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Federal constitution does not define gender at all

My letter to Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mashitah Ibrahim in response to her statements here and here .

Dear deputy minister, I am sorry but the federal constitution does NOT define gender as male and female - in fact, it does NOT define gender at all.

I wish people who want to make policies about gender would keep themselves up to date regarding gender theories, at the very least.

Gender is a very broad and complex word for the different ways we experience and express who we feel we are and goes beyond the sex we were assigned at birth.

While gender is not the same as sexual orientation, it can also include aspects of it. Each of our experience of gender differs from one another, and it's okay.

A simplistic understanding of gender consisting of only male and female is not only a view long discarded, but is not even a reflection of the diversity of our humanity.

We risk being the laughing stock of the world if we still hold on to such an outdated concept. More and more countries around the world, including those in Asia, are recognising diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity.

As recently as last month, Argentina legally recognised transgenders, allowing the individuals to decide for themselves their gender identity, while the state is obligated to fund the sex reassignment surgeries if they opt for it.

What constitute maleness and femaleness seems rigid because they are culturally constructed and culture can be very unforgiving.

The truth is we pick and choose from various cultural constructs of what it means to be a particular gender.

Why were some roles like cooking or nursing or teaching considered more feminine? Can only women cook, nurse and teach? Does it make a man less of a man to cook, nurse and teach?

Gender is a complex and rich field of study. Breaking down the gender binary and other assumptions has been responsible for destabilising the power of patriarchy over women.

Women's right to vote, to marry whom they choose, to pursue higher education, even to be an MP, has been the result of many people challenging what is historically assumed to be women's roles.

The strict definition of what is male and what is female has often been used to keep women within an inferior social position.

But it doesn't end there. The narrow definition of gender roles is also instrumental in upholding the power of heteronormativity, which is the assumption that heterosexuality is the norm.

People who don't conform are therefore punished or discriminated for no reasons other than for being different.

There are many people presently suffering because they have been forced to express their gender in a way that is not true to who they feel they are.

Imagine if you feel like a man, yet you are forced to behave as a woman for everyday of your life.

Or if you are attracted to women, but are forced to be attracted to men. It is enough to drive most people to the point of depression and suicide. Imagine what it is like to live like that for the rest of your life.

Those who have undergone rehabilitation programme and claimed to have repented of their sexual orientation or gender identity may have done so because they feel compelled to do so.

The need to be accepted by others is sometimes so strong that a person can even hate himself for being different. The need to be accepted has made some of us good at lying, even lying to ourselves.

Around the world, studies have discredited the conversion of LGBTs as harmful and unethical. LGBTs who want to become heterosexual almost always come from circumstances in which they have experienced hostility and rejection from family or society.

Having an accepting society and conducive environment where diversity is appreciated is the only way in which all individuals regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity can be encouraged to be the best that they can be.

And that is why narrow definitions of gender must be challenged. Our true potential will never be discovered if we only live according to limitations.

The government's role is nothing more than to ensure equality before the law for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Many LGBTs today are successful productive members of society because they have found acceptance where they live and work, even in Malaysia.

When we don't have to worry about being arrested, being fired, being rehabilitated, being forced to marry who we don't love, we can live as productive citizens.

Give us a chance. All we want is equality and dignity.

Pang Khee Teik is co-founder of Seksualiti Merdeka.

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