Seeking a place of acceptance Print
Thursday, 21 July 2011 21:36

KUALA LUMPUR: A society unwillingly to accept them and strict laws preventing them from leading a normal life here. These are among the factors which cause "soft" men to consider leaving the country.
Amber Asyh, whose real name is Mohd Yahya Ghazali, is one such person. He intends to leave Malaysia as soon as he undergoes sexual reassignment surgery in Thailand when he turns 28 in four years, so he would be "free" and gain acceptance from others.

"I want to be financially stable and go to a place where they'll accept me for who I really am. Maybe I can find someone and settle down. These are not the things you can do here. It's dangerous to be effeminate here. They don't accept you," he said.

The youngest of five children, and the only boy, "Amber" started admiring boys when he was 4 and began wearing make-up when he was 15.

When he was younger, he used to wear his sisters' clothes, played with Barbie dolls, put on his sisters' make-up -- and felt good doing them all.

"It didn't feel wrong. Not at all. My sister, though, warned me that if I continued to be 'soft', it would break our father's heart."

He is careful how he behaves and dresses, especially when he goes back to his hometown, Kuching, so his family would not be embarrassed, despite the fact that they accept his ways.

"I don't want people to talk about me. Besides, I already feel guilty being the way I am. The boys at school used to tease me for hanging out with the girls, with whom I felt more comfortable with. They also made fun of how I walked or squealed when excited.

"Everyone wants to be normal but if you have the soul of a female, what can you do?"

At 18, Amber started taking hormone pills to make him more feminine.

"My breasts started to develop, my waist got smaller and my features became softer," he said, adding that he felt conflicted, being a Muslim.

The dilemma of being transgenders in Malaysia is, of course, not limited to men who feel they are actually women. There are women who feel like men trapped in a woman's body.

Danny (not her real name), a 24-year-old graphic designer, had more interest in outdoor activities than dolls and boys.

"As a child, I felt happy to be seen as a 'tomboy'. During my adolescent years, I believed my athletic abilities gave me the strength to go through school."

Danny said she was attracted to girls when she was 10 years old. She said her mother had always dressed her like a boy and cut her hair short.

She recalled when she went for a job interview with a big company a few years ago, the interviewers asked her why she dressed like a man.

"I didn't see how such a question was related to the job. They told me my commitment and professionalism were not good enough for them."

Asked whether she would embrace her feminine side one day, Danny said she would if she found the right man.

"Of course, I want to get married and have children. But at the moment, I can't find a man who is willing to accept who I am," she said.

Danny's problem is one that another woman, who only wanted to be known as Era, has long since left behind.

The self-confessed "former tomboy" used to wear men's clothes. In fact, she thought of herself as a boy and did "boy things".

But last year, she started to grow her hair and traded her baggy jeans for skirts.

"I thought it was about time for me to be a woman because I had been wondering how long I must deny my feminine side," she sai