, there needs to be a recognition that women face a gender-specific set of challenges and vulnerability. I think societal values and policy reinforce each other and until the mindset is changed, women will continue to be boxed into gender roles.





1) Can you describe your identity? 

I am a woman with ambitions; a mother who hopes to raise a conscious and independent daughter; a person who values the relations in her life; and a truth seeker who wants to make an impact by giving back to the universe. My identity is a sum total of my female existence, my choices, my values, my aspirations and my human connections.

2) What does being a woman mean to you?

It means being the gender that has the privilege to create life and the sensitivity to enrich life for myself and others around me.

3) What are your most common experiences as a woman – be it at home/at work/at school/in public?

I was raised by a strong mother and a supportive father so, generally, my experiences as a woman have been positive. However, once I became a mother, I realised and faced the challenges women face their in personal and professional lives. The challenge of work-life choices, the issues of redefining my personal identity and the struggles of a career break made me realise that women have a lot more to balance, risk, and comprise than men.

The society (and ourselves) see women as nurturers and the caregivers. This social conditioning and unconscious bias affects the way we women think, act and feel. My journey of a career re-launch made me aware of this conditioning and hidden stereotypical behaviours.

4) How has living in a male-dominated/patriarchal society shaped you and the women around you?

Despite being raised as a strong, independent woman, I was exposed to the subtle social conditioning that women are primarily homemakers, which led to me leave my job to follow my husband as an expat wife. Despite being a strong and successful career woman, I couldn’t think of putting my career before my marriage and family. I wonder: if subtle, unconscious conditioning can affect someone like me, how would it affect women who are raised under a different set of rules and expectations?

5) How can we can address this?

We need to raise gender neutral children! Let boys and girls be alike and get rid of the gender stereotyping which starts when we buy blue for a baby boy and pink for baby girl!





1) Can you describe your identity? 

I am a Korean and have been living in Malaysia for many years. I am working in the entertainment industry and interestingly, living in Malaysia has opened my eyes to diversity and many cultures.

2) What does being a woman mean to you?

In Korea, there exists a stereotype that a woman is vulnerable and the weaker sex in society, but I believe a woman is stronger than what people in general think she is.

3) What are your most common experiences as a woman – be it at home/at work/at school/in public? 

In the business world, people tend to take women for granted, they do not take a woman’s opinion and ideas seriously. We are living in this modern world, but equality between the sexes is not yet a full reality.

4) How has living in a male-dominated/patriarchal society shaped you and the women around you?  

It only creates a stronger stereotypical image of women in society, and women are unable to express themselves from the female’s point of view. It occurs even more in East Asia regions like Korea and Japan; even though they are open to accepting different ideas and influences beyond their shores, culture-wise they are still quite conservative which translates into their society and community (where attitudes towards women are concerned).

5) How can we can address this?

We should not take a provocative approach; instead, we should find a wiser way to change societal attitudes and behaviours towards women.





1) Can you describe your identity? 

I will be 27 in June. I am of the Indian race and Hindu religion. As a humanist and an existentialist, I believe everything and everyone deserves love and respect. My work revolves around youth.

2) What does being a woman mean to you?

It’s all about being present as a person, no less.

3) What are your most common experiences as a woman – be it at home/at work/at school/in public? 

I had a caring upbringing at home, although I’ve had relatives that imposed gender-based rules. I remember having arguments to explain why I should not do something just because my male cousin told me to do so. The argument went on for hours. It was all about girls doing what their brothers told them to. Growing up without a birth brother, I find the situation in contrary to my upbringing.

At school, I have had instances of being told that I was ‘too bold’ or ‘open’ by teachers and fellow students. Female students who exhibited feminine demeanour were more accepted. Thanks to my upbringing, I never felt the need to conform but to stand strong as an individual.

At work, I have been dismissed when faced with sexual assault by a foreign delegate during a conference in my first year of work with comments like, “it’s normal, because you are a girl” or something along the lines of “you pretty, mah” and “you are pretty, so that’s why”. Stereotyped gender roles were often discussed and emphasised, where I was told that women are responsible for the children and home while men work as the providers. We also had to conform to certain dress codes that are deemed acceptable or appropriate – I view this as a form of body policing towards women.

Waiters have ignored my order while in the presence of my father. I have been physically harassed after a car accident. What else? I think I can draw a long list.

However, I have had my privileges over the years, of being, meeting and working with amazing women leaders. Also, having a strong woman figure at home helped me become the woman I am today.

4) How has living in a male-dominated/ patriarchal society shaped you and the women around you?  

It has made me a tougher person, able to stand up for myself and others, be it family, friends or colleagues. I now make more conscious decisions for myself, from what I do, wear and so forth. When questioned about my actions, instead of being upset or bewildered, I turn the question into a constructive conversation to create a better understanding of the choices I make.

At times, I do get tired of having to explain why it’s not wrong for a female to do something that a male would. I have female friends who are psychologically “forced” to conform to wearing the headscarf, for example. There is a serious need to have a conversation about this. It is not merely gender-based discrimination, but it intersects with other forms of discrimination, too.

5) How can we can address this?

We need to stand strong for ourselves and not give in to discrimination just because it takes effort to stand up. In fact, we need to shake up society!

Awareness is the first step. The comes having conversations about the issue, and a solid plan of action to address the various forms of patriarchy in our society.

Among the actions we can take are having a safe space for communities to share their stories, actively debunking gender-based stereotypes in society, and creating an ecosystem that connects collective actions and individual actions. We need corporations and non-profit organisations to take measures on the state of gender inequality in their respective systems. This could potentially make a difference for the generations to come.


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