A woman's fight for her manhood 

Zainab Abdulhafed Rabie always knew she was different, but it was only after her wedding night that she discovered she was actually a man. She speaks exclusively

to RASHA AL QAHTANI about sacrificing her old life and friends to pursue her

battle for acceptance and a new male identity. SHE has been suspended from her job, shunned by her peers, questioned at the airport, separated from her husband and even stopped from going to the gym, but eight years after she discovered the truth about herself, Zainab could be just months away from winning her fight to be legally registered as a man.

The 33-year-old was born with a condition known as intersexuality, a term used to describe someone born with a reproductive or sexual anomaly.

However, it was only when she got married at 25 that she discovered the truth about herself - that she is actually more man than woman.

She had always known something was not right and baffled doctors who could not explain why she never got her period.

They even advised her to take the contraceptive pill to kick-start her menstrual cycle, but it only served to make her feel ill.

It was only after consummating their marriage on their wedding night that her husband realised something was not right and took her to a hospital to get her checked the next day.

"I actually found out on my wedding night and my husband took me to several hospitals where they ran checks on me and declared that I was actually a man," she said.

"I am now currently separated from my husband and I am trying to correct my situation."

Zainab knew from the age of eight that she was different from the other girls, but her family never noticed anything unusual.

However, it was not until six years after she learned the truth that she decided to seek legal advice.

"People around me always treated me like a female, but I always felt otherwise," she said.

"In school it was not so difficult because I was in a private school surrounded by girls and boys."

"I always used to hang out with the boys rather than the girls and play boy's games like football.

"But my family never realised that I was different. If they did they would have treated me from the start."

Zainab first approached lawyer Fouzia Janahi in August 2005 and legal papers calling for her to be legally recognised as a man were filed in June last year.

She has previously submitted 11 medical reports from Al Khalidi Medical Centre, Jordan, and one each from the Ibn Al Nafees Hospital and Shifa Al Jazeera Medical Centre, Bahrain, at two court hearings last year.

However, the High Civil Court also ordered for a medical report to be compiled by a Public Prosecution doctor.

That report has now come back and shows that she is suffering from a gender identity problem and has no female reproductive organs.

It says she also has a higher percentage of male chromosomes in her body than female chromosomes, as well as "obscure external genitals".

She has already had a mastectomy and will travel to Thailand in December for her final sex change operation to become a man.

Following that she is hoping the court will grant her request to be listed as a man on legal documents and change her name to Hussain.

If Zainab wins her case she will qualify for a new CPR card, driving licence and passport with her new male identity.

However, she says the stress of the court case and people's reaction to her are taking their toll.

She says she has even been suspended from her job as an operator at GPIC for the past year.

"They are asking me to resign and their reason is because the female employees would be ashamed if I joined them again as a man," said Zainab.

"I do not know what to do anymore.

"I am trying to correct my deformity and people are shunning me and not accepting that I am a man."

She said that she faces problems every time she flies because airport staff question why her passport says she is a woman, but she looks like a man.

Single sex gyms also refuse to allow her to train with men because she is technically a woman, but will not allow her to train with the women either.

"If I go to the gym dressed up as a girl they tell me I am a man and send me away," she said.

"If I join a men"s gym they look at my CPR card and tell me that I am a female, so I am not allowed to join."

Zainab says she is in a no-win situation because people refuse to accept her as a woman, but now she is doing something about it.

"I used to wear the abaya and the hijab before the court case, but when I saw people they told me I was a man - not a woman," she said.

"Now, when I want to correct the situation, they tell me that I am a woman.

"I hope after the final operation in December I can lead a normal life, that society accepts me as a man, not a woman, and that I get back to my job."

Although she has the full support of her parents she says other people have been less accepting.

As a result she is now appealing for a temporary document stating that she is a man that she can use until the court delivers its verdict.

"This is the most difficult time of my life because the pressure of society is really tiring me out," she said.

Meanwhile, her lawyer has criticised her employer for asking her to resign - saying that she works in a mixed-sex environment.

"If she was a teacher working in an all female environment then she would have to resign," said Ms Janahi.

"But the company should not ask him to resign because he is working in a mixed-sex environment either way."

She added that this was the second sex-change case to reach Bahrain's courts, but said there were many more whose families were opposed to them going through with it.

"There are many women out there with the same problem and they call me and tell me their problem, but they say their families won't accept them to be males," she said.

"I hope families would let their children undergo the correction as soon as they know about it."

She blamed opposition to people changing their gender on families trying to protect their reputation.

"These people suffer in the end because they know they are males, but are being treated as females," said Ms Janahi.

"I already have three other cases with the same problem and they are all in their 30s."

She urged parents to seek treatment for their children as soon as possible if they have a similar problem and appealed to the public to be more understanding of people like Zainab.

"They are still the same person," said Ms Janahi. "She is not carrying out cosmetic surgery - she is carrying out a difficult restructuring operation.

"This last operation in December will convert her into a male with male reproductive organs."

The GPIC said it will respond today on the issue.

rasha@gdn.com.bh


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