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In commemoration of Transgender Day of Remembrance 2022, Bonnibel Rambatan talks about trans liberation in Southeast Asia with Erik Nadir and Nhuun Yodmuang from Asia Pacific Transgender Network.

In this episode, Bonnibel Rambatan talks about trans liberation in Southeast Asia with Erik Nadir and Nhuun Yodmuang from Asia Pacific Transgender Network, also known as APTN. APTN is a trans-led organisation that engages with a range of partners across Asia and the Pacific to support, organise, and advocate for fundamental human rights including gender identity, access to justice and legal protections, and comprehensive gender-affirming policies and healthcare. APTN work to improve the lives of trans and gender diverse people throughout Asia and the Pacific.
Over the course of a decade, APTN has grown to become a credible voice for transgender people in Asia and the Pacific, working to ensure that their rights and needs are represented politically, socially, culturally, and economically. The network serves as a platform for transgender people to advocate for access to health, legal gender recognition, legislative reform, social justice and human rights, and to share information and strategies with one another.

In this interview, Erik and Nhuun talk about:

  • Trans lives in Southeast Asia
  • Compared to the rest of the world, in what ways are the conditions of trans struggles in Southeast Asia unique, and in what ways are they similar
  • What are the most pressing issues or threats for trans liberation in Southeast Asia? How is the state of our awareness regarding those issues currently (i.e. we are aware but we don’t have enough action, etc)
  • The intersectionality of trans struggles with other struggles, especially class struggles, environmental struggles, and others that are unique to Southeast Asia
  • The best way to build resilience and move forward in the fight for trans liberation
  • The current state of trans healthcare and mental healthcare in Southeast Asia
  • Method of conducting peer support groups and building support networks?
  • Concrete goals with APTN as well as individually in terms of advocating for trans liberation in the next 5-10 years
  • What can the listener do to support these goals, and to support trans liberation in general?

INTRO

Hi and welcome to New Naratif’s Southeast Asia Dispatches. I’m your host, Bonnibel Rambatan, editorial manager for New Naratif. New Naratif is a movement to democratise democracy in Southeast Asia, and this podcast is one of the the ways we attempt to do just that. In this episode, though, we’re going to start pretty far away from Southeast Asia. Half a world away, in fact, in Austin, Massachusetts. The year was 1998, and the date was November 28.

Almost precisely 14 years from the time of this recording. A black woman by the name of Rita Hester was murdered because she was trans. This incident led to an outpouring of grief and anger from her community. About a week after a candlelight vigil was held, attended by a rather massive crowd of 250, the community fought hard so that Rita’s life and identity was covered respectfully by the media, and they somewhat succeeded. This was the start of Transgender Day of remembrance, or TDoR.

From this point on, every November 20th, year by year, the day was observed in more and more cities than more and more countries across the world, and for solid a saddening reason. According to the Transrespect Vs Transphobia Project, from the year 2008, transphobic murder cases have accounted for over 40 deaths across the world. Out of this number, 349 of them happen in Asia. Grief and anger are beyond justified. This condition needs to change.

APTN INTRODUCTION

One of the leading organisations striving for this change is the Asia Pacific Transgender Network, or APTN, with whom we’ll be talking today. APTN is a trans-led organisation that engages with a range of partners across Asia and the Pacific, to support, organise an advocate for fundamental human rights, including gender identity, access to justice and legal protections, and comprehensive gender affirming policies and healthcare. Basically, they work to improve the lives of trans and gender diverse people throughout Asia and the Pacific.

Over the course of a decade, APTN has grown to become a credible voice for transgender people in Asia and the Pacific, working to ensure that their rights and needs are represented politically, socially, culturally and economically. The network serves as a platform for trans people to advocate for access to health, legal gender recognition, legislative reform, social justice and human rights, and to share information and strategies with one another.

APTN addresses trans specific issues including vulnerability to gender-based violence, stigma and discrimination, risk for HIV infection, and health issues stemming from an almost complete lack of access to appropriate health and medical care.
Oh, and yes, the term transgender or trans is generally used as an umbrella term to describe people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth, including those who have not sought gender affirming health services.

