By Mariam Mokhtar
Stories and news reports about transgenders in Malaysia are normally about the abuse they have suffered and the violence inflicted on them; however, once in a while, we are inspired by trans people who have triumphed over adversity and left a positive impact on society.
Dr Kamila Kamaruddin is a transgender general practitioner (GP) who works in the National Health Service (NHS) in England, and has won many awards for her work in the community; Finalist GP of the year 2018, Pulse Magazine UK, Diversity and Inclusivity Award, Tower Hamlets 2018 and the Royal College of GPs, Inspire Award 2019.
Kamila grew up in Ipoh and is the youngest in a family of seven children. Her mother was a teacher, whilst her father was a civil servant in the Education department. The young Kamila yearned to travel and said that a medical degree would be her passport to see the world, with the freedom to work anywhere.
After one year of studying medicine at University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), she continued her studies in Belgium, at the Catholic University of Leuven, but had to learn Flemish before her enrolment.
She returned to Malaysia in 1987, to complete her housemanship, but left, three years later, to work in the NHS.
Kamila’s story is one of encouragement and adversity, despite the barriers placed by a conservative Malaysian society, depression, prejudice and lack of support.
Her parents valued the importance of education and instilled in their children the qualities of self-respect, self-confidence, and respect for others.
She said, “When my mother discovered that I was bullied in school, and could not fight back, she said that one day I would be better than them. True enough! Today, I have fared better than many of my bullies.”
To honour their parents’ legacy, Kamila and her siblings opened a library and computer club for a rural school in Ulu Langat, to supplement the needs of schoolchildren.
Anyone meeting Kamila today would see a self-confident, bubbly and sporty personality. Few would believe that she was once shy and timid, as a pupil at St Michael’s Institution, in Ipoh, and Malay College, in Kuala Kangsar.
She said, “I lacked confidence and was bad at sports, but I excelled in my studies, as reading was an escape from my misery at school.”
She remains good friends with her schoolmates from MCKK, who are supportive of her transition, although she joked that she still lacked the courage to attend any of the MCKK Old Boys’ Dinners.
The awards are a measure of her success and an acknowledgement by the medical fraternity, of her contribution to society. She said, “To be trans is hard and you have to negotiate through prejudice and acceptance. My journey has been fraught with depression and bad coping mechanisms.
“With resilience and support from many I have managed to channel my pain into advocating a more meaningful life for myself and others. To be recognised for my achievements is a privilege.”
She is grateful for the support of her NHS colleagues and the medical care given by the NHS to the minorities and the less privileged trans people.
She said, “Inclusivity is one of the pillars of general practice in England. I am grateful to this country and the NHS for giving me the opportunity to thrive.”
As a Malaysian, she expressed sadness that she is deemed unworthy in her own country, and said, “My success is considered to promote the lifestyle of trans people. Many trans people are killed or assaulted as if they deserved such a fate.
“It’s even sadder that the medical community does not stand up and protect the interests of the trans community. Few people realise that access to health care is denied by many in the medical community.”
Kamila confessed that she had yearned to be a trans woman ever since she was six, and advises anyone in Malaysia, who has doubts about their own bodies, to obtain support from their circle of friends, family and colleagues.
She said, “Believe in yourself because being true to yourself is perhaps your biggest achievement in life.”
She also advised them to make contact with the trans community, Pink Triangle and various NGOs for help.
She urges society, including politicians, religious leaders, individuals to end the violence and hatred against the LGBT community. When asked how Malaysians could promote greater understanding for trans people, she said, “Stop treating us as lesser people. We do not deserve that.
“There should be better awareness and more positive stories about trans people.
“Trans people are resourceful and hard-working and their success should be celebrated, as well. Stop misgendering trans people. Show compassion and protect their rights.”
She is furious that the Malaysian medical community is reluctant to help trans people and turns a blind eye to their plight. Kamila said that many trans people die from taking unregulated and contaminated hormones purchased from the internet. She said, “The silence of the Malaysian Medical Committee is disappointing”.
Kamila is aware that she would not be allowed to practice in Malaysia; nevertheless, she dreams of opening a gender identity clinic, in Malaysia, to support trans people and give them better access to health care, mental health provisions and hormone treatments.
She said, “First of all, we must remove the barriers. Then we need dialogue to discuss ways forward”.
In the new Malaysia, trans people should be given a chance to make valuable contributions to society; instead of being condemned and hounded by the conservative and ultra-religious people amongst us, who beat them up, cheat them at work and humiliate them.
Kamila has proven that they can excel if given the tools to flourish in education and work.