'I pretend I'm dumb so they can't hear my voice': Transgender Emirati on posing as a woman for work

Salem says he pretends to be mute to keep gender reassignment surgery a secret

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Salem spent years tightly winding bandages around his chest to hide his breasts before the operation.

“I hated them. I hated my body then and everything about it,” he says. “I tried to hide it as much as possible and spent so much time in the gym trying to grow muscles and look more masculine.”

The family realised from a young age that their daughter was not like the other girls.

“My mother used to tear up all my male clothes and force me to wear a dress,” Salem says.

His entire life he waited for surgery to finally be the person he knew he was.

“I was just waiting to have some income to pay for it, so as soon as I had enough money I had it done.”

He had his first surgery in Thailand in 2014 and then in Serbia last year. His employers and family still do not know.

“I want to have my documents changed so I can face them. If my country doesn’t recognise me then how will my family?” he says.

He has debts of Dh500,000 because of the operations and court fees.

“When they tell me to leave the country, where do they expect me to go,” he says. “I am not a felon and I have to repay my debt.”

The recent court verdict that rejected Salem and Ali’s request to have their documents changed came as a shock to him. He got the news while in surgery.

“I never expected it,” he says.

“I had a feeling that I would lose it at the first instance court but never expected I would lose the appeal too,” he says of the most recent judgment, in March.


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The two Emiratis have now filed their case at the Court of Cassation, whose decisions are final and not subject to appeal.

But like Ali, Salem has no regrets over having the surgery.

“I felt so much better. I felt like I was me. I couldn’t breathe before because of the bandages,” he says.

“I was always taking contraceptive pills because I couldn’t stand getting a period” he says.

Salem spent his school years hiding in the toilets.

Salem, who is forced to dress as a woman, is still ridiculed by his colleagues because of his masculine voice.

“It is like I’m back at school again. I hide and keep to myself,” he says.

“I have to keep hidden until I get my documents changed. I don’t have another option.”

To avoid being stopped or questioned at hospitals and in public areas, Salem pretends to be mute.

“I can’t speak. If I talk, I sound like a man and they will start questioning me so I pretend that I can’t speak and use sign language.”