During the ninth month of Islamic calendar which is Ramadan, Muslims worldwide are fasting for a period of 29-30 days. Muslims are to refrain from consuming food and drink, smoking and engaging sexual activities etc from dawn till sunset. And refraining from behaving indecently and not to say ill or vulgar. This annual obligatory ritual is for all adult, as one of the 5 pillars of Islam, before celebrating Hari Raya Puasa. While most Muslim individuals practice and adhere to the obligation without challenges, there is still other individuals who have restriction due to their occupation, sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
In this interview, I asked two sex workers about the relationship they have with their religion, their struggles and how they overcome stigma. Lastly, I hope to provide a platform to let their voice and opinion be heard.
Marishka has been a transgender women since she was 18. She shares with me her phase of transitioning and what she face during the period of time. She is a transgender women who does sex work and is heterosexual. She enjoys singing, surfing Facebook and playing mobile games.
Rima is a cisgender woman, age 40, and has many years of experience in the nightlife industry. However, she only did sex work for 8 months now. She got into sex work as she had a debt to pay, which she has already managed to clear. If God permits, she hopes to leave the industry.
What is your relationship to your faith?
Marishka – I am a Malay Muslim. I am not a practising Muslim, I am more of a soulistic and theoretically Muslim.
Rima – I’m Malay Muslim.
How has your faith impacted the choice you have made?
Marishka – I still want to go with decision to be a transgender, even though my faith tell me we shouldn’t change what God has created.
Rima – It’s not encouraged. It was my choice and up to myself as I face the risk my own and I don’t ask anyone for a living.
What do you want to tell to people of faith who do not understand what it means to be a sex worker, or still hold onto misinformation and stereotypes?
Marishka – I avoid such interactions. But if some do ask me, I say that my intention is to earn money. And because sex work is the only full time work I can do as a transgender as society doesn’t accept me.
Rima – Personally, before I enter this industry, yes I find sex work wrong. I used to work as a hostess, and that is when I realise there is many reason why one does sex work. For me I only have primary education. Society should not insult me. A person will change when she is ready.
What stories or lessons do you experience as a transgender/sex worker?
Rima – I learn the trends and pattern of human being, I know those who is sober, drunk and rude. Sex work is not easy, as working at night is unpredictable.
How accepting has your faith community been when they know your choice of livelihood? Do you think they can be even more accepting?
Marishka – I’m still the same, I am no different even though I did stop once at the age of 19-20 because I was living with my family so I cut my hair short and didn’t wear girl’s clothes. But it seem that the call of being a transsexual is so strong.
Rima – I appreciate if they can accept me, but also the least is respect me and not judge me without knowing me. They should to understand my reason.
What kind of discrimination you faces?
Marishka – Local men don’t date us publicly. I have to keep my job a secret from my own mother as she is not understanding at all of me.
Rima – My family and friends are unaware of my work. The discrimination only came from my clients. They will shout at me but I keep quiet. Usually happen when they refuse to put on condom. I will them that I was sick last time, so must use condom. After explaining I will apologize so as not to prolong the situation.
What are your plans for the future?
Rima – After I clear my debt, I wish and want to get of sex work industry. I also want to help others within my capability if they choose to leave the industry as well. If I leave the industry I will continue to support, advise and provide them motivation to endure and persevere in this industry.
If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Marishka – If I was young again, maybe I won’t be a transgender. Being a transgender a lot of tiredness and pain. I take female hormones and now my body is so weak to the point that I regret being who I am, I just be like this because I don’t want to lie to my family and myself.
Rima – My past give me the strength to be who I am now. If I were to look at the past, I would gone more worst. Important to be strong will and don’t be too naive.