“They just mess with you, it’s just to be cruel. Sometimes if I renew my ID they’ll just keep it to delay me, I’ve sat for three or four hours before. Some of it is from not understanding, but it’s not right.”
Dany Sweidan is telling me about one of his experiences trying to deal with his identity and its documents in Amman, Jordan, where he lives. Dany was born Diana, 38 years ago.
“I’ve felt since I was 14 years old that my mind doesn’t accept that my body was female. I refused to wear anything that looked feminine, and even my gestures and behavior I tried to avoid anything feminine because my mind was convinced I am male.”
For full disclosure, Dany is my cousin, and his quotes are translated from conversations we originally had in arabic, about his experiences living in a fairly conservative society in the Middle East as he explores his transgender identity.
Of course, Dany isn’t alone as a transgender man in Jordan, but options and support for the LGBT community are already scarce, and living openly through your transition is almost statistically nonexistent.
While a legal precedent to allow for gender changes on identification has been set, the drawn out case of Chantal also relied on the proof of physical misgendering at birth. As this wouldn’t be the case for every person transitioning, the government’s commitment to that type of medical record would not provide protection or precedent for everyone.
In fact, even Article 6 of the Jordanian Constitution only guarantees “equality before the law, and no discrimination … on grounds of race, language or religion,” making no mention of sexual orientation or gender identity. Article 7 does guarantee every Jordanian personal freedom, however, and the decriminalization of sodomy in the 1951 Penal Code generally referenced the decriminalization of sexual acts that were consensual and private.
Jordan was actually almost twenty years ahead of the UK in decriminalizing same sex relationships, and it is still easily one of the more progressive and LGBT accepting Middle Eastern countries. However, these policies only highlight the glaring gap between law and social rule that affect many aspects of life in Jordan.
On paper, Jordan has one of the most progressive LGBT policies in its region, but in practice, there is still heavy social stigma placed on all in the LGBT community, and its advocates. Surprisingly, with such scarce policy or precedent, and with only about 6 cases for gender correction in documents reaching the courts annually, it is actually allowed to change your legal gender in the country without surgery. The options do still exclude nonbinary options though, and there are no formal protections of any kind for LGBT people in the country. There are a few established “gay friendly” spots in Amman, but even these are reported on as “tolerated.”
Queen Rania’s compassionate approach to her community and the world, and glaring lack of a public stance on LGBT rights in Jordan only highlight what duplicitous support the community has in the region: even though there is bare bones legal structure for transgender rights, there is no push to establish an open community of support for LGBT people, and there are no employment or harassment protections.
Dany himself faces many of these obstacles every day. “I also struggle with the hurtful things people like the police and those in government say to me. It means nothing to them that I have medical records and doctor’s notes from well respected hospitals that permit these operations; they are focused on my gender and name on my identification card not matching what I present. It’s hard for me to find a job, also because my identification card doesn’t match my appearance.”
Jordan, in comparison to its region, does make an effort to hear its citizens. However, most of what I saw in researching this was the disparity between what the law was protecting and what the government was actually upholding in practice, socially. It highlighted the importance of outreach, because while policies were in place to help a person like Dany, someone with resources and support to find it, those policies do nothing for people without that.
I’ve included below a translated transcription of the initial interview I had with Dany. I’m sharing it to share his whole story, as he wants it told. Dany feels stuck and needs more support in his community, but his need should also highlight how many others like him exist that we can’t see.
“My name is Dany, I am currently 38 years old. I’ve felt since I was 14 years old that my mind doesn’t accept that my body was female. I refused to wear anything that looked feminine, and even my gestures and behavior I tried to avoid anything feminine because my mind was convinced I am male.
It would make me so happy when people would talk to me and treat me as a male, I felt like I was in my natural state. When I was 20 years old, my father took me to a psychiatrist. I sat with him about 40 minutes and I was at really at ease with my doctor, because I had finally found someone who understood me and understood what I wanted to be. In turn the doctor also helped my parents understand. This also helped them adjust and they started to try to address me and treat me as a man.
