She is the goddess who gave us life. She is our teacher. An intellectual. She is our treasure.
– A Thirunangai at Aasha Amma’s Funeral
In commemoration of Pride Month, the month that brings awareness to the struggles and joys of the global LGBTQ community, let us remember the beacon of the Malaysian-Singaporean Tamil Thirunangai (transwomen) Community, M. Asha Devi Amma. She was the proud matriarch of Chow Kit, not only to other trans women but to the marginalized communities throughout her area. The legacy of Asha Amma should be remembered with the likes of American trans and gay liberation pioneers Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, who led the fight for LGBTQ liberation during the Stonewall Riots (in New York) of June 1969, which brought forth Pride Month to be celebrated across the globe. This month is to bring awareness to the still horrendous and horrifying conditions LGBTQ people all over the world live through. Nevertheless, the legacy of Asha Amma is one of hope and faith, for that is what she lived by, all her life.
Born on July 2, 1944, Asha Devi Amma was the first transwoman in Malaysia to get sex reassignment surgery in the 1970s. She was also the oldest living transwoman in all of Malaysia at the time, a great triumph in itself for a woman of her background. Asha Amma had travelled to India to get her surgery done and even got to change her gender on her IC to female, something which is prohibited for trans people in Malaysia at this time. Asha Amma was seen as the great backbone of the Malaysian-Singaporean Thirunangai Community, she was respected, revered, and treasure by her people. No matter what corner of the country a transwoman was in, she knew that she could come to Asha Amma for protection. Asha did not just provide food and shelter for the Thirunangais; she gave them wisdom. She taught them how to be brave, how to be independent, and how to care for themselves. She guided each and every young Thirunangai to be strong-willed individuals. Young Thirunangais that had grown up under her care profess how they are eternally indebted to all that she has done for them.
Asha Amma fell in love, married a wealthy man, and adopted children with him. Even though she lived a comfortable life, she always used her power to provide for those in great need. After the passing of her husband, she supported herself by running a food stall. She tragically passed away at the age of 68 on August 7, 2012, from a heart attack. Her funeral was attended by nearly 1000 people, most of whom were Thirunangais; some had travelled as far as Switzerland to pay their last respects. The funeral attendees were also other men and women that Asha Amma had helped in her lifetime.
A legacy of stories is still to be uncovered about Asha Amma and her contribution not only to the Thirunangai Community of Malaysia-Singapore alone, but also to the many poor and marginalized folks of Kuala Lumpur. Her revolutionary spirit should be remembered and respected by all. She remains an enigma in the memory of Tamil Thirunangais all over the world. Let us strive to keep her revolutionary history alive in honour of the great life she has lived.