Held on the 20th of November every year, this day is set to commemorate transgenders who have been killed due to discrimination, prejudice and hatred towards the community. It is also to raise awareness and act against the violence, brutality and murder of gender variant or non-gender conforming individuals within the LGBT community worldwide.
Every year, scores of transgenders have been murdered in dehumanizing ways, as the hatred against gender variant or non-gender conforming individuals is on the rise. The countless deaths are from all walks of life; activists, school children, sex workers, civil servants and even mainstream executives. Even those perceived to be transgenders are not spared. Most of the murderers get off lightly, resulting in further stigmatization that transgenders somehow “deserves it”. This is also a day to take action against transphobia.
Situation in Malaysia
In Malaysia, battered transgenders and friends of those who died are often too afraid to speak out because of death threats and police mockery, while Islamic fundamentalists still demonize and portray transgenders falsely as deviants. Many of the murder victims are often insultingly mis-gendered and referred to with the wrong pronouns when their deaths are reported in the newspapers. And many deaths go unreported because of media bias.
The Transgender Day Of Remembrance (Malaysia) is an event organized by the Malaysian TransAdvocacy Coalition, and funded by two key individuals. It was originally scheduled to be at the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre For Women (ARROW), but due to an administration officer’s scheduling conflict, the event was moved to PT Foundation Transsexual Drop-In-Centre (DIC) a day before the event.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is one of the 144 cities from 21 countries to hold the eleventh Transgender Day Of Remembrance this year. It also marks the second time this event is held in Malaysia, and the first in which the Malay Language was used. This year, Malaysia has three recorded deaths, and they are among the 162 deaths recorded worldwide. The issue of transphobia and ways to reduce a hostile climate towards trans people were discussed. A candlelight vigil was held at the end of the sessions.
TDOR in Malaysia
On Friday 20th of November 2009, around 20 participants were present by 7.50pm. Most of them are regulars at the PT Transsexual DIC. The host began the night by explaining the function of the Malaysian TransAdvocacy Coalition and its goal to sensitize schools to the presence of transgenders, to build a database of organizations that do not discriminate against transgenders so that jobs can be offered, narrowing down transgender friendly health care providers and clinics to assist transgenders, and providing possible places for transgenders to rent and stay without prejudice and discrimination.
Then the subject of transphobia was tackled. The members of the floor were asked about the causes of transphobia and a few of the more outspoken ones gave valid answers. Then an open discussion ensued on how to tackle the causes of transphobia, resulting in a truly educational experience for not only the participants, but also the host of the event. Some of the suggestions including stopping sticking to a transgender clique and hanging around the fringes of society, and instead coming out to meet and mix with the people around them. It is also agreed that the negative attitudes of most transgenders also needs to change, to avoid being stereotyped wholly as sex workers or unreliable people.
Then we headed on to the candlelight vigil, where names were called out and candles were lit for those who have died this year, and we reserved four tall candles for the four who died in Malaysia (three reported, one not reported). Unfortunately after reading about the fortieth name, most of the transgenders were getting restless and I was asked by the Transsexual DIC Programme Manager not to finish the list. I then asked everyone to light all the candles at one go to remember our dead, and hope for a better tomorrow for all of us.
Response from the LGBT Community
A request through e-mail was sent to PT’s In House Programme Manager to advertise the event on his regular Yahoo groups. There was no reply from him. Fellow ex-gay survivor Pang Kee Teik was most accommodating; he sent out messages to all the member of the Sexualiti Merdeka Facebook Group. However, no one from the group showed up. The Malaysian Human Rights Council and Joint Action Group For Gender Equality (JAG) were also notified via e-mail. There was no e-mail reply, and no representatives from either group. This may be a sign that most gays and lesbians, or even those working on sexuality and human rights, still do not regard trans violence something worth their time or importance, even though those perceived to be transgender have same risks of violence in Malaysia.
Most of the participants this year felt bored and have a nonchalant attitude towards the event. When the names of the dead were read out, instead of mourning, most of them were already chatting away and some did not even light one candle. Valuable materials that were printed out for them were a waste as most did not read them, probably because they do not know the English language, and for some they simply did not care. It is also saddening that most of the names from the memorial list failed to be read out, because they stopped paying attention to the candlelight vigil. This shows total lack of respect for the dead, and in this case ironically it is their own, and it could happen to them. It is my deepest regret I cannot finish the list, and that they do not consider their dead important.
A few prominent trans individuals were also invited to the event, and they too did not show up. This smacks of irony, as one of the prominent figures that funded the event was a trans woman from Singapore. It comes as a surprise to me that an individual from across the causeway would care about the transgender community in Malaysia, more than the Malaysian trans people themselves. This, in my opinion, marks the spirit of surrender by most of the transgender community especially among the Malays; their complacency, as most of them were negative in their attitude, and do not even care about tomorrow.
I was however, encouraged by some positive signs. Several trans people, while most were preparing to go back, continue lighting the candles until all of them are lit. Some were seen praying for the souls of their friends. And some do realize the reasons why we remember our dead. It is simply because it could be one of our family members, or our friends, or ourselves. I do believe the list should have been completed. All the names are people who have existed to make all of us visible. They have friends and families, and they were living people. And furthermore, these are victims of prejudice and hate, and this sort of violence can happen to anyone within the LGBT community. They do deserve their due recognition, especially when it is already so difficult to track down more of the deaths that are unreported to the police, or dismissed by the media.
There are lessons to be learnt from conducting a TDOR memorial. The event was not a total failure, for some do get the message. But I find it shocking that in comparison to the TDOR event last year, cisgenders seem to care more about trans people than transgenders themselves. Perhaps there is a dire need now for transgenders to take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves what they really want out of their lives. To have their existence validated, or be thrown into the abyss where they will not even be remembered by their own. Right now I have made my decision to not let circumstances get me down. But unless they decide to do so too, their stance will affect me, as I will be just a single voice. It is my hope, for TDOR next year, every one, gay or straight, cis or trans, would come together for one simple reason. Hate is evil. The violence and murders must stop.