A new shocking improvement in the United Arab Emirates, a conservative Middle Eastern country came to light this month. This was something I never expected to witness so soon, especially given personal experience as a trans woman in this country, so let me start with my story.
In 2006, while preparing myself to travel to the USA to get my master’s degree I got a job offer from a company in the UAE (United Arab Emirates). I was tempted by the money I was offered, so I canceled my academic plans and decided to accept the offer.
Back then, I was still struggling with accepting the fact that I am Transgender. I was thinking that it is just a phase and with time I’d be able to live as a cis male. So I got married as a part of the solution and spent the next 7 years in the UAE pretending that life was good and convincing myself that I was moving on. I was pretending that all the feelings I had and the problems I was facing with my wife were minor issues that would stop someday.
I was totally wrong.
I was losing my mind, losing control of my life, couldn’t perform at my job. My dysphoria was increasing and it was driving me crazy, until one day I got crazy enough to decide to start hormones. I searched like a maniac for my wife’s birth control pills, eventually finding an expired pack and I used it. Although I knew that it was futile the month I was taking them I was relaxed, satisfied and happy for the first time in years. I encountered psychological, mental and emotional changes that helped me calm down and think, and I figured out that I had no choice but to accept myself, love myself and start my transition.
The first step was to find a psychiatrist, and as I expected, I couldn’t find one who had any experience in transgender treatment. But fortunately, I found an understanding psychologist who was willing to help me while she learned from me what it meant to be a transgender woman. Things were going very well. My self-esteem was improving, and I became an optimistic joyful woman despite the problems I was having with my family. After 2 years, she referred me to a psychiatrist who had some transgender cases before, we had a couple of sessions, and finally, I got my report.
When I got my report, I started searching for an endocrinologist so I could begin HRT. I was on and off hormones, self-medicating the best I could during the 2 years of therapy but I wanted to have a proper and safe transition. So I visited a doctor and I told him that I want to do some tests without telling him the reason, he accepted and the results were normal. However, I was afraid to tell the truth. So I started hormones on my own and after 3 months I got the courage to tell him.
He understood my situation but refused to follow up my case. He told me it is illegal in UAE to deal with transgender cases and help them and if he did he said he have faced deportation for treating me. I asked him if he could refer me to another doctor, and he did, but with one condition: “don’t mention my name to him.”. He explained that the other doctor was specialized with such treatment and had acquired the necessary experience while working years ago in London.
I went to the new doctor, he was surprised to meet a transgender person in UAE but was kind and supportive. But once again I was refused medically supervised transition for to the same reasons the first doctor had given me.
This doctor advised me to leave UAE and the whole Middle East!
I was disappointed. I started to feel helpless, and my life started to get worse again; depression, anxiety, apathy and many other negative emotions hit me. It affected my life so badly that I was terminated by my employer, and it was not a smooth termination, I was forced to reach the court and file a lawsuit against my company because they refused to pay my end of contract dues. On April 2016, I had to leave UAE and head to my home country, Jordan.
This was my story, or at least one side of it, but this side is the how my trials and tribulations are related to this shocking news. On September 6th, 2016, the Gulf News, which is an official newspaper in the UAE posted an article about a new set of medical related laws issued by the president of UAE, his Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed. Among the laws was one regarding transgender treatment and surgeries. The text was as follows:
“The law also allows gender reassignment surgery or the surgical procedure (or procedures) by which a transgender person’s physical appearance and function of their existing sexual characteristics are altered to resemble that of their identified gender if it is a part of a treatment for gender dysphoria in transgender people, as advised by a medical commission to be set up for this purpose.”
At first, I couldn’t believe that this is true; my mind was automatically thinking that this is a lie, and an attempt to catch the public attention and sell more copies, this is how my brain was programmed after living my whole life in Arab countries. I spent the next couple of weeks searching for any Arabic resource for the same news, I needed a confirmation.
Unfortunately, I could not find any official source, but after a week the news started to spread in Arabic, but it was not the same, it was assuring that the case should be intersex, not transgender. Then, a conflict started to form in the Emirati newspapers and websites, where some were confirming that the new law is meant to be for gender identity disorder cases and others still viewing it as for Intersex cases only.
The law as mentioned in the Gulf news and other English and Arabic sources, where the text was not manipulated by the author, this version is clearly talking about transgender cases without any doubt, and this was confirmed a few days later when another report spread about the first Emirati transman (referred to as a woman) to file a lawsuit with Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance to obtain an order allowing him to undergo a sex change operation. His lawyer files the lawsuit based on the new rule, and all the reports confirmed that it is a transgender case, although some of them were against it. The court set September 28th to look into the case. I am very anxious to know and write to you about the final decision, which – if hopefully approved – will be the first approved case in UAE, and will finally lead to a new and brighter future for trans people in the whole Middle East. Until then, I’ll keep praying.