'Muffadet' is the Singlish corruption of 'hermaphrodite', an individual with the reproductive organs of both sexes.

The derogatory slang word probably first surfaced in the Eurasian communities of Singapore and Malaysia, especially those with British ancestry, since their command of English was the best of all the local ethnic groups in the Straits Settlements and privileged them to know the meaning of such a relatively difficult and uncommon word as 'hermaphrodite'.

As most Eurasians were Catholic and sent their children to the Christian Brothers Schools such as Saint Patrick's School, Saint Stephen's School and Saint Joseph's Institution, the slur was gradually also picked up by the Chinese, Malay and Indian students in these educational establishments. It later spread to the better English-speaking schools such as the Anglo-Chinese School, Raffles Institution, Victoria School and Montfort School. In fact, some gay pupils in Montfort School (also Catholic but not a Christian Brothers School) used to jokingly refer to it as "Muffadet School". Alternatively, other-race students in secular English schools could have contemporaneously imbibed the term from their Eurasian classmates.

In 1972, Singapore's first newspaper article to mention the existence of a local LGBT community categorised gay men together with transgender women as "homosexual males".

As with all other slang words used to refer to transgender people in Singapore and Malaysia, 'muffadet', like 'ah kua' (Hokkien), 'bapok', 'pondan', 'kedik' (the latter three all Malay) and 'kidi' (Tamil), also came to be used as a slur on effeminate men because for the greater part of the twentieth century, there was confusion as to what the difference between gay and transgender was. In fact, in the revelatory Singapore's first newspaper articles on the LGBT community published in 1972, even after months of research, the investigative reporting team still lumped homosexual men together with transgender women into one large category with three subdivisions. The article stated:

"Basically there are three main types of homosexual males:

  • ONE: The transvestites, or drags, who dress as women.
  • TWO: The effeminate males, who are very feminine in appearance or mannerism.
  • THREE: The normal male, neither effeminate nor unlike other "straight" (non-homosexual) males in appearance."

Astonishingly, to this day, there still exist Singaporeans who think "gay" and "transgender" mean the same thing.

Muffadet, as a derogatory slang word for transwomen and effeminate men, fell into disuse towards the later part of the twentieth century.

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This article was written by Roy Tan.

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