SPEAKERS INTRODUCTION

My name is Nhuun Yodmuang, my pronounce is she/her. Me and the organisation is based in Bangkok, Thailand.
That’s Nhuun Yodmuang, senior advocacy and human rights officer at APTN. She is a tight trans woman and advocate with an academic background in international human rights law. She has experience working with local and regional organisations on trans rights in the context of several countries in Asia, as well as engaging with international advocacy spaces such as the United Nations Human Rights and Development bodies.
Hello, I’m Erik. Now I’m based in Bangkok, but I’m from Indonesia.
And that’s Erik Nadir, communications officer at APTN and former marketing and outreach manager of New Naratif. He is a trans nonbinary activist working on online community building for gender diverse people in Southeast Asia. That is the nonbinary peer support group in Indonesia. He’s also a creative strategist, writer and a trans media producer, arranging content production through different mediums video, comics, visual arts, performing arts, native advertising, digital marketing, and guerrilla marketing.

INTERVIEW

As we understand, we are just observing Transgender Day of remembrance. And I guess for that context, I guess maybe we could talk about the translation in Southeast Asia and maybe you can give a little bit of background on that topic.

Transgender people in Southeast Asia have been here for very long term, right? It’s not only like it’s maybe in the different type of identities, in the cultural identities or indigenous identities, but it falls into the larger umbrella of trans people. And actually the trans people in our regions have been facing the different types of oppressions and also human rights violations for so long. Identity of the people, either men or women or trans is actually very diverse, right? And then the colonialism comes and impose the binary structure to our societies, the way we live, to laws and policy, so everything becomes more binary.

There is also the laws, the legislation that imposed in these regions coming from those era to actually criminalise sodomy and also to actually criminalise trans identities. And from there this law have never revoked, right? So this criminalisation law is actually pressed trans community in this region. A lot of trans people who commit to sex work is actually prosecuted by these laws. It’s actually burden of trans people to be visible, to actually disallow trans people, to live in these societies freely and contribute to this society, actually fully enjoy the human rights of the people.

Trans in this region have been facing the lack of health care which is suitable for the transitioning process of trans people. I actually think that this is the discrimination because the government, the state is actually provide health care for men and women specifically, right? But there are no healthcare is actually compatible to trans live.

So it’s actually systemic discrimination which happened in this region. The healthcare for trans people is actually provided in only the public spaces where we actually need to pay from our pocket to access it, right.

So is this of course the discrimination? There are the situation of discrimination in terms of economics as well. Trans people cannot access to formal jobs to formal employment and get to access to the proper income, right? Many people actually get into informal sector like sex world or those entertainment sector and it’s actually contractual and it’s not actually like reliable income, right? So it cuts like the discrimination in some certain way as well. And also I’m going to close this with the situation of conversion therapy and high hate crime in these regions, which is actually very high.

So we have, APTN have the research, like from 2019 that there are conversion therapy practices conducted throughout the region and this is actually the effort to change transgender people to come back to sex assigned at birth. It’s actually in many many ways, right? In the school, like, you know, corporal punishment against trans people, which is aiming to change trans people gender identity as well. Or in the healthcare setting. In the mental healthcare setting where the psychologist is actually trying to convince trans people to get back to their own gender assigned at birth.

A lot of practice is actually happening across the region and we are actually trying to ban it and make the government to actually provide some legal instrument to ban it also. And also there are a lot of hate crime that we also know already, but it’s not really well documented, but we know this has happened. Transgender hate crime actually take a lot of people, transgender, lives in this region as well. Just a little bit of background.

Obviously, Transgender Day of Remembrance is to commemorate, to remember all of these systemic oppression, all of these hate crime and transphobia that is still with us. And as you mentioned, we are facing like a huge systemic oppression here in Southeast Asia, but so does the rest of the world. But I think, I guess my question is, what do you think, that compared to the rest of the world, in what ways are the conditions of trans struggles in Southeast Asia unique and in what ways are they similar?

APTN also engage with the international movement in terms of trans right as well. And we know that the mainstream agenda is actually about the legal gender recognition, where we advocate for the access for transgender, for our identity to be recognised in the legal documents so that we can access to their services or to a social welfare, more and more equally to the others, right? And also there is also the work on violence, for example, the hate crime also that people would like to actually reduce the rate of hate crime.

And also the work on the conversion therapy is also happen internationally, de-criminalisation work, which is actually the campaign to advocate for the people to not recognise trans identity as the mental health issues, right. We are not ill. So it’s actually the campaign that happened worldwide as well, and also about the access to health and wellbeing. It’s also the campaign that happens worldwide.

