Thursday May 17, 2012
Case of ethnic tribes and transgenders
A WRITER'S LIFE
By DINA ZAMAN
Both eke out a living through their performances. They may be from two different spectrums of society, but they deserve dignity.
SOMETIME last year, I followed a humanitarian group to Sarawak, and after a packed and whirlwind trip, we were invited to visit a cultural village.
I can’t remember the name of the village as I write this but I am still struck by the memories of the Orang Asal, cheerfully greeting us and wanting to show how they lived.
The longhouse we were brought to was an ageing one. It had been built precisely to show visitors how they lived.
There was a room that had posters and photos of how their ancestors lived aeons ago. Another was packed to the brim with indigenous cutlery and cooking ware.
In the living room, there were about 10 of them, young and old, men and women, all ready to perform for us.
Maybe, I am too romantic, but I felt quite sad. A renowned ethnic tribe has been reduced to this: performing for tourists and visitors like myself.
You may argue that this was one way for them to eke a living, but surely there’s another way of showing off culture, traditions and a people in a more dignified way?
On the same token, about a week back or so, there was a Boom Boom Room Reunion. Oh, those were the days when we all danced the night away. 11 LA… Base 2… well, we arranged for a night out.
Husbands and boyfriends came along. Everyone had a story of a youth (mis)spent.
Five minutes into the show, the expressions on our faces could be described as a mixture of horror, pity and sadness.
The transgenders who performed had aged. They could not dance like before. Jokes heard were rehashes of years ago, when Boom Boom Room was the place to go.
We went home wondering if age had turned us into old biddies.
A male friend said to me later that night, this was pitiful. We are part of the problem, too: we have turned these transgenders into a freak show. And because they can’t get any work, and some have no choice but to resort to sex work, this is all they have left.
There will be many arguments and debate about this. What’s so wrong about an ethnic tribe performing? Kerja halal what!
The transgenders deserve that life, because they are an aberration to society. Besides, what else can they do?
Say what you will: they may be from two different spectrums of society, but they deserve dignity.
And age is cruel: can you imagine the two groups performing when they are old and sickly? Yes, the world is not fair.
People like me should stop seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses. The reality is that this is life for them.
For all we know, they could be happy and contented with their lot. Who is to know?
> Dina Zaman is working on a project which deals with religious histories and personalities of Malaysia.