Rose Richerd, 29, came to Sweden from Malaysia. Her transition to becoming a transwoman put her at risk in her native country and has damaged her health - but she tells The Local her life in Sweden is "wonderful".
Rose first began taking feminizing hormones at about 11 years old, after realizing that she didn't identify as male.
"The only way to learn and understand how could I become a woman was through the people around me. I was always asking how to get rid of my muscles and masculine voice."
A neighbour, Donna, bought a month's supply of hormones as a gift - in Malaysia, medication can be bought without prescriptions - and Rose began her journey to transitioning.
"I had no erections anymore - and I didn't mind, because I didn't want to be a man," Rose remembers. "I started to feel my breasts growing and taking shape, and my muscles shrank down."
Attitudes towards non-binary gender identities are complex in Malaysia. Rose says that transwomen face more persecution than transmen or gay people, and that transwomen are often arrested and imprisoned. "If you're arrested you may get raped, and police will shave your hair as punishment," she adds.
She says she was "lucky" because her feminine appearance and voice meant authorities didn't recognize her as a transwoman.
But that didn't mean that it was easy.
“My family accepted me, but at school my friends didn’t,” remembers Rose. She was called names like ‘shemale’ and sissy’, but explains: “I felt numb, so I didn’t really care that much."
Unfortunately, the lack of acceptance around trans people in Malaysia also led to long-term health complications for Rose. She has been suffering from Nephrotic Syndrome, a kidney disease, since 2005 - something she thinks was caused by her use of hormones.
"Many of my friends died because they took hormones and other medications without any monitoring, and I think irresponsible use of hormones was the reason for my kidney disease," she says. "The problem is that I couldn’t even speak to a doctor, because it’s still illegal in Malaysia."
She now has three dialysis sessions each week, each one lasting four hours, and as well as the desire to live out her sexual identity in a safer environment, one of the main reasons she came to Sweden was for her health. Although Rose doesn’t yet have a residence permit, Sweden's Migration Agency have helped her pay for her dialysis treatment.
“The doctors and other staff in the hospital are really kind to me, they treat me so well, as if I were their daughter," says Rose.
Rose says that even if she had the chance to go back in time, she would still have taken the hormones. "I'm not sad for the past, because it's happened and I chose it. But I would have drunk plenty of water to protect my kidneys – something I didn’t do when I took the hormones."
"I don’t regret anything I have been through in my life; I am really happy. But with the dialysis, I feel like I'm stuck, not free anymore. I can’t go about my usual life; I’m active, very social and love to travel."
"I wish for a donor to offer me a kidney – maybe then I could go back to my normal life again."
Rose's 'normal life' has been very active, including travelling to Australia and Dubai to work as a waitress and DJ.
In Sweden, she is living in a refugee centre in Surhammar while she waits for a decision on her asylum.
She describes her life here as "wonderful". "Sometimes I cycle, and I paint – I am an artist. At other times I visit Swedish friends close to my accommodation. Whenever I miss the Malaysian food, I go to them so I can cook my food, because I can’t do that here in the asylum centre. And I study Swedish on my own."
She also says that she hasn't witnessed any bullying or harrassment at the centre. "I say ‘hi’ to everyone, whether they respond or not. We play volleyball and cycle altogether – the only problem we have is the language, which makes it harder to communicate sometimes."
However, Rose has found it difficult to hear the stories of her Middle Eastern friends in the camp and learn about what they have been through. "I can see that many refugees are talented have great skills - they just need the time, trust and the opportunity to create and contribute."
Back in Malaysia, Rose worked as a make-up artist as well as a dancer in night clubs, and her dream is to find similar work in her new country.
"I would love to carry on as a transgender dancing queen here in Sweden, to dance in public for people," she says. "I haven’t seen that much in Sweden. I would also really love to have Swedish transwomen friends – I want to meet talented people.
"I don’t really care how people look; what matters to me is their hearts. I would like to see myself become a make-up artist for transwomen stars – maybe some of the upcoming Eurovision stars, or any other show, I like to make people look nice and attractive."
She hopes that she might find love in her new country, saying: “I don’t really care how my future boyfriend look like; the most important thing is for him to accept me the way I am."
"I love getting involved in society, meeting men, women, whoever. Most importantly, I want to be a woman."
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