And then when we talk about the uniqueness of the trans issue in our region, it’s actually about because our region is actually diverse, right? There are many cultural identities that can fall into the umbrella of Trans as well, transgeder reasons as well.

And there are also the intersectional aspects of trans identities to add the marginalised identity as well. For example, sex worker, for example, the people living in poverty because the systemic discrimination that we have is actually prevent us to access the equal opportunity, right? So I think this is one of the uniqueness also, because most of us is actually a developing country, we are not the rich country, right? Within this country the gaps between the regional is wider than the people in the Global North where everything is no low. They are also all the rich country.

We are marginalised by the poverty and also impoverishment by the fallout of economic system as well and that is one of the originalities here. And also the criminalisation from colonial era is also one of the things that I think is unique in this country because in this region, because of like compared to the Global North, compared to some of the other regions, we have this type of criminalisation which is never be a abolished, right? And it’s actually like pressed trans community for a long time already. So we actually suffer from this for so long and it prevents our visibility as well and it’s actually from the colonial eras that we face back to the top.

So I want to follow up on that. You mentioned we have this legacy of violence, legacy of oppression, systemic oppression and criminalisation from the colonial era. But at the same time there’s a lot of discourse here today that queerness and transness is something from the west, like something foreign. There are all of these things. So do you have any thoughts on that? Why is it like the narrative is just shifted that way?

Yeah, so the queerness, the LGBTI words is actually understood which is from the Global North country, right? The western ideology that comes to us, right? But we need to remind them as well that the binary reason is also come from them, right? It’s also come from the colonial era that they brought to us like way years back ago and before that trans identity is actually more normalised. Actually we have the evidence that there were some of the same sex relationship that happened way before, is treated as normal as the other type of relationship and also transgenderism also happen back to the time as well. So we cannot purely say that this is from the western, right?

You cannot say because it’s actually come from both sides and it’s not purely be able to identify that this is from the west or this is from ourselves, right? And also I think one of the other things that I would like to say to you about that also it doesn’t matter whether this ideology is come from the west or from us. Actually the ideology if it embrace our identities, if it provide equality to people, if it makes our society better and more inclusive and more embrace difference, we should not deny it.

So it’s not actually the excuse to reject it because it makes our society more save. It makes our society more peace, right? It doesn’t harm others. So this thing should be I encourage people to think about it in this way. Don’t waste the time to argue which is from the west or which is from the north, which is from the you know, from anywhere. But think about benefit of our society that we live together, here.

Another beneficial for this ideology, right? And you know, and some other ideology even more harmful, even harmful, even like threat people badly and make people lose their lives. Why we don’t looking at it at that different way, is not about the west and not other thing. It’s about like it harms people or not.

Yeah, I think that’s a great point that people often miss. They argue about where this comes from and what is natural, what is not natural. But they kind of miss the point of being providing more welfare, like providing more kindness to people, essentially. So I think that’s a great point to not really argue about where it comes from.

I also want to follow up on your point about the intersection of trans struggles and oppression of trans people and also other marginalised identities or maybe their cultural identities and stuff. So could you maybe talk a bit more about that? The intersectionality that we have here specifically in Southeast Asia.

When we emphasise right, that trans identity is intersectional with other identities, for example, the cultural identities or indigenous identities, which means that there are more struggles, there are more multi dimensional of oppression, right? So we recognise this happening because if transgender, if we are transgender already and we also indigenous people, where also our government or our state authority doesn’t recognise us and also do some harmful things to these communities which means that the struggle is more severe, right? The oppression is more severe, the impact of this type of oppression will be more hard to be addressed, right.

So I think in our region, many many trans of the trans people are also belong to indigenous identities, right? And also belong to some of the cultural identities that actually make us also stretch our world in the way more like critical to this intersectional identity or intersectional in oppression.

We need to actually think about if we belong to the indigenous identities where we actually not fully accept in these indigenous identities. So our life is hard already, right? And then the government also tried to grab our land, chase us to go out somewhere. Those struggles is even like add up to oppression that we face and add up to our struggle, right?
So that is actually everything about in terms of intersectional approach, many of our community is actually we may see transgender people in many sector right now it’s more wider people are in the former work sector, people are in the entertainment sector, people are also celebrating some way.

