I have been working on this part for a few weeks and I never thought that this story is involving many people, including the government department. I cant say much because this is my stepping stone to improve myself in writing feature stories. Anyway, this story will be divided into 3 parts and will be published in The Borneo Post every Sunday. Pls give me some comments ya. Love ya all!
Kampung Air is part of Kota Kinabalu, that never sleeps.
There are three different kinds of business being conducted by city folks taking their turn to make money in that particular place.
It starts with opening of shops in the morning until late afternoon, followed by night market that sells everything at the evening until midnight and then, it is the turn of the “ladies” of the night.
The presence of “pondans” or transvestites are usually around Kampung Air and Asia City where in pairs and dressed in skimpy clothing, high heels, they try to attract customers.
Friendly to men but wary of women, the pondans will wave and call out to passing vehicles or passerby. During weekends, they are as popular as “hotcakes” and it is often that one can witness the actual price bargaining scene between ‘seller’ and ‘buyer’.
“Pondan” is a term used in the Bahasa Malaysia language to describe a biologically male person who appears to be female by wearing women’s clothes and make-up. This person talks and acts like a woman. Most people find it hard to distinguish them from biological females.
In medical terms, pondans are referred to as transvestites, individuals who enjoy wearing the clothes and appearing as the opposite sex. They are also commonly known as cross dressers.
Curiosity about what drive these people to be like that and why they are in the sex trade made this reported decide to spend some time getting to know the pondans who are doing business around Kampung Air and Asia City.
During my one week observation in the area, she was informed by the pondans who were obliged to talk to her, that none of them or those in the trade have undergone any sex change operations.
Most of them have only taken hormone pills or injected themselves with female hormones so that they will grow breasts.
A 20-year-old “lady boy” as they are known in the Philippines said that “she” came to the state under a six months visitor’s pass just to do business in Kampung Air.
According to Ginie, “she” returns to the Philippines before the six months visa expires but will come back to Sabah after a couple of months in her homeland.
“I am familiar with the market here because I was born in Labuan when my parents working were there few years back. We always come to KK and I always come back here with my friends for shopping.
“I born as a male but deep in my heart I know I am a woman. For me, I am trapped inside male’s body and nobody can change me… not even my family,” Ginie said adding that she was lucky to have an understanding family as they have accepted her for she is.
Ginie said she dressed like a woman at home but that is the extend of her family’s knowledge as they are not aware Ginie come to Sabah to prostitute herself.
Ginie explained that it was not easy for transvestites find a boyfriend because they are torn between two worlds.
“I am a woman inside and like any woman, I want to have a partner who loves me and to have a family with. But without a sex change, I am still trapped in a man’s body and that is how people sees me… not who I really am,” she said.
According to Ginie, initially her sexual partners were one night stands because it gave her the feeling of being loved and wanted, even though it was only for a short period of time.
She then ventured into prostitution and after some time became addicted to both the sex and the money because she can earn on a weekday an average of RM400 while her income during the weekends are much higher.
They get more tips from tourists, especially from Korea, Japan, China and western countries on the weekends.
“I need money for my food, clothing, make-up and also maintenance of my hair, skin condition and my hormone supply,” Ginie said adding that she does not think she is doing something bad.
“I do not think that I am doing bad things because I never kill anyone,” said Ginie who charges RM50 for oral sex and RM100 for anal intercourse.
Ginie also let me in on a secret, that many of the Filipino “lady boys” have regular customers in Sabah who set up meetings with them through SMS but in code.
Ginie disclosed that the demand for their services is the reason why she and here friends return to Sabah frequently and Kampung Air, according to her, is their “golden corner”.
A local pondan, Cathrine, 21, from Keningau revealed that she is a graduate from Politeknik Sabah.
“When I was a child, I liked to dress up like a girl and at that time, it did not bother my parents because they though it was funny,” Cathrine said adding that at that time she already knew that she was a woman trapped inside a man’s body.
“I hated my body so much but no one understood how I felt. As I grew up, my parents noticed by tendency towards femininity resorted to drastic measures to make me change,” she said.
Cathrine said she was sent to the mosque in her village and was whipped by the Imam there. After the incident, Cathrine ran away from home and came to Kota Kinabalu to be among those who understand her.
Prostitution was the only way to earn a living and after some time she started to enjoy it, Cathrine said adding being a pondan was not cheap as they have to spend a lot of money on clothes and maintaining themselves because it is very competitive.
Cathrine however does not bear any grudges against her parents and said, “deep in my heart I cannot blame them because people here in Sabah and Malaysia are not very open and understanding about our feelings and what we are going through.
“They do not understand how it feels like to be trapped and not being able to show who we really are. We are only humans, we have feelings too… all we ask for is that people, especially our family understand and accept us for who we are,” she said.
Cathrine pointed out that they are not doing anything wrong and their only crime is wanting to be a woman and accepted by society.
When asked about the competitiveness in their business field, Cathrine said that 30 precent of the pondan plying their trade in the City at night were from the Philippines and are the local pondanss main competitor because they speak English therefore able to get more customers.
“They are charging around RM100 per service and we are charging around RM50 but I can asssure you that our service is still the same because they also have not done any surgery ‘down there’” she said.
“But I have to admit that their PR is much more better than us because they can speak in English to attract customers with money to spend,” said Cathrine she said adding that she has been arrested by police a few months ago but released by the police after spending one night inside the lock-up.
A newspaper report in 2007, shocked the readers after two diploma holders were among 16 local pondans arrested by Jabatan Hal Ehwal Agama Islam Negeri Sabah (JHEAINS) via Ops Ayu .
Being Muslims, they were charged under Section 90 of the Syariah Criminal Offence Encatment which states that a man who dresses up like a woman is liable to RM1,000 fine or three months jail or both. For non-Muslim pondans, they are release after their statement is recorded by JHEAINS.
As we know, most religions of the world do not recognize transvestites and in Malaysia, transvestites are considered as deviants and unlawful.
Transvestites are also considered as being against human nature and it contradicts the natural reproductive functions.
Many pondan prostitutes have seen the insides of a court room of prison cell but they still revert to their old ways because old habits die hard.