She has always made her best to appear manly. Using a binder to hide her breasts and a packer that gives the shape of a male sex organ under her pants, Foz, a 26 year-old Kuwaiti transgender, simply wanted to pass for a man in public.
But now, Foz has something even more conclusive to show off her manhood: facial hair! Three months ago, she decided to start a hormonal treatment taking a step further in her pressing urge of becoming a man on the outside.
“I simply don’t want to be buried one day as a woman. I have suffered enough from a terrible rejection of my physical appearance,” said Foz, who prefers to be addressed with male pronouns now even if he knows it’s not always easy for people to adapt to the change.
Asserting one’s right as a transgender to undergo sex-reassignment surgery is becoming easier and easier in many countries around the world.
Not in Kuwait!
Foz’s unusually courageous feat in this highly conservative country can send him to jail and is akin to public suicide.
In Kuwait, merely “imitating the appearance” of the opposite sex can send you to prison for up to a year and lead to a hefty fine. He says people abuse him verbally and sometimes even physically when they realize he is a woman.
This did not stop Foz, who was arrested several times for her manly looks, from seeking this morphological change. For long, he had a very troubled relation with his family who resorted to physical violence to “correct” his behavior. After years of suffering, Foz has severed his ties with most of his family and lives now independently.
Today, Foz is an online militant for transgender rights in Kuwait and the Persian Gulf along with the many other civil rights fights he routinely wages against conservative forces here.
For one, he has been proudly showing off photos of his facial hair on Facebook. And he also created a closed support group on the social network for transgender men and women in the Gulf region.
“I became a living model for many transgender here. I give them advice and tell them about my hormonal treatment,” he said.
Foz had to go to Thailand to undergo medical exams and start the hormonal treatment. Back in Kuwait, he tries to procure the treatment illegally because authorities here forbid sex change operations.
“Physicians are not allowed here to help transgender people. Not even psychologists can give a green light for sex change operations,” he said.
In Kuwait, mental health specialists can only prescribe therapy sessions when dealing with cases of troubled sexual identity. Also, endocrinologists are forbidden from prescribing hormonal treatments to transgender individuals.
The result of such policy is that many transgender individuals reject themselves. “Many think they are sick or bad Muslims. They become victims of self-pity. Some desperately spend a lot of money at so-called mental health clinics to change how they feel,” he said.
“Some desperate trans-men resort to male hormones usually taken by body builders without any medical follow-up, which could be very dangerous,” he said.
Raising awareness about transgender rights in a country like Kuwait is not an easy task. Through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, Foz routinely spreads messages of tolerance for LGBTQ rights in general and transgender rights in particular.
Recently, a campaign against transgender individuals was widely circulated on Instagram and Twitter.It was a response to calls by Amnesty International to change laws that penalize LGBTQ people.
The campaign said that supporting transgender individuals was “immoral”. Even though the post got 12,500 likes on Instagram, it sparked an online discussion allowing for supporters of transgender rights to voice their opinions and call on the Kuwaiti government to allow those who wish it to change their sex.
Foz, as a reaction, created a counter-campaign calling for the respect of the rights of transgender under a hashtag that calls for striking down the law against cross-dressing.
In 2008, the National Assembly approved an addition to Article 198 of the Criminal Code, which punished “unnatural acts”. The amendment states that “any person committing an indecent act in a public place, or imitating the appearance of a member of the opposite sex, shall be subject to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding one thousand dinars [US$3,500].”
Once his one-year hormonal treatment is over, Foz plans to look for asylum in a European country where he can undergo the expensive and lengthy sex-reassignment operation.
“At the end, I just want to live with decency. If my nation doesn’t allow me to be as I want to be, then I am going to leave it,” he said.