Mak nyah

Mak nyah ([ˈmaʔ ˈɲa]), alternatively spelled maknyah, is a Malay vernacular[1] term for trans women in Malaysia. It arose in the late 1980s in order to distinguish MTF trans women from other minorities.[2]

The name is preferred by Malaysian trans women as opposed to various derogatory terms (namely, pondan and bapok), which were previously used by Sarawakians when referring to transsexuals and cross-dressers.[1] These are also considered slurs, which are variously directed to gay men as well as transgender individuals. Though less used, the term pak nyah is sometimes used for trans men, and the hybrid term mak-pak nyah for all transgender individuals.

Origins and definition of the term

Mak nyah is formed from the word mak, meaning 'mother',[3] and nyah, meaning 'transition' (literally, 'to run from'). Khartini Slamah describes how the term arose in the transgender community: "[F]irst, [as] a desire to differentiate ourselves from gay men, transvestites, cross-dressers, drag queens, and other 'sexual minorities' with whom all those who are not heterosexual are automatically lumped, and second, because we also wanted to define ourselves from a vantage point of dignity rather than from the position of derogation in which Malaysian society had located us[4] Slamah then goes on to explain that the term mak nyah does not necessarily refer to a MTF trans woman who has undergone sex reassignment surgery (SRS):[2] "[M]ak Nyahs define themselves in various ways along the continuums of gender and sexuality: as men who look like women and are soft and feminine, as the third gender, as men who dress up as women, as men who like to do women's work, as men who like me, etc."[4]

The term of mak nyah for Malay transgender women can be contrasted with other terms for the trans community around the world, such as hijras in India, kathoeys in Thailand and occult in Myanmar.[1]


Bahasa Seteng (literally "half-language"), is a secret language used within the Malaysian transgender community, in order to reflect their identity. It is commonly used amongst teenage mak nyah.[1]

Legal status

The mak nyah community in Malaysia experiences heavy discrimination, including discrimination in employment, housing and health care.[5] In 2010, the governments of the United Kingdom and Australia recognised Malaysian transgender asylum seekers, in response to the persecution and discrimination that they face in Malaysia.[6][7]

Malaysian courts have issued ambiguous messages as to whether a transgender individual's preferred gender identity or their birth sex should appear on their ID cards (My Kad).[2] For example, in Wong's case,[8] the judge of the High Court of Ipoh upheld the refusal of the national Registration Department to amend or correct the Birth Certificate and National Registration Identity Card of the claimant who was a transsexual man.[2] However, in J.G.'s case,[9] a judge of the High Court of Kuala Lumpur, in dealing with a case which shared many similarities with Wong's case, decised that the claimant's ID card be amended to acknowledge her gender identity.[2]

Under Section 21 of the Minor Offences Act 1955, mak nyah can be charged for indecent behaviour for dressing as women, and Section 28 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997 prohibits any male person from wearing a woman's attire in a public place and posing as a woman for "immoral purposes".[2] Such a charge usually results in a small fine of RM25–50.

Under Islam

In 1983, the Malaysian Conference of Rulers issued a fatwa which ruled that sex reassignment surgery should be forbidden to all except intersex people, on the basis that any other surgery was against Islam,[2] as Islam only permits khunsa (intersex people) to undergo a sex change operation.[5] Sunni Islam forbids males from cross-dressing, wearing make-up, injecting hormones to enlarge their breasts, and undergoing sex change operations.[1] Research shows that 78% of mak nyahs would prefer to have a sex change operation if their religion permits them to do so.[10]

As the majority of mak nyah are Malay Muslims, they can be further charged by a sharia court,[1][2] for which there is a fine of RM800–3000. Laws such as these have been used by the Malaysian religious authorities (the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Agama Islam Negeri Sembilan) to oppress the mak nyah community, through raids, interrogation, violence and detention.[2]

In addition, having SRS also causes a problem in terms of Islamic burial rites, which state that only a woman may be permitted to bath the body of a woman. This does not include mak nyah individuals, even if they have undergone SRS. However, maknyah individuals who underwent SRS could not be bathed by a man either.[11]


It has been estimated that there are about 10,000 mak nyah in Malaysia.[12] In the city of Kuching there are 700 mak nyah (75% Malays, the rest are Dayaks and Chinese).[1]


