The first step Zaahir Hamid, a devout Muslim, took in accepting that he was actually a man born in a woman’s body was to pray – without a headscarf.
Hamid, 36, a civil engineer in Cape Town, always knew he was different. At primary school he introduced himself to another little girl as “Zaahir” and asked if he could be her boyfriend.
“As a little girl of six I had already given myself a boy’s name. I came from a very religious family. My grandad was an imam. I was at a private Islamic school.
“I kept asking myself why I was born this way. It seemed to be a cruel joke. But that was wrong.
“God knows what he is doing. The moment I accepted myself I became closer to God.”
Rejected by their faith
Hamid is one of four young South African Muslims who feature in Locked In, a documentary about the inner turmoil transgender people face – a situation exacerbated by rejection and condemnation from family, friends and spiritual leaders.
The film will have its first public screening at the Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which runs from September 28.
The documentary is a project of The Inner Circle, a support group for LGBTQ Muslims who feel rejected by their faith.
The organisation runs a number of programmes offering psycho-spiritual support to help “queer Muslims reconcile their Islamic identity with their sexual orientation and gender identity”.
It was during one of these programmes that Hamid began to accept his identity as a transgender person.
“I spent my 20s doing lots of research to try to understand myself. In 2011 I came across The Inner Circle on the internet. Today they are like my second family,” he said.
He had previously identified as a lesbian but it was never a comfortable fit. The first person he told was his girlfriend at the time; they have remained close friends.
“I then told my mother. Earlier I had told her that I was gay. Then I had to tell her: ‘I’m not gay, I’m male.’ She loves me but she is scared to embrace me 100%. She still calls me by my old name.”
He said while the family would prefer that he covered his head at family functions – in the tradition of female Muslims – he does not do so.
Hamid began gender reassignment surgery in 2012.
Imam Muhsin Hendricks, who established The Inner Circle 20 years ago, said the ultimate purpose of the documentary was to create awareness and shift mindsets.
“There are other documentaries on the struggle of transgender people, but as far as I know this is the first from a theological perspective,” he said.
The soul, Hendricks said, does not have a gender.
‘A real gym monkey’The documentary has been accepted for screening by 20 film festivals around the world.
Hendricks said there was little place for transgender Muslims in society.
TELLING HIS MOTHER
Before he transitioned, says Zaahir Hamid, he told his mother he was gay. “Then I had to tell her: ‘I’m not gay, I’m male.’ She loves me but she is scared to embrace me 100%. She still calls me by my old name”
“They can’t talk to their parents; religious leaders say you need to pray and fast and seek help; if you don’t change you are rejected. When these people find us they are often very troubled,” he said.
It took Hamid R330,000, five surgeries, and ongoing hormone treatment to become the man he knew he was.
In the documentary, he gave his interview in a gym.
“I’ve become a real gym monkey,” he said. “I’m obsessive about the way I look. Before the transition I hated my body. Now I need to make it the best it can be.”
Dr Kevin Adams, a Cape Town-based plastic and reconstructive surgeon, is part of Groote Schuur Hospital’s public sector transgender clinic.
Adams said a holistic approach – the clinic includes endocrinologists, plastic surgeons, psychiatrists, social workers and gender activists – makes for better results.
“It is a very complex issue. We formed the clinic because we realised that treating patients on an ad hoc basis was not effective. As a clinic we meet and discuss each individual patient.
“Like for anyone else, surgery is not an end point. It is a step on the journey, and the journey is different for everyone,” Adams said.
Source: Sunday Times