But we have also the communities transgender in the communities which actually come from the indigenous identities have the cultural identities. For example, in Thailand we have transgender people from the Northeast Asia, for example, who also face the poverty and also racial discrimination against them. In Thailand as well, for example. Or we have the Hijra communities in India who is actually like who is get a lot of discrimination as well. But they have the type support system within the community, so their lives is manageable at that way.

But in India also there are some of the trans community who are not fall into the Hijra identity. They face more discrimination, for example. They face different type of discrimination, not more, but they face different type of discrimination. It’s maybe, but also maybe the same discrimination, but they also don’t have the support system.The same as the Hijra community, for example, right. When we think like that and yeah. And also in the Pacific country, in the Pacific regions, transgender people also belongs to some of the indigenous identity and so also, they don’t actually, their employment or their work is not the same as the work that people in the Asia have been doing, right, trans people in the Asia have been doing.

They also do some of the architecture, not architecture, agriculture, sorry, they also do some of the agriculture that also impacted by the issue of the land grabbing and climate change as well. So that’s what we have been that type of intersectional aspect that everyone thinks about a lot. And also in Indonesia you also have the cultural identities, right? In Thailand they have the cultural identity also, which is Kathoey, you might heard about that. Also some of the in Philippines also they have trans Pinoy. So I think actually it’s like people need to be encouraged to think about these intersectional identities and also indigenous as identity and also cultural identities more and more.

Okay, so obviously it’s a very complex situation with, like, lots of intersectionalities and we can’t really overly simplify the problem and not to do that, but what would you say, like, if people were to ask you if someone wants to do something or think of this in a proper manner, and they ask you, okay, so what are the most pressing issues? Like, how do we solve this? You got like criminalisation, you got all the hate crimes, you have the conversion therapy, you have all of these things, right?

But how do you think we can begin to move forward? What are the most pressing issues?

Actually APTN have the, our priorities, right, and we just come from the voice of the partner that we have been working with and this priority is identified by our communities actually. And the work is actually now today it’s actually about provide the access to the legal documents for transgender people, which is respect their gender identities. So if we have legal gender recognition, trans people can access the social welfare and also services more equally to the others. So that’s one thing.

And also try to actually advocate for the state members, for the state members and for the country, for the government to actually cancel the laws that criminalise trans identities because it allows the police or authority to use this law to persecute trans people, right? And there are also the banning of conversion therapy and also the mitigation of hate crime also that needed because we have actually, we actually documented many cases about the cultural therapy already.

And we encourage and also we advocate for the state to abolish this type of practices by implement, by enact the banning conversion therapy laws. And also we need to strengthen the hate crime documentations because when people, trans people want to fight the complaint about the hate crime that they say to the police, often it gets addressed in this respectful mean to their gender identities. And also some of the kids, they don’t even accept when people report and pursue any legal charge, right?

So there’s the need for our community to strengthen the documenting system and also change the legal structure to be more friendly and to accept those type of cases that happen. Right? And we need to actually have the prevention measure to this allow transphobic hate crime to happen as well. So this is like some of the priorities that identified by our member and I think this is the things that they see is the most pressing issue happened to this region, happened in this region.

Throughout your activities, like pushing for those issues, pushing for those priorities, can you maybe tell us more about either your achievements or also your challenges? We have the challenges obviously for the trans community themselves, but for people who fight for them, for people who advocate for legal reform and all of that. What would you say are the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge? What we see here is actually the growing of anti gender for anti gender movement in this region as well. We actually have some of the work which is of advocacy, encourage or like convince the government to actually do some of legislation. But now, today, the anti gender movement that happened across the world, including Asia, they prevent us to do so in a lot of, like the legal negotiation this day, the government always say something like they always try to retake the gender language in the legal documents.And it becomes more trends when we engage with the state as well. And it’s really pressing right now and it’s become more and more pressing.

So we are actually figure out how to do this type of trial, how we can actually address this type of action. So that’s the trend that we want to emphasise here and make people know that there are some of the people who work hard to actually prevent the gender inclusive language in the legal system.

Do you have anything that has worked against these challenges or is it something that you’re trying to figure out along the way because it’s a really rising challenge which I would assume that is.

Yeah, we are quite figure out about this and we think that we would like to work in the more in the network that have been facing the same issue. Our work at APTN is actually more with the feminist group who are actually facing the same type of anti gender movement as well. And also we work with democracy groups which is actually facing the anti, what is called, the anti democratic language. It’s like far rights movement type thing, so that we actually working with them as well to actually see the entry point that we could tackle this issue.

