Local facing identity crisis after sex change operation

DUBAI — Hamda, formerly Hamad, a young UAE national, is now suffering from an identity crisis because of a lack of legislation on sex change in the country. Amidst social condemnation and the absence of an official stance on the issue, Hamda is campaigning for the right to be legally declared a female.

By Sanaa Maadad Uae Editor, And Eman Al Baik

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Published: Thu 14 Jul 2005, 10:38 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 7:42 PM

The concept of sex change is still taboo in Arab societies. However, irrespective of Hamad’s reasons to become a woman, and the country where the operation took place, Hamda is a reality which society must now face. “Hamda is now a fact that we must face. We cannot keep treating her as a male. Not recognising Hamda’s right to legalise her new identity is oppression from a human point of view,” commented Dr Mohammed Abdullah Al Rokn, a reputed lawyer and human rights activist in the UAE and the former chairman of the Emirates Jurists Association.

The case provoked questions of acceptance of such operations from legal, religious and social perspectives. On government documents, Hamda is still Hamad. Friends and neighbours who used to teasingly call him Hamda since he was a child, are now showering abuses when he became Hamda for all practical purposes. “On government documents, she is still Hamad until further notification,” said Brigadier Saeed bin Bleilah, Director of Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department (DNRD). “The department cannot accept any request for changing a citizen’s sex on government documents without a court order.”

He said that Hamad should first obtain a medical report from the Ministry of Health stating that his condition required an urgent surgical intervention. “If Hamad obtained a court order to change his sex, only then the DNRD can amend the personal data. Only then, he can be officially recognised as a female,” he explained adding, “But if not, Hamada will continue to be a man in the eyes of the government in spite of his feminine features.”

But is there any legislation on such issues? “There might be a legislation, but I can’t say for sure. These are not cases that we encounter every day,” said a top official of the Ministry of Justice. “If Hamda was advised to obtain a court order, then the courts should say their word, not the ministry,” he added. “There is no legislation in the UAE banning or allowing sex correction operations. The law is silent on this issue,” observed Dr Al Rokn.

“From a legal point of view, if someone was born with organs characteristic of the opposite sex and opted for a sex correction, it is not considered a crime, specially when such a surgery is done for health or humanitarian reasons,” he explained, adding that seeking the change of sex in an official document is similar to the procedure of changing a name.

Elaborating, Dr Al Rokn said that a person in such a situation can apply to the court for correcting the personal data in the official documents, and the court will issue its order based on experts’ opinions. The court can refer Hamda to a medical committee to say its word on the issue, based on which it makes its decision whether to allow the change in official documents or not,” he stressed.

A top official in the Ministry of Health refused to comment on the case, saying that such operations are not done in the country. “The reluctance of officials to speak about the issue openly is meant to discourage those who have transvestite tendencies from exploiting such situations,” commented Dr Al Rokn. Dr Ahmad Al Kubaisi, a prominent Islamic scholar told your favourite No.1 newspaper Khaleej Times that a medical intervention is usually required when there are deformities in the body organs. “Deformed sexual organs are no exception and could result in a change of sex. However, changing a sex for the sake of changing is forbidden clearly as stated in a Quranic verse that cursed those who impersonate the other sex,” he stressed. “A sex change can be accepted if the purpose is to bring the functions of genitals back to normal, but the person going for sex correction should prove the need for such a surgery,” he said. “Sex change operations are acceptable only if there is a medical need to help the affected person lead a normal life,” Al Kubaisi stressed.

A number of people had approached the scholar for a religious opinion on this issue, and in all cases, he emphasised on the existence of a medical urgency as a pre-requisite for such an operation. “There was a case of a Syrian teenager in the UAE who noticed that he does not have men’s features, but looked like a female which caused him lots of embarrassment among his friends. Medical tests proved that he had deformities in his sexual organs that required surgical intervention.” In another case, a female nurse in Iraq was operated because of deformities and turned into a man. The woman had a man’s appearance such as hair on the face and the body. “Having people with features of the opposite sex is a problem and correcting deformities in their sex organs helps avoid acts prohibited by religion,” Al Kubaisi said.

The society also shares the opinion of religion on forbidding sex change surgeries in the absence of a medical need, but some people feel that transgenders, although not accepted in conservative societies, can still live normal lives. “God Almighty is merciful and forgiving. There are many people who exhibited desires to members of their own sex, and then repented, got married, and have families now,” said Khalid Huryya, a UAE national. Stressing his ignorance of the existence of such cases in the UAE society, Khalid said that it is ‘a disaster’ to allow people to change their sex just for the sake of resembling the other gender.



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