Transgenders in Lebanon: An Overview

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Editor’s Note: At IDAHO 2010, Helem printed & distributed leaflets with some important information about transgender issues in Lebanon. I am re-publishing that information verbatim here to make it available for more people:

Ignorance breeds misunderstandings and fear. Thus, people who fall under the “Transgender” category of the “LGBT” are not only marginalised and stigmatised in the general society, but within the LGB community as well. No Lebanese human rights or LGBT rights organisations have done any research on the Trans population in the country, so no substantial information is present, regardless of the prominence of Trans individuals. At Helem, we recently launched a Trans Focus Group (see below) which meets regularly, but it has not moved beyond this group so far. No substantial studies have thus resulted from this group yet either.

This leaflet aims to shed light on the general situation of Trans individuals:

Important Terms:

Sex: Assigned at birth, either male or female (“the binary system”), based on bodily characteristics, like chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs.

Gender (gender identity): The sex that one identifies with internally. Transgender individuals usually are of a different bodily sex.

Sexual orientation: An individual’s attraction (physical, emotional, romantic, spiritual) to another. Gender identity and sexual orientation are separate; a male-to-female (MTF) or female-to-male (FTM) person could be gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Transgender: Umbrella term for individuals whose gender identity differs from that assigned to them at birth. It spans transsexuals, cross-dressers, bigenders, and other gender variant people. Transgender people may or may not choose to surgically and/or hormonally alter their bodies.

Transsexual: This is not an umbrella term, and usually refers to individuals who plan to transition, or are in the process of transitioning, through surgery or hormone therapy.

Cross-dressing: Cross dressers are also referred to as transvestites (term considered derogatory). A cross dresser is an individual who enjoys dressing with clothing stereotypically limited to members of the opposite sex. Cross dressing is not necessarily tied to erotic activity, and it says nothing about sexual orientation. Transsexuals are NOT considered cross dressers.

Transition: The procedure(s) taken to alter one’s birth sex, including cultural, legal, and medical adjustments.

Sex reassignment surgery (SRS): Also knows as “sex change operation.” The surgical alteration aspect of transition which not all trans people choose to or can afford to undergo.

Hormone therapy: MTF individuals take a specific female hormone to acquire female characteristics, and FTM individuals take a specific male hormone to develop male characteristics. This should be done ONLY under the supervision of a knowledgeable endocrinologist, and has many side effects. It should not be done unless an individual is certain of their decision and has proper medical attention.

Intersex: A person whose biological sex is ambiguous, due to a genetic, hormonal, or anatomical variation, for example Klinefelter’s Syndrome (XXY), or Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. Infants born with such a condition are usually assigned a specific sex after a surgery having been performed on them. Intersex individuals have begun speaking out against the practice, dubbing it genital mutilation.

Legal Status:

In Lebanon, the only law that may criminalise a trans individual is found in the Lebanese Penal Code, under “Impersonation,” and prosecutes “any man dressing up as a woman to acquire access to women-only places.” This of course only targets the MTF population, and, as always, turns its usual blind eye to the “second sex.” Police officers usually consider MTF individuals homosexual men, and prosecute them under Article 534 of the Penal Code. They are more often than not subject to violence and harassment.

When it comes to legally changing sex on the identification card and the civil registry, trans individuals face many problems and obstacles, and the procedure is expensive and takes painfully long.

Medical Status:

A trans individual faces a variety of problems on this front in Lebanon. In order to begin hormone therapy or undergo any of the surgeries, a recommendation from a psychiatrist is necessary. Some visits to psychiatrists by a few trans individuals in Lebanon have proven that there is an overabundance of:

a)      Opportunism:

i) A recommendation is given very easily for a certain price, without explanation of the situation and the consequential problems the person might face.

ii) The individual is referred to a psychotherapist for an exaggerated period of time prior to being given the recommendation, regardless of how knowledgeable and certain said individual is.

b)      Demoralising: A psychiatrist would only speak of the bad aspects, and make the individual feel like the path they wish to take is virtually impossible.

c)       Immense lack of knowledge: The psychiatrist would speak to the individual with their “legal sex” regardless of said individual’s preference, and would ask absurd questions about sexual orientation that should usually play no role in what path the individual is trying to take.

Of course, there is no clear-cut path or a set of procedures that are advised to these individuals by the psychiatrist, and due to the lack of knowledge and practice on the matter, trans individuals find no guidance from doctors or clinics, etc…

Social Status:

Due to the lack of acceptance of trans individuals – the non-conformity of the appearance or the fact that a person who is viewed as “going against nature” is stigmatised – exclusion from the job market is the norm. This often leads most MTF to seek jobs in the sex work market, at times by choice, but at others due to necessity and lack of acceptance elsewhere. Families of trans individuals also give them a very hard time, from locking them up, to forcing them into marriages or other, to domestic violence, to disowning them, to reporting them to the authorities, to “honour crimes,” and the list continues. The LGBT community also plays its role in transphobia, ranging from a complete lack of acceptance to accepting them on their own terms, meaning MTF individuals are viewed as feminine gay men, and FTM individuals are viewed as butch lesbians. If an MTF is a lesbian, or an FTM a gay man, they may be looked upon as plain “weird” and something incomprehensible. Heterosexual “friends” also view them as a threat of some kind for a myriad of reasons, and thus they are excluded from that circle as well. “Gay friendly” locations have also often asked transpersons to leave the premises because their presence may “disturb the other frequenters of the place,” or may “cause the owner problems with the authorities.”