But it’s just in the thinking process because when our communities doing this work it become more and more challenging. Also now today, for example, in Pakistan, there is the situation of the people who our partners, our activists that working there, facing the witch hunt by the extremist group that’s in Pakistan. Because let me give you a bit of background because back to the time Pakistan used to be very progressive in terms of the trans laws, right? They had the Transgender Act from like 2017-18 and then it becomes like the best practice, like region-wide, for a while and then now there are backlash against it to fight for this law because of the extremist group in the country campaigning against the laws and against trans activists in the region.

It makes people trying to hide or escape from the country for a while. It’s really like, It makes us think that when somewhere the trans right, maybe progressed already, but at some point when the anti gender agenda movement is growing we might face this type of issue also in other place. So that this is very like the issue at the state for us right now.

Yeah and it seems like it’s a thing where it’s not a linear thing as you mentioned, we may have some progress in certain areas but then setbacks in like maybe other areas, other regions, other areas of policies and so on. But I guess it’s a constant struggle, it’s a constant fight. And even talking about the fight for legal reform, for policy reform and all of that which you guys are doing to an excellent degree, I want to turn over to Erik. Maybe you best answer this.

What about the communities themselves? What do you think? How has the community been building resilience and how has the community been moving forward together in solidarity in this fight for trans liberation?

So with the history of this region and all of the complications mentioned by Nhuun, I think now we all know that the work of trans liberation is not an easy one. It’s very challenging and it is a long way to go for the policies that criminalise and discriminate us to change. And even if it’s changing, it’s still a lot of opposition trying to reverse it backwards again. So with the current condition, I think the best way to build resilience is to create support system to look out for each other and also constantly nurture new trans and gender diverse leaders in the region.

Because if we fall to the lack of regeneration, I think not only in trans activism, but also activism in general, we have seen this everywhere, that there will be a tendency for martyrdom where one leader bears the burden of this work, of this systemic discrimination and violence and eventually they burn out and leave the movement. So we can say that trans organisations are working to address various systemic issues in trans liberation and that we need to have in mind that we have to take care of ourselves too.

I do think personally that trans liberation starts from within ourselves, which is also a long battle in itself because even with already a support system in place, if we don’t have the courage to care for our internal wounds, our own liberation will not happen.

And I’m aware that with current support system, only the privilege can have access to it. So this is why the access to health care, also including the mental health care and peer support system is so important when we are fighting for the policies to change to create more equal society.

Yeah, and also sometimes there are access to certain groups or certain like “health” or healthcare. But when you approach them, it turns out that they’re not, you know, they’re either transmedicalist or, you know, have some kind of thing or maybe they can be transphobic themselves and try to, you know, we are unwillingly put into conversion therapy, for example, right.

What would you say is the best way to avoid these kinds of things and what are the things to look out for and to know that, oh, okay, so these are good, we’re in good hands when we want to take care of our mental health here or there. How would you differentiate that? Especially for people who are new, who don’t really have a trans community just yet, they’re looking for these things, but what would you tell them?

So I’ve done my research before, but it’s in Indonesia and it was when I tried to access mental health care and the first thing I noticed when I tried to speak with these mental health counsellors is that on one hand, one counsellor said, yeah, we are accepting clients and patients regardless of their identity. So I don’t think that’s a good counsellor or like healthcare provider to go for because they are not queer affirming and I don’t think they know what this means. So it’s just that they want to include diversity but without the knowledge of that, of the systemic discrimination that is affecting queer people and trans and gender diverse people. So I think one of the sign is not to go to that kind of healthcare provider but on the contrary, there are also healthcare providers who state publicly, or maybe not publicly, but in the personal conversation they know about like queer affirming practices and affirming practices they know this language. So I think this is one important thing to note. But also I really think it is important to be connected to community and organisations in your country so that you can be referred to the right service providers.

Because usually the trans community and their leaders, they know or hold a database for healthcare providers that is safe or at least friendly with the trans community, with the least friendly countries. Because usually these accesses they provide discreetly because some of the healthcare provider also cannot state about their politics upfront because they might lose their license. If the government council is very homophobic and transphobic, they could lose their license. And in one of my conversation with one of the counsellors, they also mentioned that to care publicly for the queer people, they can lose their license even though they are also queer and trans and nonbinary people. So it is difficult actually to make sure that we are in good hands. But I think for the safest method to do it is to be connected to community or organisations, such organisations, such community in the country.