I of course hated my body, I hate that my body didn’t match my mind or how I felt. It was upsetting to be with my male friends, if we went swimming how they could freely swim and not wear shirts and I was in this body that didn’t match that and didn’t let me do what they could do. It was upsetting and I would cry and know that I needed to be like they could be.
My attractions were also to girls, and the first time I felt my heart race, it was when I met my neighbor’s daughter. I went back to my psychiatrist and told him I was attracted to my neighbor’s daughter and he reassured me again. I felt understood by my psychiatrist and he made it easier for me to feel that my situation was normal.
While I felt more comfortable with the idea that I was actually male, I also refused to finish school, even though I did well in it. I presented as male and it was uncomfortable for me in school, the looks from other students and my teachers. This was still a long time ago, and it wasn’t a concept that was easy for the people around me to accept. This made the environment hard to be in, and I refused to complete my education like that.
I’ve done that a lot, I’ve deprived myself of many experiences in my life because of society here, because of custom and tradition that has no place for me, that rejected me in terrible ways.
A few years later I had some big personal challenges. After going through that I decided to take a big step for myself and have the first operation of my transition, and have my breasts removed. I told my parents, who were on my side and understood as much as they could, and accepted it. I told them that I had made an appointment with a surgeon in Beirut and that my surgery was the next week. I flew out to Beirut the following week with my older sister. The doctor was reassuring and told me to think of this as me having something extra on my body and that he was going to remove it for me. I went into surgery and it was a 3 hour procedure. After I was done with the operation and starting to wake up from the anesthesia I remember that I put my hands on my chest and as soon as I was reassured that they were gone, I smiled and went back to sleep, I felt peaceful and relieved. I returned to Jordan 20 days after that, and my family and friends threw me a welcoming party. At the party I announced to everyone there that from that day I was born a new person, that I felt freedom.
After I was healed, I went to the pool I’d go to with my friends, and it was the first time I got in the water. It made me so happy that I cried. It was the first time I felt a joy that big.
Five months later I decided to have another operation, a hysterectomy. I had been taking hormones for years and it was on and off, but it was still enough that my cycle had been disrupted, and I hadn’t had a period in a long time. I had already adjusted to that change in my cycle, so I was at ease going into the surgery.
I went to the hospital here in Jordan, and my operation was 2.5 hours long. When I woke up from surgery my mom was there holding my hand, and my friends were there as well. I had support there with me and I felt very peaceful, I felt like a new person. I was so happy that I got out of bed and tried to tell the doctor that I wanted to go home, and even my doctor was surprised by my strength and ability to walk so soon. He said to me, “MashaAllah you are a hero.”
Now physically I’m much more comfortable with myself, but emotionally I struggle. I live in a traditional arabic society that rejects transgender people. I struggle a lot with the law and my legal documents because of my gender; my documents all say 180 degree opposite of what I look like. I also struggle with the hurtful things people like the police and those in government say to me.
It means nothing to them that I have medical records and doctor’s notes from well respected hospitals that permit these operations; they are focused on my gender and name on my identification card not matching what I present.
It’s hard for me to find a job, also because my identification card doesn’t match my appearance.
Regardless, I’m blessed enough to have family and close friends who support me, and I feel stronger every day and able to fight for myself from their support. I am a display of injustice and oppression. It’s a small display, but come speak to me and you’ll see that I’m a person just like you are, and that what God has made my life is mine, and his to judge alone.
I just want to live out my life like anyone else, to find my other half and be a good man for her, to stand with her always in her life, because she chose me and accepted me; I want to find the person who encourages me and supports me, who stays with me through the sweet and the bitter. “
“I talked to a lawyer and he says there is a solution for my ID, it’s just it costs 2000 JD (~$2819). It’s 500 for the court proceedings and 1500 for the lawyer. My financial situation, especially when I can’t find work, it doesn’t make this easy.”
“I can sum up that my treatment with officials is just hurtful. They don’t understand and they go out of their way to be cruel.”