16 October 2012

A Double-Bind For Transgenders In Malaysia

In some predominantly-Muslim countries, such as Malaysia, there are, in essence, two sets of laws.  Sharia is Islamic law, which applies to people who are Muslims.  Then there are secular laws, which apply to all citizens and, in some cases, even to visitors who aren't Muslim.

As it happens, Sharia law includes a ban on transvestism.  In Malaysia, men who wear women's clothing can face prison sentences and/or hefty fines, depending on the Malaysian state in which they are convicted.

On the other hand, Malaysia's ban on homosexual acts applies to everyone in the countries.  Those who are charged with violating this law can be punished by caning and prison sentences of up to 20 years.

So, in Malaysia, cross-dressers--four of whom recently lost a court challenge to the country's ban--are in a real quandry.

Not only do they dress in women's clothing, they also take hormones and go by female names.  However, their identity cards and other documents identify them by the male names and gender assigned to them at birth.

The four trans women argued that the ban on cross-dressing voilates the protections for freedom of expression and against discrimination based on gender identity codified in the Malaysian constitution.  They also pleaded, unsuccessfully, for identity cards that identified them by their female names and gender--which, in essence, would allow them to live more or less fully as women--because of the discrimination transgender people face in their country.

Said discrimination may turn out to be the lesser of their problems.  Now that their identities are known, they are subject to the risk of harassment and violence.  And, because the Malaysian courts still categorize them as men, they run the risk of being prosecuted under the country's laws against homosexual acts should they have sex with men.

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