2013 ended with another decision, somewhere in the world, to entrench the persecution and ostracisation of a minority group. I’m referring to a new syariah law introduced by the Pahang Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council (MUIP) in early December 2013, which would imprison for a maximum of one year or fine up to RM1000 (USD 304) a man who dresses like a woman, or a woman who dresses like a man.
The deputy director of the Pahang Islamic Religious Department (JAIP) added that the ruling aimed to “discourage such activities from being rampant” because existing systems of detention and advice are ineffective. In local news, the main reason for prosecuting “cross-dressers” is because they create the “tendency to sway the community towards immorality“. The mufti of Pahang explained further:
“Usually these mak nyah, they are men resembling women and what is their aim of appearing like women? Because they want to tempt other men. This means that they are inviting others to immorality.” [translated from Malay]
A proposal for a similar law in the neighbouring state of Negeri Sembilan was previously challenged in 2012 by four transgender men, but was rejected by the federal court. The lawyer who represented these men saw this decision as a “dangerous precedent… effectively saying that state-enacted Islamic law overrides fundamental liberties.” Negeri Sembilan has been enforcing the RM1000 fines for “cross-dressing” that Pahang has just newly enacted.
In the Malay-language news, the terms translated as “cross-dressers” are mak nyah and pengkid (an umbrella term referring to women imitating men; also includes lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered men).
Although the transgender community in Malaysia is a very small minority and hardly constitutes any kind of significant political coalition, in the local news they are spoken of as a threat to other men and women, especially by getting “braver” at openly showing their identity. This is because of the “confusion” that they create about notions of masculinity and femininity.