Overall, acceptance is a rarity on all those fronts. Trans individuals face daily challenges and abuse for daring to be who they are. Little to no data collection has been done on their cases, and no helpful resources or information (all types, from medical, to trans-friendly locations, to accepting job locations, etc…) is at their disposal.

We are working on launching a project and getting together a group of experts for medical guidance (psychiatrist, endocrinologist, and plastic surgeon) and researchers for data collection. If you feel you may have something to contribute, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

If you are a transperson, or are just questioning your identity, please don’t hesitate to contact us as well, whether to join our focus group, or if you need someone to talk to on a more private level as well.

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8 Responses to “Transgenders in Lebanon: An Overview”

  1. Ross King

    Feb 01. 2011

    Just a short note of encouragement from London.

    Clearly time to get on with providing support in Lebanon.

    Peace and blessings,

    Alim/ Ross

    Reply to this comment
  2. ahmed aitamrane

    Dec 18. 2010

    slt j’aime rencontre un trans pour la vie svp aide moi laissez moi du message

    Reply to this comment
  3. Madeline

    Oct 02. 2010

    Are there are citations for the information on this handout?

    Reply to this comment
  4. The IPOWA Staff

    Jul 15. 2010

    Many imams (Arabic: إمام plural ائمة A’immah‎, Persian: امام), Islamic scholars, and clerics have heeded the advice and opinions of medical professionals in their countries, and have come to a consensus that transsexuality is a medical and treatable condition.

    They have come to understand the effectiveness and medical necessity of mental health care, hormone therapy, and sex reassignment surgery in the treatment of patients diagnosed with GID, indeed Iran, shares the title with Thailand as the “sex change capitals” of the world.

    They have also looked to the Qur`an which mentions the “mukhannath”, (Arabicمخنثون “] the Arabic word for transsexual on numerous occasions:

    The mukhannath is the one who looks so much like a woman physically that he resembles women in his softness, speech, appearance, accent and thinking. If he is like this, he would have no desire for women and he would not notice anything about them. This is one of those who have no interest in women who were permitted to enter upon women.” (Al-Mughni, 7/463; al Sharh al Kabeer `ala Matan al Muqni ´, 7/347 – 348)

    And Ibn Qudaamah mentioned : ” or a mukhannath who feels no desire (towards women) , the ruling that applies to such a “man” is the same as the ruling that applies to close relatives (mahram) regarding looking at women, because Allah says (the scholar cites Surah 24:31).”

    And also Ibn `Abbaas said, regarding the phrase from Surah 24:31,: “This is the one of whom women do not feel shy. This is the mukhannath who is without male potence.”

    Sometimes there was a case of a “fake mukhannath” or a “mukhannath” who could still have a “drive for women”, as it is mentioned by Ibn `Abd al-Barr (refering to a well known report by A`isha, the Prophet`s wife): “Do you not see that the Prophet (s.a.s.) did not prevent that mukhannath from entering upon his wives [whose realm was even more sacred than that of ordinary women:75be9bacc3] at first, but when he heard him describing the daughter of Ghaylaan and realized that he knew about women, he commanded that he should be kept away.”

    However, in the regular case of a male to female transgender not openly declaring any leanings towards women, the mukhannathun were allowed by Allah and his noble Prophet to enter freely the “harem”.

    That way they fulfilled an important social function; they served as servants or employees in the houses of noble Muslims and were an important link between the sacred realm of women and the profane realm of men. Indeed, they were the guardians of the “harem”. The reports from earlier times show us that they were the only ones who could move freely in every area. They could enter the “harem” as well as the “men only” parts of the mosque. Muhammad (s.a.s.) had given them a very special position in society, elevating them to a special freedom.

    Unfortunately, male mistrust arose after the death of noble Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.). The fear from “fake mukhannathun” who could “hurt the virtue of women” was so strong that a mukhannath had to be castrated to be a loyal household servant.

    In the 8th century A.C. the Khalifah Sulayman ordered the castration of all the mukhannathun of Makkah (Mecca), although Muhammad (s.a.s.) did severely speak against “creating eunuchs”.

    However, some of the mukhannathun obviously accepted castration as some kind of a “sex change operation”, taking from them the male parts that they never wanted (that is how today`s Indian and Pakistani hijras understand “becoming an eunuch”, too)

    In summation as we are aware there are number of different sects or denominations in Islam (Sunni, Shiite,Sufi, Wahhabi and others), much as there is in Christianity or Judaism. And much as there are differing degreess of understanding and tolerance amongst Chistians and Jews, the same is true in Islam. And though homosexuality is universally condemned within Islam, there is more and more, an understanding that transsexuality is a medical and treatable condition, thus the fatwas.

    Reply to this comment
  5. nice post. thanks.

    Reply to this comment
  6. GouineMum

    May 25. 2010

    Before being “the sex that one identifies with internally”, gender is a cultural and social construction. It’s political, not pirvate.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Aphrodite

    May 24. 2010

    Very important article, i really wish everyone reads it,like,every single one of us.
    Thanks to Helem

    Reply to this comment
  8. Gitanes Blondes

    May 23. 2010

    I would have liked to see the Arabic terms along side the English ones. I know they were published somewhere.

    Reply to this comment

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