We have heard about transsexuals in many countries struggling for their rights and for the freedom to live the way they wish to live. But today we hear about Saudi Arabia, one of the worst offenders of human rights violations. To break the silence and get out of the transsexual closet, Lina Alasfar was interviewed by AAI. This interview makes it clear that religion increases the suffering and intolerance that transsexuals face.
AAI's goal is to promote a secular humanistic world.
1- First of all, let's introduce you to the readers. Tell us about your name, age, nationality, residency:
My name is Lina, I am twenty years old. I am from Syria but I was born in Saudi Arabia, and I still live there. I am a transsexual woman. I study theoretical physics.
I also write some scientific articles in Arab Atheist Magazine.
2- You know that many readers would like to know what do you mean when you describe yourself as transsexual.
I was assigned “male” at birth but I have a female gender identity. Hence, the gender assignment was incorrect, as it ignored the ”sex” of my brain.
I have always had, and having, gender dysphoria (unhappiness). Due to the fact that I am living in the wrong gender group.
3- Did you know at an early age that you were a transsexual ?
I would say, my early memories were having an issue with my gender. About the age of three. I used to completely refuse having my hair cut for instance. I used to like playing with other girls, and other things.
4- Tell us about the transition process. Is it observed by a doctor?
Well, transitioning is – as I see it - a corrective process. It is very hard and dangerous, particularly here. There is no “standard” way to transition. Its aim is to make you authentic and comfortable with your body and gender role.
For my case “transsexualism “ I take cross-sex hormones and testosterone blockers, electrolysis to remove the “unwanted” hair, seeing a psycho-therapist, and finally, having a gender affirmation surgery (GCS).
I have started HRT about five months ago, knowing the risk of having a feminine appearance in here, where rape culture is spread, but I had no choice but to start! It is extremely dangerous to be a transsexual here, particularly male-to-female.
5- Other than hormones what are you doing to help you in the transition?
I have recently found a trusted therapist, I hope she could help. However, not much can be done in Saudi.
6- Are you having similar people in contact with you in your area? Did you think of making a group?
TS is not so very common! I wish I could find TS where I live. I have a support group here though. Very small but I am glad I have it!
7- Are you planning to have babies at the future, are you able to do that?
I could be an intersex, but it's not a high probability. Mostly, I don't have a uterus or ovaries. As TS is caused by Androgen-Insitivity in the brain cells, not related to the genitals or gonads. But, like any other woman, I have always dreamt and wanted to bear and have children. I am optimistic that science will be able to transplant uterus and ovaries, mostly for the next generations. For me, adoption is the only way to be a mother!
8-How common is your case in the Middle East?
It is very hard to tell, but generally TS is not very common. However, there are other groups of people more common and being oppressed and discriminated against. Transgender people of non-binary (not male nor female), gays and lesbians. Homosexuals form about 12% of society, and they have absolutely no rights in the Middle East!
Transgender people are less common, but they have no way to seek therapy in an official and safe way. Also society is very hard on them, particularly during transition.
Intersex people, along with TS form about 1% of society, both face an unimaginable discrimination.
9- Tell us about the discrimination by the family.
Growing up in misogynistic society, surely my family will see females are inferior to males. The idea that I will “become” as they think a female, is not acceptable. They have no idea about the difference between gender and sex . So, they think I will “shift” to female, which is the inferior sex. From this vision, you can imagine how they are misguided about the truth.
They consider me a “disgrace”, “shame” and wanting to challenge or to drag attention. I have faced a lot of hate speech, violence and threats of informing authorities from the people I love the most.
I have to hide my truth to be able to live, my family would certainly kill me if they had proof I am taking hormones. I know I will mostly lose them forever, when I complete transition and live as a woman – the true reality. It is not my fault, and I didn't ask for any of this! I was born a girl, they assigned me incorrectly, so what can I do ?
I guess the worst part is, you live all these years in a lie, and you have to sacrifice everything and the people you loved and lived with, played with and had nice memories with. Just to get rid of this lie!
10- Do you face discrimination at school ?
I have had some incidents of harassment. I am very careful now, I only show up for lectures or in the library. I have only one friend and he knows about my case.
11- Do they consider you a homosexual?
It is very common mistake to think I am a “gay man”. I am a straight woman. My parents think I am and even think I am some sort of “gay prostitute”. But the reality is very different, sex is something beyond my reach or interest currently. It is extremely disgusting now!
Transsexuals could have any sexual orientation, I know lesbian, bisexual and straight TS.
12- Do you think there are laws to regulate your case and similar cases?
Not at all, transgender people are not protected by the law. If they aren't fought by it!
If you got stopped by the police, and showed your ID showing a sex different than yours - the one you are presenting - you would probably get raped or harassed by them. Then get jailed for "impersonating" another person.
Honour crimes, for such cases have very low penalty. In Saudi Arabia, it's not allowed to have any from of TS treatment whatsoever. Even intersex people, are enforced into one of the sexes before they become aware of their gender identity.
It is very hard to change names and sex after transition, and the surgery is mandatory to get that - if you are lucky enough.
It's important to know that not all transgender people need the surgery and not all of them are transsexuals. There are a lot not within the binary.
I wish I could "elevate" to the level other women are oppressed!
13- May you get jailed?
And even worse, I know a trans girl from Saudi, not very personally. But she got jailed in men's prison and multiply raped and sexually abused. Then lashed for “impersonating” a woman...
It's illegal to get hormones and GCS.
14- How does religion stand against you?
Religion, well as it stands, it is a brutal enemy of LGBTQI+ rights. It clings so much with gender-binary. TS might not sense the problem in this. But most of the trasgender family will be out-of-recognition by that. Also gays and lesbians!
Speaking strictly about transsexuals and intersex, religious authority enforce gender by the apparent sex, and if it's ambiguous then it enforces sex on the individual. This is a crime! There is no recognition of Gender and Gender-Identity in Islam or Christianity. I would be considered “ changing god's creation” and not a “ real” woman! Some have stopped seeing it this way, and corrected their vision about TS and IS. Like in Iran. Nevertheless, it's still an enforcement of the binary. This is incorrect and inhumane!
15- Did you contact LGBT organizations? Were they helpful?
Unfortunately, there are no Arab LGBTQI+ organisations that actually do something! My life here is in danger. They are only limited to education, which usually misses mentioning trans* . I have talked to a lot of LGB people who don't even know what transgender/transsexual means!
16- How can AAI's readers now help you? What are you aiming at and expecting?
As I said earlier, my life is in danger, and I am sure there are many people like me who have been threatened because of their gender identity and sexual orientation.
I wish to leave this place to a safer one, where I can have a safe transition! And live my life as my true self! From inside and out!
17- Please give your contact info for the readers so that they can reach you closely.
Thank you for the interview, Mr Aziz.