A Valuable Lesson from a Mak Nyah

A realisation of subconscious prejudices.

Today, a mak nyah taught me a very valuable lesson. I went to a salon I had never been to before to get my hair trimmed. As I walked past the salon, I spotted a mak nyah sitting at a couch in the salon. Somehow, I knew that he (or she) was one of the hairstylists there.

At that instant, I turned back to where I came from.

Then the inner rational Derek said in my head, “It’s just a trim, nothing will hurt.”

So I retraced my steps and entered the salon, hoping that another hairstylist will cut my hair instead of the mak nyah.

I went up to the counter where two Malay ladies, whom I assumed to be the salon workers, were standing.

“Nak potong rambut.” [“I’d like a haircut”]

All I got were blank stares from two pairs of eyes. Perhaps it was what I wore; a white tee with an image of a monkey wearing headphones, paired with white Hawaiian floral shorts. I continued standing there like a fool, until one of them pointed me to, no prizes for guessing, the mak nyah himself/herself.

At that point, goosebumps crept up in me.

He/she then beckoned me to sit.

A mak nyah (Source: lifemag.blogspot.com)

A mak nyah (Source: lifemag.blogspot.com)

“Nak potong macam mana?” [“How would you like it cut?”]

“Potong tepi, atas dengan belakang trim saja. Pastu layer.” [“Cut the sides, just trim the top and back. Then layer.”]

The mak nyah then touched me with his/her fingers as he/she placed the Schwarzkopf cloth on me. Physical contact with a mak nyah.

At that moment, my palms turned cold. My body felt as though blood rushed out from it. I felt… disgusted.

He/she then started snipping away the clump on my head that I call my hair. Snip, snip, snip.

I closed my eyes, afraid to look him/her in the eyes as the mirror reflected our images. Afraid to look at him/her at all, scared that he/she will get offended and scratch me to death (or whatever style of torture) for staring at him/her like an alien.

Let me tell you about the mak nyah.

Implants, fake eyelashes, dyed hair, red top, white short shorts, lipstick, high heels — typical look like the infamous “sisters” of Lorong Haji Taib, Chow Kit.

To cut a long story short, I loved my hair cut and thanked him/her. TWICE.

But as I sat on the train, as I showered in the bathroom back home — I couldn’t help but reflect on the incident today.


Why did I feel the irrational fear I had?

Why was there a degree of disgust when the mak nyah touched me?

Why did I look at him/her with prejudiced eyes?

Why the hesitance to step into the salon when I saw the mak nyah inside?

Why did I feel such a plethora of emotions that I never had in all my visits to a hair salon?


The mak nyah taught me a lesson.

We look at people with discriminatory prejudices, we “label” the people we meet, we fill up a “report card” in our heads, we place people in jars and categories.

We judge people.

But who are we to judge?

Why do we judge, why do we discriminate?

Malays, Chinese, Indians, mak nyahs, spinsters, nerds, jocks, sluts, gays.

Why do we see people with prejudice-tinted lenses?  Why do we define the actions or behaviour of people according to the “categories” that they belong to?

Malays, Chinese, Indians, mak nyahs, spinsters, nerds, jocks, sluts, gays.

At the end of the day, who my hairstylist was did not matter. A Malay, a Chinese, an Indian, a mak nyah, a spinster, a nerd, a jock, or a slut. It didn’t matter at all, because at the end of the day, he/she did a good job with my hair.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Love the sinner, reject the sin.”

The Apostle Paul once wrote, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.”

Derek is a leap-year baby who plans to read law. Mathematically, he is only four-years old, but people believe that he is actually an old, bald man disguised in the body of an 18-year old. A sufferer of severe split personality disorder, he changes personas according to the weather. Passionate for this country, he believes that all change starts with the man in the mirror. He is very single, but also not very available because his mum thinks he’s too young to date. He also believes that there is something greater than Lord Bobo. Faced with the challenge of writing this blurb, his palms started sweating. And he yelled,”BOOMSHAKALAKA!”

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Derek is a leap-year baby who is currently reading law. He is single but not available because his mum thinks that he’s too young to date. Follow his frivolous, inane and meaningless Tweets at @derekqiren.

Posted on 8 January 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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