Planting seeds of hope for elderly, homeless transgenders

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Source: Written by Low Han Shaun for The Malaysian Insight

People at The Seed Transgender Home for the elderly

The Seed Transgender Home for the elderly, the first of its kind in Malaysia, can house a maximum of 10 people. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Kamal Ariffin, January 15, 2018.

FROM the time she discovered she was “different” at the age of 17, transgender Alice (not her real name) was prepared for a life alone, and was intent on ensuring she would be financially independent.

However, after working as a chef for 30 years, Alice finds herself today penniless, riddled with sickness and homeless at 50, after she was thrown out of her family home last year.

“I am 50 years old now, I have hepatitis C, heart problems and kidney problems from an accident that I had in 1996,” she said.

“My mother died last year, and my father died when I was 15,” she said, adding that after her mother’s death, her brother sold the family home, forcing her to become homeless.

Alice slept on the streets of Kuala Lumpur for a year before she found out about Seed Transgender Home for the elderly, the first of its kind in Malaysia.

A place of acceptance

Nisha Ayub, director of the Seed Foundation behind the home, said it was set up last August as a safe house for transgenders above the age of 40.

“We often talk about the transgender who are 30 below or 40 below, but we forget that transgender people grow old, too,” she told The Malaysian Insight.

“We are currently renting the place from a guy who wishes to keep (his identity) a secret.

“It was hard finding a place to rent for a transgender home in Malaysia, we kept being turned down.”

The home which can house a maximum of 10 people, currently has six occupants. Occupants pay for the utility bills, although the foundation also foots their bill if they are unable to find money.

Nisha said she obtains funds from crowdfunding activities like hosting donation drives, workshops and talks.

She said too many shelters run by government agencies sought to change the sexual orientation of their occupants.

“Yes, there are a lot of shelters out there that are open for transgenders, but their main objective is to change a person.”

She hopes to create a family-like atmosphere in the home, something many of its occupants have been deprived of most of their lives as transgenders, she said.

“In this home, we don’t talk about religion, we don’t talk about race, nothing,” said Nisha.

“This home – there is no sign that it is a Muslim-based house or whatever. They can still practise their beliefs in their rooms.”

In 2013, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development cut off funding for the transgender community, said Nisha, leaving many in the community in dire straits and forced into the sex industry.

She said the stereotype of transgenders as prostitutes made it harder to escape the prejudice.

“Why don’t you ask why they become sex workers? Is there a choice for us to be one? No.

“It is because when people find out that we are transgender, it is hard for us to get jobs and when you have politicians condemning transgender people, that message automatically promotes fear,” she said.

A place of hope

After finding the Seeds Transgender Home, Alice said she can finally settle down and hopes to be able to continue working as a chef to pay for her mounting medical bills.

“I get my money from Socso (Social Security Organisation), but most of the time it is not enough, it is only enough for me to get my medication and treatment at Kuala Lumpur Hospital.

“I do catering from time to time… I have to accept these jobs from to survive.”

Another transgender, Diane (not her real name), who also lives in the home, said she could not get a proper job because of her identity and age.

The former seamstress from Negri Sembilan was thrown out on the streets and disowned by her family soon after she chose to be identified as a woman.

“I got lucky (to be able to turn over a new leaf and stay at this home), other elder transgenders are worse off, they take drugs, get into horrible activities, all because they do not have the attention that they require”

Diane, 54, said the Seed home is one of the few places where she can be herself.

“I usually have to change my clothes and act ‘accordingly’, like for instance when I enter the mosque,” she said.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

“You have to be smart and adapt to your surroundings.” – January 15, 2018.