Saturday, February 14, 2009

Yes, There Are Transpeople In The Middle East

When I say that being transgender is a worldwide issue, I'm not kidding about that.

While the peeps in Europe, the Americas and Asia get far more publicity and attention, the African continent beyond South Africa is beginning to get on the radar screen of transgender visibility and so is the Middle East.

Israel's Dana International may be the most well known of the Middle Eastern transwomen thanks to her 1999 win in the Eurovision song contest along with Turkey's Bulent Ersoy, but there are transgender people in Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, and the various Arab Persian Gulf states as well.

And increasingly, they are staging courageous fights for the right to live their lives in a region in which transpeople are sometimes persecuted and women are less valued by the dominant religious mores.

In Iran, sex reassignment surgery has been allowed ever since Maryam Khatoon Molkara endured being fired from her job, forcibly injected with male hormones, imprisonment in a psychiatric institution and a bloody beatdown by the late Ayatollah Khomeini's guards in order to prove in graphic terms to him personally that she was a woman. Khomeini then issued a fatwa that paved the way for Iranian transpeople to get surgery. Iran's transgender people still face much drama despite the fatwa, and gay people are faced with the choice of transition or die.

In Bahrain Hussein Rabi fights to be recognized as a man with the help of his attorney and in Egypt Sally Mursi has been fighting a decades long legal battle just for the right to study at Al-Azhar University's Medical School For Girls despite having her SRS 19 years ago.

And even with the most famous transgender celebrity in the world hailing from there, Israeli transgender people still fight to have their basic human rights respected and get their name and gender changes done without having to resort to genital surgery to do so.

The Turkish transgender community has long faced harassment despite once again, having an internationally known transwoman living there. But Turkish activists state that ever since Turkey applied for membership to the European Union, the country has been trying to put their best human rights face forward to the world while the application to EU membership is pending, and the police haven't been hounding them as much.

And as those of us who either attended or posted the names of last year's Remembering our Dead list already know, some of the people memorialized on the list came from Iraq.

Like everywhere else on planet Earth, while the levels of drama for transgender people vary by country to country in the Middle East, they are still depressingly familiar issues. But the desires of our transbrothers and transsisters to live an authentic life still remain the same.


genevieve said...

Transgender people have been around around since the beginning of civilization. We're everywhere and I love it.

Monica Roberts said...

Some of our enemies don't ;(

Gina said...

My problem with how some view transpeople in the Middle East (particularly Iran) is some transphobes try to use this as an example that transness is somehow more palatable than gender variance or homosexuality are. I've been hearing a lot of lesbian transphobes say Iran is an example of how butch women and gay men are 'forced' to transition by a government that only allows a traditional binary. I think this is a massive over-simplification and a projection onto the lives of these brave people to make a reactionary political point.