Transsexual becomes Hindu nun

Sharon in the swirl of the ritual / image by Arvind Raj

In a one-of-a-kind ritual, a young transsexual woman has participated in a Hindu ‘marriage’ ritual.

Sharon, 24, who works for an airline and lives in a Subang flat, performed the ritual in front of some hundred guests on a Monday, comprising mostly of transsexuals, and curious spectators, at the multi-purpose hall of her neighbourhood.

This transformation ritual was only the second one of its kind performed in Malaysia, the first being by Sharmila Devi, who, in the transsexual community, is regarded as Sharon’s ‘mother’.

The ritual, which took nearly 12 hours, began with the arrival and unveiling of Bauchara Matha, who is considered by the Hindu community to be a personal deity of transsexuals.

“This statue (of Baucharaji Ma) was specially ordered from Rajasthan and brought here,” Sharon tells Komunitikini.

According to Devi, discrimination and a lack of acceptance of transsexuals in Malaysia has meant that many of them seek solace in their own personal deity.

“Even in India, transsexuals have their privileges,” she says.

The specially ordered statue of the deity was blindfolded when it was brought into the hall. The blindfold was removed after the priest conducted a series of prayers known as yagam.

“When she opens her eyes, she is like a newborn baby to me, and I will take care of her after this,” Sharon explained.

The deity will remain with Sharon for the rest of her life, and she is expected to ceremonially mark the anniversary of this ritual every year.

A traditional mangalsutra knot was tied around Sharon’s and the Goddess’ necks.

Portrayed sitting atop a rooster, the Goddess Bauchara Matha is the patron of the hijra (transsexual) community in India.

After the initiation rituals of the morning, the evening witnesses a marriage-like celebration as Sharon was ‘married’ to her service to God.

The participants then dance through the night, startling many curious onlookers, and bringing to life what was till then a carefully observed ceremony.

“I do not want to pretend for other people’s sake”

Seated suave on a chair across the rolling camera in an elegant saree, Sharon might be a fresh surprise to those who knew her before.

“I have been the way I am right now, ever since I was…,” she hesitates, a slight chuckle…, “a boy.”

Sharon, an accountancy graduate, seems to know exactly what she is doing and why she has needed to transform herself.

“I am not going to pretend to be someone I am not for other people’s sake. It was apparent since I was young that my female hormones overrode my male hormones,” she tells Komunitikini.

It comes as little surprise that some among her family cannot accept what she is.

“I started dressing as a female at the age of 21,” she reveals.

“I used to tell people when I was younger that I have some sort of biological disorder that makes me behave in a more feminine way. But now I have embraced the overwhelming female side that I have.”

“We are not a small community”

Sharon defeats the stereotype of transsexuals, who are often associated with prostitution and similar professions. Coming from a middle-class family, she had every reason not to become the subject of society’s disapproving eyes.

She plans to do something about this: “[I want] to be an activist and to help raise more awareness about the transsexual community in Malaysia. We are not a small community.

“Like ‘normal’ humans, there are good and bad transsexuals. Circumstances [and personal choices] determine whether they are good or bad. It has nothing to do with our sexuality.”

“For me, sex and gender are two different things. Sex is what you are born as, either female or male, but gender traits, you develop over the years.”


Meet the father

Some of her family were present during the ceremony, including her father.

“I don’t think she is taking it that well,” was all he could say when asked about Sharon’s mother, who was absent for the ceremony.

“But what can we do? It’s nature that this happened. We cannot blame anyone for that,” he added.

Sharon’s bookshelf shows a passion for reading, something carried forward from dad.

“I used to have this very old book collection,” he says, “but my mom was very strict, so there were only a few books which I managed to salvage.” He does not say what he had to salvage them from.

“Almost everything that I salvaged, she has taken with her here,” he says, pointing towards the shelf.

And probably with a tinge of nostalgia, he adds: “Of all three of my children, she was the only one to whom I would read bedtime stories.”