I REALISED I was “different” when I was six. I hated wearing dresses, I didn’t play with dolls, except to perform surgery on them. Nope, I’m not a psychopath. I have a normal day job, I send money to my mum, and I have a loving partner and a dog named Boo.
My sister, my partner in crime, got married and had a lovely pair of twin girls who call me uncle on occasions, and auntie when their father insists. I let them. But I’ll have to explain myself once I transition completely from female to male.
I was born a female. I had my period when I was 13 plus, and wore my first bra the same year. Puberty was a total nightmare. My body was growing in ways it was not supposed to be.
I had my first crush on a girl when I was 11, and people say it’s normal in girls’ schools. But I never outgrew my attraction to girls. Freak, sick, sinful – these words crossed my mind. I was a lonely teenager and an over-achiever. I hid my feelings from my family. I felt like I was living a lie.
I came across a book on a dusty shelf in my school library that saved my life. Sisterhood is Powerful by Robin Morgan. It told me it was okay to be who you are – a masculine woman, a woman who loves women. That there was nothing wrong with that. It also gave me a name – lesbian.
Knowing a term to call myself didn’t make it much better. “Lesbian” was a terrible word to be associated with, especially in Malaysia. I felt trapped, not knowing another person who was gay, and too afraid to tell anyone.
So I applied for a scholarship to study in the United States. I came out as a lesbian to my college counsellor in 1992. I was 21. Finally able to tell a living soul I was gay, all my bottled up emotions came bursting forth and I wept in her arms.
I was in a relationship with a lesbian woman for seven years. Very unlike her who was completely at ease with her femininity, I was never really comfortable in my female body even though I was then comfortable to be identified as a lesbian.
Some years later, I dated a bisexual woman who became instrumental in my second coming out. Unlike my former girlfriend, she never put my masculinity down. She supported who I was meant to be.
I started reading about transsexuality and realised that I was more trans than gay. In my mind’s eye, I’ve been male ever since I became gender-conscious.
My friends and partners say my behaviour is all male, from the way I walk and the way I talk, to my sexuality. That feeling of “should’ve been in a male body” never left me even when I identified as a lesbian.
I started a blog diary (trans-x-man. blogspot.com) to put my feelings into words and understand myself better. I started to talk to friends about it. Some were supportive, some were incredulous. I hooked up with transgender men (or transmen) through the Internet and got advice about transitioning – where to obtain testosterone hormones, which doctors were friendly and would administer to you, and where to get sexual reassignment surgeries.
I learnt there is no such thing as a “sex change”, only a gradual transitioning through hormone therapy and various surgeries. And it depends on how far you want to go.
Meeting my partner
I decided to go to this Kuala Lumpur doctor for my monthly testosterone injections. By the fourth month, my period stopped, and my voiced changed to a lower pitch. My shoulders broadened, and I put on one kilo a month. By the sixth month, I had to shave for the first time in my life. I felt stronger. I could do 50 push-ups without breaking a sweat.
For the first time in my life, I felt at home in my body. Whenever I got the injections, I felt a warm rush, a grounded feeling, like I was meant to have this hormone in my body.
In 2007, I met Nadia, my current partner. She’s a straight woman who had only dated men. When we met, I was still a woman. We were strongly attracted to each other and we started dating.
Later, I told her I was a transman, not a lesbian. I had a hard time explaining the difference between sexual and gender orientation to her. Sexual orientation being which gender you are attracted to, and your gender being what gender you identify with.
So you could be a bisexual, homosexual (gay), or heterosexual (straight) transman. Since I identified myself as male, it would mean that after I transitioned fully to the male gender, she would not be dating a woman, but a man. In that case, she would not at all have to change her sexual orientation, which is that of a straight woman.
Then again, all these are just terms and concepts. Names can serve to empower people – like when I was young and discovering the lesbian identity gave meaning to who I had been. But even as names can empower, so can they limit us.
Nowadays, I believe love is just love. There is no need to taint it with questions of whose body is loving whose body. Or whose identity is loving whose identity. And you can say as much about one’s race, nationality, or religion.
Nadia was worried about but supportive of my transitioning. When I told her that I was going to remove my breasts, she went with me to Bangkok for the surgery, then took care of me until I healed.
Telling my mother
She urged me to tell my mother. I didn’t know how to. I had never spoken to my mum about my sexual or gender orientation, much less my decision to live as a man. How? I didn’t even have the vocabulary to speak about it in my mother tongue, Hokkien.
Finally, I wrote her a long letter just before we left for Bangkok explaining what the operation was about, why and how I had to do it, and that she should not worry because Nadia would be with me. A day after my surgery, I got an SMS message from my mother. It was Boxing Day.
Her exact words were: “If u r doing the right thing n r happy about it, am happy 4 u n will b supportive all the way. Am thankful ur friends r caring 4 u. Will always share d meditation merits wif u cos u truly deserve it. N always proud of u. May the TRIPLE GEM GUIDE U N ALWAYS KEEP U SAFE. How r u now?”
I was so moved and I felt so fine, because my mum loved me, whoever I was. I realise it can’t be easy being my mother. I remember the countless times when she had a hard time deciding whether to introduce me as a son or daughter.
Recently, to prepare her friend who had met me when I was younger, she told her, “Buddha says we should not judge people based on outer appearances….” So her friend didn’t do a double take when she met me, but accepted me as a more masculine woman. Or a man. I had no idea which, and it didn’t really matter.
Sometimes people try to find reasons why I am the way I am, suggesting it’s because I never had a good father role model. My father was abusive to my mother, and she left him when we were young.
To me, that’s not a good theory as my sister and younger brother are heterosexuals as far as I know.
I have a loving circle of friends who want to celebrate my 40th birthday with me as a man, in two years. I look forward to that. The only major obstacle I have is my identity card; it has Perempuan (female) and ends with an even number to denote my gender.
I know friends who got into trouble with authorities for not appearing like the gender in their documents.
Even though there is no law in Malaysia that says a woman can’t look like a man, you can be accused of holding an identity card that is not yours.
Of course, a simple thumb print check would show that it is your IC.
A friend who is a male-to-female transsexual was stopped by immigration officials when they didn’t believe she was holding her own passport.
The passport said Lelaki (male) and she appears female in all aspects. I hate to think what might have happened to her if she had been thrown into jail and locked up with male convicts.
I worry a little about myself, but well, I’ll have to cross the bridge when I come to it. My hope and dream is that people won’t be judged based on their form or appearance but on what’s real inside. Isn’t that what being human is all about?