Teh Yik Koon wrote research documents on the mak nyah, including a 1998 study and a 2002 book called The Mak Nyahs. Andrew Hock Soon Ng, the author of "The Politics of Reclaiming Identity: Representing the Mak Nyahs in Bukak Api", wrote that the book was "the most extensive scholarly work" on the mak nyahs.[13]

In media

The 2000 documentary Bukak Api is about Mak nyah.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Caesar DeAlwis; Maya Khemlani David. "LANGUAGE AND IDENTITY OF MALAY TEENAGE MAK NYAH (TRANSVESTITES) IN KUCHING" (PDF). Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Mak Nyahs of Malaysia: Testimony of Four Transgender Women" (PDF). Equal Rights Trust. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  3. ^ Tan Lay Ean, H., Jeffrey Jessie: Recognising Transsexuals, The Malaysian Bar, 17 November 2005
  4. ^ a b Slamah, K., The Struggle to Be Ourselves, Neither Men Nor Women: Mak Nyahs in Malaysia, in Misra, G. and Chandiramani, R. (eds.), Sexuality, Gender and Rights: Exploring Theory and Practice in South and South East Asia, SAGE, 2005, p. 99-100
  5. ^ a b Teh 2002.
  6. ^ "Trans Woman wins Asylum Claim". International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. 27 July 2010.
  7. ^ "Malaysian transsexual given refugee status in Australia". 2 May 2010.
  8. ^ Wong Chiou Yong v Pendaftar Besar/Ketua Pengarah Jabata Pendaftaran Negara [2005] 1 CLJ 622.
  9. ^ J. G. v Pengarah Jabatan Pendaftaran [2005] 4 CLJ 710.
  10. ^ Teh 2002, p. 147.
  11. ^ Teh 2002, p. 101.
  12. ^ Teh & 1998 165.
  13. ^ Hock, Andrew Soon Ng. "The Politics of Reclaiming Identity: Representing the Mak Nyahs in Bukak Api" in Pullen, Christopher (2012). LGBT Transnational Identity and the Media. Springer. ISBN 978-0-230-37331-0., page 138.


  • Pullen, Christopher (2012). LGBT Transnational Identity and the Media. Springer. ISBN 978-0-230-37331-0.
  • Teh, Yik Koon (1998). "Understanding the Problems of Mak Nyahs (Male Transsexuals) in Malaysia". South East Asia Research. 6 (2).
  • Teh, Yik Koon (2002). The Mak Nyahs: Malaysian Male to Female Transsexuals. Eastern Universities Press. ISBN 978-981-210-209-6.
  • Slamah, Khartini (2005). Misra, Geetanjali; Chandiramani, Radhika (eds.). "The Struggle to be Ourselves, Neither Men or Women: Mak Nyahs in Malaysia". Sexuality, Gender and Rights: Exploring Theory and Practice in South and Southeast Asia. New Delhi ; Thousand Oaks, Calif. ; London: Sage: 98–112. ISBN 0-7619-3402-2.

Bigender, bi-gender or dual gender is a gender identity that includes any two gender identities and behaviors. Some bigender individuals express two distinct personas, which may be feminine, masculine, agender, androgyne, or other gender identities; others find that they identify as two genders simultaneously. A 1999 survey conducted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health observed that, among the transgender community, less than 3% of those who were assigned male at birth and less than 8% of those who were assigned female at birth identified as bigender.

Brazilian Resolution

The Brazilian resolution was presented to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in 2003.

The resolution covered human rights and sexual orientation. E/CN.4/2003/L.92*

It came under the Commission on Human Rights, fifty-ninth session, item 17 on the agenda.

Discussion of the resolution was postponed in 2004 because it was felt that it would not be passed. A formal UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity was discussed in the General Assembly on 18 December 2008.


Cisgender (sometimes cissexual, often abbreviated to simply cis) is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth. For example, someone who identifies as a woman and was assigned female at birth is a cisgender woman. The term cisgender is the opposite of the word transgender.Related terms include cissexism and cisnormativity.

Dual-role transvestism

Dual-role transvestism is the formal diagnosis used by psychologists and physicians to describe people who wear clothes of the opposite sex to experience being the opposite sex temporarily, but don't have a sexual motive or want gender reassignment surgery. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) list three diagnostic criteria for "Dual-role transvestism" (F64.1).A person who is diagnosed with dual-role transvestism should not receive a diagnosis of transvestic fetishism (F65.1).


