Malaika is also a trans woman, and she confidently, vulnerably, and with an open heart introduced herself to Torrens University Australia’s staff and students during a Wear it Purple broadcast in 2021.
This week, during Transgender Awareness Week, Malaika shared how her 2022 is going.
Malaika enjoyed Torrens University's flexible study options, meaning she was able to study around her work. There’s an impressive list of what she’d love to achieve over the coming years, and a lot of it won’t come cheap.
“It's been great to have that flexibility to continue to work and save for the goals that I've got. I'm pretty ambitious for a 23-year-old,” said Malaika. “I'm buying a new car and then (gender affirmation) surgery and then I've got to buy a house.”
The projected ambitious timeline might seem brutal to others, but Malaika is a driven woman.
“The car I'm getting next year, is going to be fully electric, so save the environment, the surgery will probably be in the next 2-3 years, and the house deposit is about five years away, I reckon.”
"It can be stressful though.”
Malaika shared that the projected costs for her planned surgery may cost around $35,000AUD.
“It's been a bit of a drama because I was on a wait list for a year for an Australian surgeon and then he retired so all the way back to square one.”
“There are rebates on certain parts of the process with Medicare, it's all different components, your stay at the hospital is something that you can claim, but you do have to find all the money first. Some private health insurance will cover it, but I still need to have the money in the first place.’
“It’s also different whether you want to go with surgeons here in Australia with very limited experience and very limited options in terms of surgery. The more advanced ones are overseas.”
Which of course adds more cost, and risks, associated with travelling overseas for surgery.
“Even in here in Australia, one of the major surgeons is the same guy who got done for the botched breast implant.”
Not to forget the mental health toll, and physical recovery that go along with the procedure.
“Definitely. It’s currently being debated that one of the organisations that sets out the standards for trans healthcare is gatekeeping too much and making it too difficult. You need the money, several referrals from psychologists, 12 months of lived experience, 12 months of hormone replacement therapy.”
“I’m sorry, but if I've been 12 months socially transitioned on hormone therapy, I don't need a psychologist to say, ‘Yeah, they know what they’re doing.’”
Malaika has set her sights high, and it’s the same for her career.
“I'd like to get into non-profit or advocacy, working either in a marketing or event management role where I can put both the skills that I learned in business management to use, but also my passion for helping people as well as my passion for meeting new people and telling stories.
She shares that although the study side of university was enjoyable, her experience as a trans woman was not so easy in the beginning.
“It was a mixed bag because the process of getting my details changed was a challenge. Whilst being safe in my own home and being behind a camera, I could present how I liked. For a couple of months, I had the thing where my name was different in other areas of the learning platforms. There was one where my full name was correct, but it was showing Mister for some reason, and it took ages to fix.”
A gender affirmation policy is now in the works at Torrens University to ensure the process is easier for future transgender students.
Malaika found support through her Success Coach, Juliana Lopez.
“Juliana was amazing. I came out to the university about the same time I was starting my transition socially.”
“I have to say at the time, Juliana was the person most excited about me transitioning, which meant the world, because I was terrified. Absolutely terrified.”
“Here was someone who was super excited and telling me how amazing it was and how they were so proud of me and like it was suddenly like, hey, this is a good thing. You know, I should be excited about this. I'm terrified but, this is exciting and fun getting to be who I actually am”.
It was the perfect partnership, with Juliana supporting Malaika to success career-wise as well as in a personal, holistic way.
“She was very much focused on individual development as much as the whole, and perhaps even more the individual because having the individual part empowered and upskilled is all about getting you to the career. It’s one thing to say, ‘here’s a good path.’ It's another thing to say, ‘here's how to hike.’”
Recalling how she felt when she first broached the subject, Malaika said she was blown away by the reaction of her success coach, and the support she so naturally provided.
"I was mostly just seeking advice. I'm guessing that it’s probably changing or will be changed, but at the time, the reason I called Julianna was that there wasn't a clear process for me to change my name.
“I had no idea who I was supposed to go to or where I was supposed to send the documents, and I had spoken to Juliana several times before. She was great, so I thought she could point me in the right direction, and she did in more ways than one,” Malaika beams.
University wasn’t the only setting where Malaika was experiencing life for the first time as a trans woman, but it perhaps was the easier setting when compared to family, work, and her social life.
It was a fresh new setting, without history, and in this case the pandemic created a safe space because Malaika was learning online from her home space, in control of how she was revealing herself via her computer screen.
“In a way, the university was a safe space for me in terms of my transition, it wasn't a place where I met people in real life. There was the ability for it all to be behind the screen. If something happened, I could just turn the camera off,” Malaika explains.
“That was a way to explore and start to feel a bit safer and more confident and most of the lecturers were really good about it. That really helped us well.”
At work as one of two or three sales specialists in a highly male dominated field, Malaika is finding her community.
"As far as I'm aware, so you don't always know, but there are 22 queer people. I'm the only trans person and despite it being very much dominated by older guys, they’ve all been great. Most of the trouble I get is from customers rather than staff.”
The trouble lies with the mentality that the ‘customer is always right,’ Malaika said.
“The funny thing is that's a misquote. That's from William Selfridge, from the big British department stores. The full quote is, ‘The customer is always right in matters of taste.’”
“It's easier to start with a new group than try and change the perspective of one that you already know,” said Malaika. “You already have expectations. You already have built relationships built, so you're always fearful about losing that. When you're going to a new environment, in a way, you've got nothing to lose except your pride.”
Malaika said her current place of work seems to be on the right track, putting it down to good management.
"There is a policy, but it's generic. When I came in, one of the things I noticed was that when referring to transgender people in a help support process, they used a slur,” said Malaika. “I was like ‘hey, that’s out of date,’ and they fixed it.”
“I was lucky because our store manager comes from a workplace that has quite a good queer policy, so he brought a lot of that knowledge and experience with him.”
Picturing her journey, starting at Torrens, which coincided with an incredible personal journey, Malaika reflects on how she imagines she might feel on graduation day next year.
“I think, at graduation, it will hit me that how many things I told myself would never happen, have happened. I am also neurodivergent, I received an extremely severe assessment as a child, where they said I wouldn’t complete high school.”
“I laugh about it now, but the tests were sure deciding I had high levels of intelligence but scored really low socially. When I read the reports now it's just like reading a record of dysphoria for me and how I struggled to fit in and manage socially, because I wasn't me and I didn't feel comfortable socialising.”
“I was just super awkward, but at graduation, standing there and just getting that feeling of all the accomplishments and being somewhere where I never thought I would be, it will be amazing.”
We agree and look forward to seeing Malaika shine on stage at the ceremony. Superficially we had to discuss what Malaika plans to wear.
“Well, it's going be something very beautiful. I've got several beautiful dresses.”