What confronts transgender individuals in Lebanon

Transgender, Transformative | Government red tape and few treatment options confront transgender individuals in Lebanon
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Appeared in American University of Beirut AUB’s Maingate Magazine, Spring/Summer 2015, Vol. XIII, No.3

Transgender, Transformative | Government red tape and few treatment options confront transgender individuals in Lebanon.

LGBT, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender, has been the catchall term for everyone that’s not heterosexual for some time now. Originally called the “gay community,” the initial ism LGB appeared in the United States in the 1980s, as many felt the word “gay” did not accurately capture the community’s diversity. The“T” wasn’t added until 1988 and didn’t become part of the mainstream lexicon until the 1990s. More recently, some activists and media outlets have added a “Q,” for queer or questioning, and an“I,” for intersex, which refers to people whose genetic makeup straddles both sides of the male-female divide.

Yet despite the lengthening acronym,the non-heterosexual community remains far from monolithic. Though they may unite as sexual minorities for political activism, the experiences of someone who is gay or bisexual differ vastly from those of someone who is transgender. Lebanon, for example, is considered by some to be among the more gay-friendly countries in region;gay rights activists have been agitating for the repeal of Article 543, which prohibits “sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature,” and has been used to prosecute homosexuality in the country. Meanwhile, NGOs like Proud Lebanon have marshalled the support of Lebanese celebrities to push for equality on social media. But is Lebanon equally progressive when it comes to transgender rights?

On March 4, AUB held a seminar entitled, “The Journey from Gender Dysphoria to Gender Euphoria,” which shed light on important research into the transgender experience. Senior lecturer of health promotion and community health at AUB’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Ob/Gyn specialist at AUBMC Dr. Faysal El Kak spoke atthe seminar of current and future treatment options for Lebanon’s transgender community.

In Lebanon, changing genders requires government approval. “Before you can get a sex-change, you need official papers from a psychiatrist and other doctors,” says El Kak. A transgender person can’t just go to the doctor and ask for reassignment surgery. Rather,that person needs a professional medical opinion compelling enough to persuade a judge to draft a legal opinion authorizing reassignment surgery.

One of the reasons that government has to get involved is because changing one’s sex also means changing the census. In Lebanon, you’re either a man or a woman. “The government
has a binary mind. They don’t recognize a third gender,” says El Kak. Most countries view gender this way, but several, including Nepal, India, Germany, Pakistan, and Bangladesh,among others, have begun issuing national identity cards that list “undetermined,” “non-specific,” or “hijra,” which refers to India’s transgender community.

Because getting a sex change is so involved, expensive, and permanent,many people with gender identity disorder (GIS) opt out of the procedure,settling instead for hormone treatment.“The surgery is very detailed and expensive,” says El Kak. “Some regret it.”

At present, no hospital in Lebanon,including AUBMC, offers transgender-related services. Lebanese doctors are capable of performing the treatments,but they don’t advertise that fact. Only a handful of medical centers in the world, namely in Canada and the Netherlands, openly advertise transgender-related services.

But that doesn’t mean a student suffering from GIS needs to travel abroad for treatment. Estimates of GIS’s prevalence among the general population vary widely, between one transgender person per 170 people to one per 30,000. Transgender students that need help can speak to El Kak:

“I myself would follow the case for a student and we would consult with different medical professionals and if there’s a strong case based on international guidelines, we would help that case.”

El Kak and other activists continue to advocate for recognition and better treatment of the entire LGBTQI community, but realize transgender rights may be a harder sell among certain constituencies than gay rights. “Instead of highlighting one controversial issue, like transgender, we are coming together to push the whole movement forward. If we keep things moving based on evidence, science and needs, there will be change.”

Author: Not specified in original article

Transgender, Transformative | Government red tape and few treatment options confront transgender individuals in Lebanon

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