A zine showcasing hope, joy and mundanity in the lives of queer and disabled folk, produced by a newly found community. Comics, collage, illustration, poetry, and prose.
This is still fresh in my memory: the moment when I first stepped into the office building. It was during my second year at work. I had mixed feelings at the time, but I was determined to go through a transitional process to resolve all my deep internal conflicts. This is the fight within me, to live as myself.
For many years, this trans woman’s life was at war; a soul that was not in sync with external factors. These external factors include the self-identification card that was assigned to me in the official registration, parental upbringings, rules and regulations in schools, and many more that only enforce a binary system in life, as if there are no other human beings other than cisgender men and women in this world. This is what creates difficulties in minority communities born with different gender identities. Many trans women actually know and recognize who we are, but external factors often tell us otherwise.
Finally, one day I wondered to myself, “Who should determine our lives? Who should live this life in peace and at ease? And who is the one living this life? Me or them?” Thus, I began the transition to my authentic self.
Every transgender woman has her own ‘coming out’ story. Some starting from when they were young, while others when they are building their career or living their twilight years. This depends on the factors and constraints encountered during those time periods in their lives. And even though I have known my identity since I was 5 years old, it was only when I started building my career that I had the courage to make the transition. It was during this time period that my determination solidified.
It is not an easy step, indeed it is a long one. There are many twists and turns in life that one must pass before being able to express oneself in harmony with one’s true identity. We need not speak about the constant depression, stress and anxiety that always lingered before I came around to embrace myself as I am. There were countless tears in the search for peace.
But I felt a sense of strength too, and my soul became calmer and more peaceful after I started to live as my true self. Things like going into the office in a feminine – but still formal – outfit; or growing my hair long enough to touch my shoulders. Although I have not fully attained what I desire, it was enough to make me feel happy and comfortable. It is like a dream come true. Those negative feelings – which had enveloped me in the past – vanished in an instant.
I was carrying on with my work life as normal. My co-workers had their own perceptions regarding my transition. Some were comfortable, accepting, and no less friendly but only God knows how they truly think behind my back. Maybe they wanted to show that they can be professional outwardly but inwardly, they could still possessed negative attitudes towards people like me. And my assumption turned out to be true.
The dark clouds arrived eventually. One day, I heard my manager being contacted by someone. My name was called right after their conversation ended. I noticed that the manager was having a hard time starting the conversation with me. But whether he wanted to or not, he had to bring the matter up because it was related to company policies.
My heart was pounding. I prayed and prayed that this is not what I feared. I felt as if I was struck by lightning when my manager told me that the Human Resources (HR) department had instructed me to cut my hair according to the criteria befitting male employees in the company. This was because there was a report made by some staff. If I fail to comply, disciplinary action will be taken. Only God knows how sad I was at the time. This hair of mine, that has been so carefully kept, will be snatched away. I did not have much knowledge about my rights as a worker and a citizen then, so I reluctantly accepted the instruction.
Coincidentally, that day was a Friday and I had the two days over the weekend to figure out what to do next. I tried to listen to my community members and observe how they managed. Some people needed to cut their hair to conform to the “boyish” hairstyle. And there were those who were willing to quit their jobs because they were not willing to face the discrimination.
I groaned to myself, “What is to be done?” Enough of the 24 years in which I was forced to keep a short hair in order to obey the rules. Not again, not this time. I will not plunge into that valley of depression again!
In the midst of my confusion over what to do next, I overheard that some friends in the community were wearing short wigs while working. This was the beginning of new habits in my work life. As long as my hair can be left uncut and my feminine side is not suppressed anymore, I am willing to wear short wigs to work.
Imagine, this went on for 5 years. How hard it was to get ready every morning, to maintain this appearance for 8-10 hours a day, and to keep at it for 5 days a week. For other people, the stress they face at work may simply be work and office issues. But for us in the transgender community, our stress and discomfort are multiplied by a host of other factors including not being able to be ourselves at work, and the inability to express ourselves under the official policies.
However, the more I became active in advocacy, the more I gained a deeper awareness of our rights. One thing that I always emphasize in my advocacy work is gender recognition. It is very important to ensure that the right to life for minorities is protected. This is so that each citizen is free to work, to receive an education, and to exercise their right to self-expression. And I have not stopped in spreading the word to the public – especially the trans community – to be concerned about the need for diversity policies in any company when they apply for a job.
I don’t want my story to happen to the trans women community anymore. I don’t want my community to face such challenges and complicated situations anymore. This is crucial to enable us to become efficient and productive workers without having to endure any such persecution.
In the process of going through a challenging life, I continue to seek knowledge and know my rights as a citizen and an employee. I attended many seminars and advocacy activities to empower myself so that I am better able to protect myself and defend my rights.
Nowadays, many giant companies have started to take steps to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their administration to remain relevant and competitive. Coincidentally, like rays of light that come at unexpected times, one of the missions underscored by the SDGs is Gender Equality. Indeed, the United Nations is very concerned about the issues faced by the transgender community, in order to ensure that our rights are protected.
In 2020, many people were affected by the fallout caused by the pandemic. I would like to share some stories from the trans community during the pandemic. Some members of our community lost their jobs due to the industries not making a profit and not being able to survive. They have to find other job opportunities to make a living as a result of their termination of service. Others have had their salaries cut due to the reduced number of working days while the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia is carried out by the government to curb the spread of COVID-19.
For some who operate businesses, they are affected to the point of having to close their premises or branches while incurring massive losses. And of course, for those who do not have work or shelter, they face a really bitter time trying to get food aid and basic necessities as the distribution is only available in certain areas.
While we had to survive through all these – along with the anxiety of constantly worrying about Covid-19 infection – I can see some positive changes. When working from home, I no longer have to face complicated and stressful situations e.g. the anxiety of working in an office while wearing a wig. Since I no longer have to deal with that emotional burden, I am able to give my full commitment to my tasks and have become more productive.
After a year of this pandemic, our work schedule has been adjusted. There are times in which I work from home and times when I am required to be in the office. With these developments, I am also able to be my authentic self now in the workplace. And I can see that my trans community from the same organization also start to experience the same changes at their workplaces. We are able to express our gender identity and still perform our job with professionalism.
Thus far, the communication between the company administration and the employees has become more open than before. I am confident that my struggle to represent myself and the community will have a positive impact on the trans women community in our career. Moral support from colleagues – which is very much desired – also plays an important role.
I am confident that this is a new starting point for me and the community so that we can work without facing any discrimination anymore, and that our fundamental rights will not be violated again.
— July 2021
This story is commissioned by Innovation for Change – East Asia’s. It is part of a project called COVID-19 Stories from the Margins. Through the project, the hub equipped six individuals from marginalized communities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Vietnam with skills to share their own experiences and lessons from the pandemic.
‘Pandemic’s Silver Lining’ Chinese (Simplified) version
‘Pandemic’s Silver Lining’ Korean version
팬데믹의 희망: 트랜스 젠더 여성의 여정
‘Pandemic’s Silver Lining’ Malay version
Pandemik Membawa Sinar: Perjalanan seorang trans wanita
This story is originally written in Malay by Fazelyn Jr.
Edited and translated into English by
Ooi Kok Hin