people are gaining more acceptance in mostly Muslim
Malaysia, a well-known transgender woman said Tuesday
in Kuala Lumpur, a little more than a year after she
held a high-profile but controversial wedding with an
accountant. Jessie Chung, an ethnic Chinese Malaysian
who had sex-reassignment surgery in 2003, said her country's
transgender people are "luckier than those in some
other places" because antidiscrimination campaigns by
nongovernmental groups have helped to change the way
in which many people view them.
"I know this because when I walk down the
street, strangers who recognize me often approach me
with encouraging words," Chung told reporters. "Our
society is becoming more open-minded."
Chung, a Christian in her 30s who was born male,
made national headlines by becoming the first
transgender person to have a public wedding, on
November 12, 2005. She married accountant Joshua Beh in
front of 800 guests in a ceremony conducted by
independent church pastors.
However, the government has ruled the marriage
invalid because it is considered a same-sex union.
Chung's identification documents state she is a man,
since Malaysians cannot legally update their gender status
even after sex-reassignment surgery.
Sex-reassignment surgery is legal in Malaysia,
but activists have long said transgender
people in the country face widespread
prejudice and often cannot find employment, forcing some
into illegal sex work. Outreach groups estimate there
are at least 50,000 transgender people in Malaysia.
Chung's wedding sparked public debate about
transgender issues, such as Islamic laws that put
Muslims who cross-dress at risk of being jailed and
fined. Some 60% of Malaysia's 26 million people are ethnic
Malay Muslims, but there are large ethnic Chinese and
Indian minorities, mostly Buddhists, Christians, and
Hindus, who are not subject to Islamic laws.
Chung, a semiprofessional singer formerly named
Jeffrey, marked her wedding anniversary by launching
an album of mainly Mandarin-language ballads that
convey her experiences. Producers hope to market it at home
and in Singapore, Taiwan, and other Chinese-speaking areas.
(Sean Yoong, AP)