A species of sea slug with two genders has been named in honour of Malaysia transgender activist Nisha Ayub.

Leena Wong from Universiti Putra Malaysia stumbled upon a previously-undiscovered genus of underwater slug while collecting algae samples from Malaysia’s Blue Lagoon.



Wong and co-author Patrick Krug monitored five distinct species of sea slugs for the first time, publishing their findings in academic journal Zoologica Scripta.

One of the five new species was named Sacoproteus nishae, in honour of Greek sea god Proteus and well-known Malaysian transgender activist Nisha Ayub.

Sea slug species Sacoproteus nishae was named after Nisha Ayub
Sea slug species Sacoproteus nishae was named after Nisha Ayub. (Leena Wong)

The inspiration for the name comes from the slug itself, which has sex characteristics of both genders and uses its ability to blend in among plant life to render itself invisible to predators.

Nisha Ayub told the Malay Mail: “When she explained to me why, then I understand her reason… the first thing that popped in my mind is how we transgender community tried our best to become part of the society.”

Ayub added in a Facebook post: “I’m really honoured to be given the acknowledgement for such a [historic] discovery.”

Wong told the activist: “Thank you for all your fights for a better Malaysia. Hope to see you one day.”

Nisha Ayub was jailed for being transgender

Ayub is one of the country’s best-known transgender activists.

She was arrested at the age of 21 under regional Islamic laws banning “cross-dressing” and served three months in a men’s prison, where she was sexually abused.

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After her release from prison, Ayub became the leading advocate for transgender rights in Malaysia, co-founding the SEED Foundation and Justice for Sisters, two NGOs which work to end persecution of LGBT people.

In 2016, she was honoured by US Secretary of State John Kerry with the International Women of Courage Award.

The trans activist travelled to the United States to receive the Obama-era award, where Kerry paid tribute to her bravery and fearless advocacy for transgender people in Malaysia.

Kerry said: “Nisha Ayub has been the target of discrimination and violence in Malaysia for many years, even being imprisoned for three months during which she endured sexual abuse and humiliation.

“She continues to face threats, but remains committed to her work because it is what she cares most about and because she knows it is the right thing to do.

“Nisha Ayub, for your extraordinary work to promote societies that are more just, fair, and tolerant regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, we honour you as a woman of courage.”

Despite her international renown, the activist still faces oppression in Malaysia.

An art exhibition featuring a portrait of Ayub faced a government crackdown in August 2018.

Government minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa, who serves in the office of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, ordered the removal of the portrait and a rainbow flag from an exhibit at the George Town Festival in Penang.




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