Yeah, I think that’s also a very important point, right? I mean, sometimes people tend to think that when you’re in a crisis, you go look for healthcare right away and but sometimes we don’t have like, if we are trans, we don’t really have the privilege of that since we got to weed out certain things. So I think community is really important. You keep stressing that being connected, having people and feeling that you know, you’re not alone. I think that’s the biggest resource for resilience, right?

So do you have any tips or maybe anything you’d like to say about how should we go about conducting these support groups or communities or peer support networks and stuff like that? Could you tell us a bit more about that?

So, APTN in terms of mental health care, we are working with a partner from India, named Mariwala Health Initiative. We launched a peer support workshop pilot where we invite our partners from organisations in the region to have skills to conduct peer support counselling in which we don’t have a degree in psychology to do that actually. So I know from that workshop that peer counselling is like a way for the community to have, to create a support system where we don’t have to be an expert or to have a degree in psychology to create a counselling sessions for the community.

So in that workshop we also highlight how peer counselling can benefit the community even more than experts because we know what it’s like being a trans person more than experts with the history of pathologisation that might be different in each countries, right? From this workshop we are also challenging the old belief about the stigmatisation of LGBTQ from the old belief from the psychology field. In this workshop, we also discussed the ethics of conducting the counselling.

So there’s a lot of discussions over how to do the peer counselling and what’s the ethics of it, what if we have personal conflict of interest with the clients. But this is an intense three days workshop. But it’s a very great learning portals who attended.

Actually last August, MHI, Marijuana Health Initiative, is also announcing their own program, the first batch of queer affirmative counselling practice training for those in South Asia, Southeast Asia and also South Africa, I think. But this one is for the mental health care expert to be able to take care of queer people. And I also know that some health a practitioner from Indonesia had already took this training from many years ago and now MHI just announcing their own program to certify these mental health experts or even like the peer counsellors to be able to create counselling sessions that is on the standard that we need, right?

And also in our organisation, aside from our work at MHI on our last original confinement in Bangkok, we also had a session addressing trans activits burnout with our partner Woman for Peace and Justice. So in APTN, we are very aware with this issue among activists and in that session we are practicing deep listening and peer support using an anti oppression framework. At that session, actually I personally cried for ten minutes in front of everyone attending the session. So it was a very good experience and bonding session with a lot of activist. Yeah, I think if there’s a follow up question.

Nhuun, do you have anything to add?

Yes, I would like to add about why the reason why we do this type of thing, right, because of actually this project for us is actually not only about provide the peer support to the trans people or actually conduct short term thing, right? But it’s also actually fulfill our objective to advocacy objective, which is actually we would like the state, country, government, to provide enough resources providing those type of mental health care which is actually friendly to queer and trans people as well. Because of nowadays the result is not enough. I would say the result is not enough. Actually don’t provide or misconduct in many different ways and in more like phatological way, right?

So we actually do this activity, it’s actually like short term thing because we don’t have this type of access, right? So that we actually try to engage with the trans people who actually interested to be the counsellor of the other people and then be able to provide those mental health support to the other right? And to address the gaps of lack of resources. But at the end of the what is called in the wrong run.

We’re actually hoping that the government, the health sector, allocate enough funding, allocate enough resources to actually make the mental health care of trans people, which is compatible to trans identities, and finally to actually queer people as well as part of the government healthcare, universal healthcare. So this is actually what we are aiming for. If we aim that there is going to be the policy change, that’s going to be the system change, that’s what we want actually.

Yeah. If I can add in Southeast Asia, I think there are more general affirming health care that we can find in Thailand, but it is also not included in insurance like Nhuun said. This is because trans healthcare, more particularly the gender affirming surgery is the field that’s respected and I think the local advocacy group in Thailand is also working towards democratising it. Yeah, but however, in many countries in Southeast Asia, the gender affirming care is still operating pretty discreetly.

Indonesia is starting to have some movement to this access as I know that our comrades in Indonesia are starting to gather some healthcare practitioners to make some citizen training for healthcare providers, for general health. Because even to access general healthcare, trans people are still hesitant to access it due to many invasive questions, for example. So I think we know that many trans people in Southeast Asia countries are still transitioning without the provision of a doctor because simply we don’t have access to it and it’s very expensive.

