Three female-to-male transgender Emiratis had their case to amend their legal documents rejected by the UAE’s highest court.
“Salem”, “Ali” and “Mohammed” underwent gender affirmation surgery about three years ago in the United States and have the physical appearance of men.
But their passports, medical insurance and ID documents still identify them as women.
They filed to have the documents changed in 2016 but had their approach rejected by a judge in March last year.
On December 31, the Federal Supreme Court also refused their request.
"We are in shock," Mohammed, 28, told The National. "We were certain we would win. We submitted medical reports from doctors in the government and private sector, and we had reports from a medical committee.
“The reports, I thought, reflected the misery we have been living in for the majority of our lives.
The submitted documents included reports from state hospital doctors saying the three had gender dysphoria, a condition under which an person does not identify with their birth sex.
This rejection of their request leaves the three in legal limbo, because living in the UAE with women’s documents and dressing as men is illegal.
They wear abayas and shaylas to work during the day and kanduras or casual clothes at night, and do their best to hide their masculine features and voices.
“We need a solution,” said Salem, who is in his early 30s. “We cannot go on living this way.”
They say that until they are allowed to change their gender markers, they will continue to be discriminated against because of their appearance.
“I was pushed out of my last job and was told that I was not allowed to use any of the bathrooms,” Mohammed said.
And when visiting a friend at a government hospital last year, someone called police after claiming to have seen a man dressed in an abaya.
The incident occurred around the same time that a man in Abu Dhabi, who wore a burqa and abaya to conceal his identity, was arrested for raping and strangling a boy.
“My extended family were there so I wore an abaya to visit my nanny who was sick in the hospital,” Mohammed said. “They assumed I was a criminal and I walked out of the lift to find myself surrounded by police.”
The reason why their request was rejected will be revealed to them next week.
“I have many speculations,” said Mohammed.
“I think because they believe this goes against our religion and our culture. They are also worried that more will come forward.”
They also said they were subjected to aggressive comments on social media.
“They called us freaks,” Salem said. “Others said that we should burn in hell and many said that we should leave the country. I wish people would understand that this is not a choice. It is a medical condition like any other.”
Gender affirmation procedures are legal in the UAE although officials say the intention is to permit corrective surgery for those born with medical problems, rather than providing elective surgery for people who feel they are of the opposite sex.
The UAE’s 2016 Medical Liability Law states: “Sex correction operations may be made according to the following controls: the person’s gender is obscure and it is not certain whether he is male or female; or the person has sexual and physical features inconsistent with his/her physiological, biological and genetic characteristics.”
The Emirati trio say the second section extends to them and they insist the law empowered them to make their decision.
“We will continue to fight this battle and pray that, one day, the court and society will understand and see how much we suffer," Salem said.