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Last Updated: Friday, 5 November, 2004, 09:46 GMT
Transsexual debate in Malaysia
By Jonathan Kent
BBC, Kuala Lumpur

Transsexuals in Malaysia have called for new laws on gender identity after a judge ruled that those who have undergone sex change operations were in a legal limbo.

In what has been called a landmark ruling, the judge, V T Singham, dismissed an application by a 33-year-old who wants to become legally male after having had surgery.

The judge said only parliament could approve such a change.

Wong Chiou Yoong went to court seeking to be formally recognised as a man.

Born female, Wong had a sex change operation two years ago and produced evidence from two specialists saying that he was now a functioning man.

However, Malaysia's National Registration Department labels Wong a woman on the basis of his birth certificate.

Judge V T Singham told the court that biological characteristics are set at birth and that biological rather than psychological tests determine identity.

In the absence of any laws covering gender reassignment, the judge said he was unable to accept the application.

Any change in the legal status of transsexuals was a matter for parliament, he said.

A local trans-gender group, the Pink Triangle Foundation, has called for new laws that allow people to choose their own identity.

However, many Malaysians hold very conservative views on social issues and that makes any imminent change in the law unlikely.

While sex change operations are legal in Malaysia, a 20-year old decision by the country's Council of Rulers prohibits those from the majority Muslim community from having such surgery.

Nevertheless, estimates put the number of men living as women in Malaysia at between 10-50,000 and studies suggest that the large majority are ethnic Malays and thus Muslim.


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