I want to go back to your point earlier about you mentioned that traditional training and psychology might not really help because they’re not really career affirming and stuff like that. And in a lot of ways peer support can actually do better for the mental health care of trans people, trans communities. Right. But on the other hand, there are trainings for that as you mentioned earlier.

So if a friend really wants to help out someone and then we can’t just like right away build a group or like make a group or whatever. But there needs to be things that we need to be careful about, right? So what would you say are the important things that a lot of people get wrong or like people without training can actually are unaware of?

What we often get wrong about when trying to support our friends and loved ones is to think that we are the saviour. And it could also work both ways. There are people that think they need to be saved from themselves. So if you want to help, we can come from this position as it will create co-dependency and unhealthy attachment from both sides. In the past, actually I had this mentality myself in both positions, like I’m the saviour and also the one that needs to be saved. So what I realised is when I come as saviour, I’m taking the other person’s internal power to stand up for themselves and then I will be resentful when they are not doing their part and became burnt out.

So on the contrary, when I come as the one who needs to be saved, I am hanging all my needs and expectations and even my identity to the one I thought was there to save me and become even more depressed when they don’t meet my needs. So for me, to be a good supporter is to be aware of the power dynamics and co-dependency that we might build and also trust that the other person has the power to set up by themselves by also providing what you can do in your limitation. Then we should also let go of the outcome.

I think never help if the other person did not ask you to help or did not consent to be helped. Because I think there are many many cases where we’re helping loved ones and they are in a trouble. But actually, we cannot force them to seek help or go to psychiatrists or go to psychologists. Because from my experience myself, when I talk to counsellors, one thing I learned is that they need to be the one to make that decision. And I cannot force them to seek help.

So on my personal work outside of APTN, I was also planning to create a fund from my personal fund and from some friends who are willing to also help to create a free counselling program. But then I do my research and then meet the Indonesian counsellors that are queer affirming. They also suggest that giving free sessions ultimately didn’t work because often times client doesn’t show up in free sessions. So they come up with a solution that clients can decide themselves the price that they can pay as an investment for themselves.

So I think it’s practically speaking, outside APTN as organisations, if we are doing some work related to the trans community. And it’s very understandable when we see someone that is struggling and we want to help, of course, because we love them and we care for them, but there are actually a lot of things to be considered and we must know our own boundaries also. So yeah, that’s one of the tricky part, to be able to help other people but also maintain boundaries and also believe that the other person is holding the power to save themselves. I think that’s one of the things that we often miss.

I think that’s a fantastic point, being aware of power dynamics, being aware of these saviorship complex that often arises when we try to help others and just creates a whole host of problems in itself. And I do think that building this confidence that people can set up for themselves, can sees a better future for themselves is a very important part of like of how we can move forward in the movement for trans liberation.

So, speaking of hopes, what do you personally and as APTN hope for, what hopes keep you going in this fight for trans liberation despite all of the challenges, despite all the difficulties.

Can you tell us more about what keeps you going?

So I think for me, because I work in regional organisation, I also see activists in global original context. I feel hope when I meet other activist in other regions. They are very passionate in their work. When they speak about what they’re passionate about their work like their eyes lights up. And I know that we really fight for an issue that they have a focus on. For example with my coworkers also like seeing Nhuun, seeing Hua, in their hate crimes. Work is also making me more hopeful, I guess. And also with my friends back home in Indonesia, I think I see hope when there are more and more new generations coming, creating communities, creating activities for the trans movement and even just like new circles of queer people, it’s a good sign that we are now become more feasible.

We are now have more support system now people are not afraid to say I’m queer to their friends and they always look for each other. They are more mutual aid than ever. Then I probably know when I was like high school or when I was in the university. Now younger people are more, I think in solidarity than ever, I think in these times, even though, you know, there are more anti gender movement, more anti trans law preparing to be passed. But I have not seen this kind of resilience in the past. So I think that’s a good sign despite all the conditions happening in the policy level.

Nhuun, what about you?

