Almost done with the Dame Coco transformation, Dom sprays product on his face.

Coco/


“I fear discrimination in public spaces – the taunts and the calling of names. Bapuk, pondan. Muggers are alert on people like us. I have seen and heard stories of people being roughed up. In a conservative society, I can only express myself in safe spaces. My family cannot know.”

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Fenominah strokes her wig.

Fenominah/


“I looked for escape. I began to love make up. I’ve always been fascinated about women in general, especially those Hollywood actresses, how beautiful they look. The inspiration and aspiration started growing. Then I discovered drag.”

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tiara

Tiara/


“even if i wanted to be out and proud, who would listen? especially to someone who is a racial minority with mental health issues? I can’t wait to get out of here, to be free to be me again.”

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A posed portrait of 27 year old, pansexual trans man Dorian. Dorian was assigned female at birth. He grew up feeling alone and pressured to conform to family and societal expectations. As the eldest child in a conservative Indian family he didn’t feel safe to discuss his desire to live as a man. His depression reached such a level that he attempted suicide several times. His parents found out he was seeing a woman and when he was 18 years old his father gave him an ultimatum, stay at home and be the straight woman ‘he should be’, or leave. Dorian left and went to Singapore. He faced constant persecution based on his sexuality including loosing his job in a cafe when his boss saw him being affectionate with a woman. Always impoverished, and sometimes homeless, he was forced to do sex work for money. The first time he met a client, he found that penetration was too painful. He asked the client to stop. The client refused and raped Dorian. He bled for 12 hours afterwards. He was employed at a mechanics workshop. The men there would constantly harass him. He was groped and told that the reason he liked woman was that he had never been penetrated – and that he should allow them to do it for him. While in Singapore he found out it was possible for him to shape his external self to match who he was inside. In Singapore he started his transition by taking hormones in January 2010, and then in September 2014 had a double incision mastectomy (top surgery). Today he lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with his partner and their 5 year old son. Feeling so alone growing up has inspired Dorian to become an activist for trans men in Malaysia. To this day his parents and siblings struggle to accept him as the man he is. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. December 2014.   While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent, same sex relationships are legal in South Africa. The country has the most liberal laws toward gays and lesbians on the continent, with a constitution guaranteeing LBGTQI rights. Because of this, LGBTQI Africans from all over the continent fleeing persecution have come to South Africa. Despite these laws, many lesbians have been victims of ‘corrective rape’ and homosexuals have been murdered for their sexuality. Homophobia is by no means just an African problem. In Russia, politicians spread intolerance. In June 2013 the country passed a law making “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual relationships” a crime. Attacks against gays rose. Videos of gay men being tortured have been posted online. In predominantly Muslim Malaysia, law currently provides for whipping and up to a 20-year prison sentence for homosexual acts involving either men or women. Increased extreme Islamification in the Middle East is making life more dangerous for gay men there, as evidenced by ISIS’s recent murders of homosexual men. While homophobic discrimination is widespread in Lebanon, life is much safer there than Iran, Iraq, and Syria from which refugees are fleeing due to homophobic persecution. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos for Witness Change

Dorian/


“Ma,I know you mist feel like I’m the greatest mistake of your life. Perhaps you wonder why you did not smother me under a pillow as I took my first steps. Or even better, perhaps you wonder why you did not abort me as soon as the first wave of morning sickness came…You look in shock and horror as I unabashedly that your daughter claims to be a man, a son you did not want to ask for. You would not see that I’ve alway been a son in the disguise of a daughter.”