Heteroflexibility is a form of a sexual orientation or situational sexual behavior characterized by minimal homosexual activity in an otherwise primarily heterosexual orientation, which may or may not distinguish it from bisexuality. It has been characterized as "mostly straight". Although sometimes equated with bi-curiosity to describe a broad continuum of sexual orientation between heterosexuality and bisexuality, other authors distinguish heteroflexibility as lacking the "wish to experiment with ... sexuality" implied by the bi-curious label. The corresponding situation in which homosexual activity predominates has also been described, termed homoflexibility.


Khanith (also spelled Khaneeth or Xanith; Arabic: خنيث‎; khanīth) is a vernacular Arabic term used in Oman and some parts of the Arabian Peninsula and denotes the gender role ascribed to males who function sexually, and in some ways socially, as women. The word is closely related to the Arabic word mukhannath (مخنث "effeminate"), a Classical Arabic term referring to individuals with an effeminate nature.John Money summarizes material presented by Unni Wikan in an article titled Man becomes woman: Transsexualism in Oman as a key to gender roles. According to this account, the mukhannath is the "bottom" in a male same-sex relationship. Because of this, khanith are considered men by Omani standards and are often considered an "alternative gender role" – and sometimes considered as being transgender or transvestites – even though the khanith are still referred to by masculine names and are treated as male by the law. Because of this confusion in terminology, many people refer to the khanith as khanith alone.The khanith are considered a specific third gender category in the Arabian Peninsula. And although they behave like women and have same-sex relationships with other men, at some stage they may one day "become a man" and give up their lifestyle for marriage and children.

List of transgender-related topics

The term "transgender" is multi-faceted and complex, especially where consensual and precise definitions have not yet been reached. While often the best way to find out how people identify themselves is to ask them, not all persons who might be thought of as falling under the transgender 'umbrella' identify as such. Transgender can also be distinguished from intersex, a term for people born with physical sex characteristics "that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies".Books and articles written about transgender people or culture are often outdated by the time they are published, if not already outdated at the time of composition, due to inappropriate and/or outdated questions or premises.Psychology, medicine, and social sciences research, aid, or otherwise interact with or study about transgender people. Each field starts from a different point of view, offers different perspectives, and uses different nomenclature. This difference is mirrored by the attitude of transgender people as regards transgender issues, which can be seen in the articles listed below.

List of transgender-rights organizations

Transgender organizations seek to promote understanding and acceptance, both legally and socially, of transgender persons.

Non-binary gender

Non-binary, also known as genderqueer, is a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine‍—‌identities that are outside the gender binary.Non-binary people may identify as having two or more genders (being bigender, trigender, or pangender); having no gender (being agender, nongendered, genderless, genderfree or neutrois); moving between genders or having a fluctuating gender identity (genderfluid); or being third gender or other-gendered, a category that includes those who do not place a name to their gender.Gender identity is separate from sexual or romantic orientation, and non-binary people have a variety of sexual orientations, just as transgender and cisgender people do.A non-binary gender is not associated with a specific gender expression, such as androgyny. Non-binary people as a group have a wide variety of gender expressions.

Occult (disambiguation)

The Occult refers to secret or hidden knowledge, usually of a mystical nature.

Occult in medicine is a disease or process that is not accompanied by readily discernible signs or symptoms:

Fecal occult blood; blood in the feces that is not visibly apparent

Occult fracture; a fracture not readily visible on radiography

Occult (film), a Japanese horror film

Doctor Occult, a DC Comics magic-using detective character

Occult, alias of the Marvel Comics character Peepers

occult, the act of astronomical occultation

occult, a local term for the transgender community in Myanmar


Pangender is a non-binary gender defined as being more than one gender. A pangender person may consider themselves a member of all genders. The prefix pan is Greek and means "all". Pangender is a kind of third gender, much like bigender, trigender, or genderqueer. Pangender individuals may identify with gender inclusive or gender neutral pronouns instead of gendered ones (such as she/he or her/him).