Yeah, I would like to come back to APTN missions right there in our website and it’s actually say that a society that upholds, respects, and protects the diversity, safety, equality and dignity of trans and gender diverse people. And when I heard about this, when I joined the movement type thing, right? Yeah, there is a hope that that type of society would happen now today, because nowadays we have seen more government that actually more accepts trans identity in the legal documents also. And we have seen also the change in the laws that happened across the regions, for example, the banning of conversion therapy in India, I’m sure that government in Vietnam actually is saying something like the conversion therapy is the violations of the human right or something like that, and it actually should be banned.

So I see that policy change also happen. There are a lot of country that allows trans people to change their gender marker as well, including Indonesia, right? And also India, Nepal, Pakistan as well, despite of the backlash that’s happening, but that type of process still going on.

So from when I first joined, this type of thing never happened, like and I don’t see the hope that I don’t see this coming, right? So it’s actually something, some change that happened from the tireless work of the trans activists across the region. And in order to have that type of society legal gender recognition need to happen. Banning conversion that will be need to actually implemented. And also we need to have some of the mitigation measure at hate crime and also the healthcare of trans people need to be a part of the universal healthcare within the country.

So this thing, this change and also the activists having more and more activists working on this area, like Erik said, give me that hope for the inclusive society to happen. And I agree with Erik at the point that when we conduct our first Southeast Asia, not the first, our first article with the Southeast Asia convening, we have seen a lot of trans people, younger generations, and also with the fresh mindset, the fresh thought about the human rights and with the really articulate and really equipped of the human rights approach, I think I see the hope of the people that we have seen in our regional convening, the one that have been here in the movement for so long, but they are even more like strengthened, right? Their work is even more like strengthened. And also the newer people that actually coming on board and do something sentimental and do something really concrete on the ground keep and these type of communities that we actually facilitate, it keeps expanding. This gives me hope.

So I think the chance will come soon when we see this type of effort established.

Wow. Thank you, Erik and Nhuun. I mean, those are really beautiful. There’s a lot of revitalisation of the trans liberation movement. There’s a lot of like fresh new faces, new thoughts and new yeah, these things that keep you going.

On that note, what can the listener do to support you?

I would say that nowadays we have some of the ways to reach out to the younger trans activist and also the new face of activist as well, we have the Amplified Trans Fellowships programs, Human Rights Fellowships program that we have, which is actually we’re going to have the open calls, like, every other year to actually for the application of trans people across the region who interested to work on our things that we have been working with human rights, healthcare, and also the access to justice that we have been working on.

We’re going to have this type of fellowship program for the trans people to apply and then participate in our fellowships where we actually have different type of training methods to inform you about the movement building, campaigning, human right mechanisms of the UN. And after you graduate from our membership programs, already the people who you are actually invited to submit the proposal for the fifth grant, that you can actually have the grant to implement the project in your respective context countries as well.

And also we are trying to, and we can’t engage you more with our activities. Also, we prioritise our Fellows always, and then we connect you with a different type of regional and international advocacy space as well from that program. So that may be the entry point that you can say to the audience if they are interested to join our movement and network.
Yeah, and all that programs are always informed to the audience via our channels. So, yeah, we have also always posting new opportunities and if there’s like, small grants that can be used as an entry point if you want to make, like, small organisations, we always have that posted in our social media channels.


Okay, great. Thank you so much Erik and Nhuun will be looking forward to the results of those fellowships and all of these new energy that you guys will bring forward in APTN with the Movement for Trans Liberation in Southeast Asia.

That about wraps up our conversation with Erik and Nhuun of APTN. If you’d like to read more about their fellowship program or find other ways to get involved, go to weareaptn.org or reach out to them via their social media at weraptn on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

If you’re interested in hearing more trans voices for TDoR, check out the most recent artist response series on our website. There, I curated five artworks from trans artists and talk to those artists on their thoughts with TDoR and their hopes for the future of trans lives in Southeast Asia. Go to newnaratif.com and search for Transgender Day of remembrance.

If you’re listening to this before December 9, you can also take part in our Flash Fiction series under the theme of Queer Ecology, where you can submit your story of three to 500 words, which we’ll produce in two languages in both text and audio formats.

My name is Bonnibel Rambatan, and this has been Southeast Asia Dispatches, brought to you by New Naratif and produced by Dania Joedo.

I’ll see you around.

Bonnibel Rambatan

Bonni is New Naratif's Editorial Manager. They are an independent scholar and writer of critical theory, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, with a professional career spanning various media industries from comics, publishing, and film.

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