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A posed portrait of 31 year old Mimi (not her real name) who came to Kuala Lumpur from Selangor, outside the city. “I came to Kuala Lumpur, just like everyone else, to get a job, and what I thought would be an easy life. At first it was just that - I worked with a fashion designer for four years. I was happy. I was renting an apartment dressing as myself (as a woman). At night time I’d go out, have fun… I had a boyfriend, he was my first love, but I found out he was seeing another trans woman, so after two years we broke up. I was very depressed. I wasn’t getting any support, I was feeling vengeance towards men so I started hanging around with my trans friends, many of them were sex workers, but they could understand everything. I got involved in nightlife – sex work and drugs. It helped me to forget about my boyfriend and the pressures I felt from society. My performance at my job went down dramatically. Before I knew it, I was addicted to drugs. I stopped my job. I moved closer to the other trans. I didn’t realize how low I was getting until I was taken to prison. I was arrested for selling drugs. No matter how much money I found from sex work, it was never enough, it always went on drugs. Now when the police see me they say – “oh you again.” I’ve been arrested many times. Sometimes for drugs, sometimes for sex work, but the most often it is the Jawi (the religious department, under the Sharia Law) for cross-dressing.” There is very little support for transgender drug users. There is only one place that provides support but only to males and females. “It is hard for us to go to het health services. When we go there they call us by our male names”,  “Society looks down on us transgender. There is a real prejudice. People call us names, they look at transgender as a sex object, nothing else, we are not seen as normal people like men and women are. People persecute rather than getting to know or help us.” “Now I’m sleeping on the street, on a cardboard. If I’m lucky I get a client and I can stay a night in a hotel with them.” “I want to stop drugs but I must take them to survive, just to be normal. I’m getting older now, I have nothing, and I’m the eldest in the family. I feel bad because I am a very bad example to my younger siblings.” Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. January 2015.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent, same sex relationships are legal in South Africa. The country has the most liberal laws toward gays and lesbians on the continent, with a constitution guaranteeing LBGTQI rights. Because of this, LGBTQI Africans from all over the continent fleeing persecution have come to South Africa. Despite these laws, many lesbians have been victims of ‘corrective rape’ and homosexuals have been murdered for their sexuality. Homophobia is by no means just an African problem. In Russia, politicians spread intolerance. In June 2013 the country passed a law making “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual relationships” a crime. Attacks against gays rose. Videos of gay men being tortured have been posted online. In predominantly Muslim Malaysia, law currently provides for whipping and up to a 20-year prison sentence for homosexual acts involving either men or women. Increased extreme Islamification in the Middle East is making life more dangerous for gay men there, as evidenced by ISIS’s recent murders of homosexual men. While homophobic discrimination is widespread in Lebanon, life is much safer there than Iran, Iraq, and Syria from which refugees are fleeing due to homophobic persecution. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos for Witness Change

Mimi/


“I started to involve as a sex worker initially just for fun, then i get serious and working full time. At first everything is fascinating, i get so many customers and my life was quite luxurious.
I always go shopping and fulfill my every needs. At that time life is so perfect but ‘the sky is not always bright’.”

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A posed portrait of 36 year old Erina who was forced to become a sex worker to survive. Like many tans-gender women in Malaysia, she has faced discrimination and violence on numerous occasions. Aside from the casual verbal abuse, being forced to wear male clothes in a job she had in a hotel, her family members forcibly cutting her hair short, she has been arrested and beaten. She has also been raped, once by three men who also beat her with sticks. She didn’t make a report to the police “The police are bad too” she says, “and the next thing you know, you’ll be the one who is arrested”. On one occasion, when she was arrested for cross-dressing (a crime in some parts of Malaysia), she was taken to the police cells. One of the inmates forced her to perform oral sex on him. She was transferred to another prison where, the next day, she was raped. One of the inmates penetrated her. He was not wearing a condom. Erin complained to the police, but they threatened to beat her and sent her back into the same cell with the man who raped her. For transgender sex workers, rape is common. Most feel they cannot go to the police as they are considered men and there is a perception that men cannot be raped. Worse, they will face further persecution from the police should they report a case of sexual violence. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. January 2015.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent, same sex relationships are legal in South Africa. The country has the most liberal laws toward gays and lesbians on the continent, with a constitution guaranteeing LBGTQI rights. Because of this, LGBTQI Africans from all over the continent fleeing persecution have come to South Africa. Despite these laws, many lesbians have been victims of ‘corrective rape’ and homosexuals have been murdered for their sexuality. Homophobia is by no means just an African problem. In Russia, politicians spread intolerance. In June 2013 the country passed a law making “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual relationships” a crime. Attacks against gays rose. Videos of gay men being tortured have been posted online. In predominantly Muslim Malaysia, law currently provides for whipping and up to a 20-year prison sentence for homosexual acts involving either men or women. Increased extreme Islamification in the Middle East is making life more dangerous for gay men there, as evidenced by ISIS’s recent murders of homosexual men. While homophobic discrimination is widespread in Lebanon, life is much safer there than Iran, Iraq, and Syria from which refugees are fleeing due to homophobic persecution. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos for Witness Change