Postgenderism is a social, political and cultural movement which arose from the eroding of the cultural, biological, psychological and social role of gender, and an argument for why the erosion of binary gender will be liberatory.Postgenderists argue that gender is an arbitrary and unnecessary limitation on human potential, and

foresee the elimination of involuntary biological and psychological gendering in the human species

as a result of social and cultural evolution and through the application of neurotechnology, biotechnology and assistive reproductive technologies.Advocates of postgenderism argue that the presence of gender roles, social stratification, and cogno-physical disparities and differences are generally to the detriment of individuals and society. Given the radical potential for advanced assistive reproductive options, postgenderists believe that sex for reproductive purposes will either become obsolete, or that all post-gendered humans will have the ability, if they so choose, to both carry a pregnancy to term and 'father' a child, which, postgenderists believe, would have the effect of eliminating the need for definite genders in such a society.

Sex reassignment surgery (female-to-male)

Sex reassignment surgery for female-to-male transgender people includes a variety of surgical procedures that alter anatomical traits to provide physical traits more comfortable to the trans man's male identity and functioning. Non-binary people assigned female at birth may also have these surgeries.

Often used to refer to phalloplasty, metoidoplasty, or vaginectomy, sex reassignment surgery can also more broadly refer to many procedures an individual may have, such as male chest reconstruction, hysterectomy, or oophorectomy,

Sex reassignment surgery is usually preceded by beginning hormone treatment with testosterone.


Tranny (or trannie) is a slang term for a transgender, transsexual, transvestite, or cross-dressing person, and often considered to be derogatory or offensive. During the early 2010s, there was confusion and debate over whether the term was a pejorative, or was still considered acceptable, or even a reappropriated term of unity and pride. By 2017, however, the word was banned by several major media stylebooks and considered hate speech by Facebook.

Trans man

A trans man (sometimes trans-man or transman) is a man who was assigned female at birth. The label of transgender man is not always interchangeable with that of transsexual man, although the two labels are often used in this way. Transgender is an umbrella term that includes different types of gender variant people (including transsexual people). Many trans men choose to undergo surgical or hormonal transition, or both (see sex reassignment therapy), to alter their appearance in a way that aligns with their gender identity or alleviates gender dysphoria.Although the literature indicates that most trans men identify as heterosexual (meaning they are sexually attracted to women), trans men, like cisgender men, can also have any sexual orientation or sexual identity, such as homosexual, gay, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, or asexual, and some trans men might consider conventional sexual orientation labels inadequate or inapplicable to them.

Transgender Europe

Transgender Europe (TGEU) is a network of different organizations of transgender, transsexual, gender variant and other like-minded people to combat discrimination and support trans people rights. It was founded in 2005 in Vienna during the 1st European Transgender Council as "European Transgender Network" and it is currently a registered NGO as "Transgender Europe".Since 2009, in collaboration with the online magazine "Liminalis", TGEU runs the project "Trans Murder Monitoring" (TMM) that records the many people who every year around the world are killed as result of transphobia.

Transgender pregnancy

Transgender pregnancy is the incubation of one or more embryos or fetuses by transgender people.

Transitioning (transgender)

Transitioning is the process of changing one's gender presentation and/or sex characteristics to accord with one's internal sense of gender identity – the idea of what it means to be a man or a woman, or to be non-binary or genderqueer. (Non-binary people's internal sense of gender identity is neither solely female nor male.) For transgender and transsexual people, this process commonly involves reassignment therapy (which may include hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery), with their gender identity being opposite that of their birth-assigned sex and gender. Transitioning might involve medical treatment, but it does not always involve it. Cross-dressers, drag queens, and drag kings tend not to transition, since their variant gender presentations are (usually) only adopted temporarily.

Transition must begin with a personal decision to transition, prompted by the feeling that one's gender identity does not match the sex that one was assigned at birth. One of the most significant parts of transitioning for many transgender people is coming out for the first time. Transitioning is a process, not an event, that can take anywhere between several months and several years. Some people, especially non-binary or genderqueer people, may spend their whole life transitioning and may redefine and re-interpret their gender as time passes. Transitioning generally begins where the person feels comfortable: for some, this begins with their family with whom they are intimate and reaches to friends later or may begin with friends first and family later. Sometimes transitioning is at different levels between different spheres of life. For example, someone may transition far with family and friends before even coming out at work.


Trigender is a nonbinary identity in which one shifts among three genders, which could include male, female, and a nonbinary gender. Someone who is also genderqueer may mix two or more genders at a time. Trigender falls under the general category of genderqueer or androgyny, a gender identity that goes beyond the normal binary gender system (male and female) and tends to be a catch-all place for other gender identities. It can also be seen as the equivalent cultures that recognize individuals to define their own sense of self.

Gender and sexual identities
See also


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