Erina/


The First time my experience arrested by police in Kuala Lumpur, I stay in lock up for 2 weeks I was raped by the Inmates. I Told the police about my case but the police didn’t anything.

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A posed portrait of 40 year old drag performer and human rights advocate Shelah!!! at home in Kuala Lumpur. Shelah!!! Was a radio presenter for BFM before she was taken off air after the station received complaints from The Censorship Commission. “they still haven’t told me why I was taken off the air”. Shelah is asked to perform for corporate events, but would never be allowed on national television. “In some respect things are going backwards” she says, “there are sectors of the Malay community that look at the LGBT community as a big no, no… There is no differentiation in the minds of politicians between Malay and Islam. They feel like LGBT people are a challenge to the Malay identity. The funny thing is that 20 years ago, drag queens were visible. Malaysia is in the middle of a racial, political, sexual identity crisis… We are not fighting for LGBT issues, we’re fighting for basic human rights – the right to be!” During the day Shelah is Edwin. He was a committee member of Seksualiti Merdeka a LGBT movement and collective of individuals and NGOs around Malaysia that provided a safe and open space for anyone and everyone to share their stories and enjoy each others individuality while learning about things like legal rights, safe sex, and police discrimination. In 2011 at the beginning of the fourth Seksualiti Merdeka the festival was labeled by the media and politicians as “The Sex Club” and banned. Two truck-loads of police came to the festival to enforce the ban. “There were more cops than attendees” says Edwin. Since then Seksualiti Merdeka has not been able to take place. Edwin says “I feel so passionately about this because this is where Shelah first officially appeared in the world. It’s very upsetting. I thought I had found my own safe space. It’s painful when you see something of such great potential breaking down.” Malaysia. January 2015.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent, same sex relationships are legal in South Africa. The country has the most liberal laws toward gays and lesbians on the continent, with a constitution guaranteeing LBGTQI rights. Because of this, LGBTQI Africans from all over the continent fleeing persecution have come to South Africa. Despite these laws, many lesbians have been victims of ‘corrective rape’ and homosexuals have been murdered for their sexuality. Homophobia is by no means just an African problem. In Russia, politicians spread intolerance. In June 2013 the country passed a law making “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual relationships” a crime. Attacks against gays rose. Videos of gay men being tortured have been posted online. In predominantly Muslim Malaysia, law currently provides for whipping and up to a 20-year prison sentence for homosexual acts involving either men or women. Increased extreme Islamification in the Middle East is making life more dangerous for gay men there, as evidenced by ISIS’s recent murders of homosexual men. While homophobic discrimination is widespread in Lebanon, life is much safer there than Iran, Iraq, and Syria from which refugees are fleeing due to homophobic persecution. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos for Witness Change

Shelah!/


“They feel like LGBT people are a challenge to the Malay identity… We are not fighting for LGBT issues, we’re fighting for basic human rights – the right to be!”

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Abinaya/


“I’m lonely, homeless, in fear why because I decided to be who I am. Well who I am? I am Abinaya Jayaraman Transwomen, my gender is my identity and why i’m punished.”

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Nisha/


“I left prison even without my crowning glory, which is my hair, as a survivor.”

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Mitch/


“In spite of all this we are here, and we have a wonderful family and we are blessed to be surrounded by family and friends who love us and accept us as we are”

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