Sally and Antoinella: Transgenders fighting for acceptance


A philosopher once said ‘Life worths nothing without a cause to fight for’.

I just heard Jesse on radio saying it while thinking of Sally and Antoinella , the two transgender women who appeared on Rotana last monday with Wafa’ Al kilnai in her last epsiode of the her popular show ‘Ded Al Tayyar’ (Against the current).

For Sally and Antoinella their cause has been fighting to prove their gender identity. Two women as they percieve themsevles fighting the curse that was born with them in a shape of a male body. For years they struggled between their perception of their gender identity being females and the society perception of them being males. They endured a very hard sex correction operations and still they have to prove their gender identity to the public.

I love Wafa’ Al Kilani and her courage as a TV show hostess in facing her guests with the toughest question. This last episode was no different, but it left me wondering about the questions of Wafa’, whether she is really ignorant about the transgenders situation, or trying to ask ignorant questions in order to give Sally and Antoinella a chance to answer the majority of the Arabic public who have no clue what being a transgender mean.

For instance Antoinella claimed that she had no sexual attraction to either males or females before having the sex change operation. Wafa’ asked her: If you had no attraction to males, then how did you know that you are a female?! Ofcourse no one suggested that gender identity is not connected to sexual orientation, and while their might be some correleation between the two, still a person can identify herself to be a woman, while having a man’s body and still be attracted to another woman!

Wafa’ also blurred the line between homosexuality and transgenders when she asked Sally whether she had any homosexual activity before the operation or not. Sally answered sharply that she did not practice homosexuality.

For the public eye, this may not be clear. While Sally had a man’s body, she never percieved herself as a man, and if she happened to had sex with her man’s body with another man, she never considered it a same-sex action because she is a woman in the inside and thus it is hetreosexual sex for her.

She even said that she was proud of her femininity when other boys used to hit on her at school. The picture in my head is for a boy being girly and trying to prove it, while other boys trying to prove their masculinity at that age taking a chance over him, I mean her. Wafa’ was surprised of the pride of Sally with her femininity and her joy of the boys harassing. Sally answered that she is a woman, and any woman loves men’s attention. (Ofcourse they squarrel between the definitions of sexual harassamenet and males attention)

I loved Sally’s self confidence in her cause. Once she had the operation and changed her official sex, the Azhar university in Cairo, where she has been studying medicine, dismissed her in her last year of studying. Sally went to court and fought for her right. She won the case, but the Azhar head manager refused to let her back in as a woman. I guess in Al Azhar there is a sex seperation where men study togather and women study togather. Sally for him is still identified to be a man, and thus can’t be allowed to study with other women! Sally vowed that he would end up in jail if he refused to apply the court order!

A priest and a sheikh were presented in the show. The priest to face the lebanese Antoinella and the sheikh to face the Egyptian Sally. While the priest did not really add anything to the discussion where Antoinella seemed to enjoy the slightly more tolerant Lebanese society with the forgiveness of the lebanese church spirit. The sheikh stood firm with his Islamic definitions that are more derived from a 1500 years old science rather than holy versus of the Quran.

The same problem is discussed before popped up where our Arabic culture is based on the outer touchable sense of things, where in our cultural heritage, there are two types of transgenders. A true and a fake one. The true one is where we can find hidden sexual organs of the opposite sex in the same body and in which Islam agree to have the sex correction procedure (this has nothing to do with being a transgender), and the fake one which is in Sally’s case where sexual organs have a clear indication of the sex of the person and thus her case is dismissed.

According to Sally, the brain the most dominant sexual organ, and there is no science to change the brain, we can change the body to fit with it. For the sheikh, he wants a clear evidence. 1500 years ago, the brain functionality science hasn’t been as advanced as today, and while the physical outer attribute of things helped us drew strong definitions, current science came and redefined the nature of things while highlighted the importance of brain and its dominant role in our behaviour.

whether Sally and Antoinella would ever gain society acceptance is yet to be seen. In Iran sex change operation is accepted. Transgenders are more accepted in the public eye after having the operation because we love fixed attributes of sexes. Those who carry different attributes of males and females are just not welcomed in our societies.

For homosexuals, secrecy is the answer for their problems, and for transgenders, it is sex change operation.

Can’t we just open our eyes and be more compassionate?

22 thoughts on “Sally and Antoinella: Transgenders fighting for acceptance

  1. hey observer, they were transsexual, transgender is just someone who adopts behavior of the opposite gender from a social point of view (you can say a women who wears pants is transgender😛 ) and it is not limited to hermaphrodites, some are and it isn’t visible (it is never as clear cut as we perceive).other thing is that some transexuals object to the transgender label since they confirm to their own gender … just the wrong container. that paragraph made me cringe<>“In Iran sex change operation is accepted. Transgenders are more accepted in the public eye after having the operation because we love fixed attributes of sexes. “<>I don’t think that is the reason, and no they are not accepted in Iran the way you make it sound. just religiously speaking there is a bigger loop hole here so they can allow it with less controversy (funny how all religious references of effeminate men and impotent men are never really addressed or mentioned any more when the topic is raised in Islam since there are some). the thought process goes like this… there can’t be any homos, if they feel that way they must be transexual so its better to have them that way… that will sure leave some deep psychological scarring. It was actually even touched upon in psychology back in the day that homos should get gender reassignment since they feel that way. you are doing a great thing by actually providing exposure and information😀 am just trying to help a bit😉

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  2. no_angel, I think that both mean the same, transgender and transexual, right?🙂I copy it from wiki here: Transgender is the state of one’s “gender identity” (self-identification as male, female, both or neither) not matching one’s “assigned gender” (identification by others as male or female based on physical/genetic sex). Those two had a physical male body while they identified themselves to be females🙂.As for fixed attributes, if you see a woman acting like a woman, you would never guess that she has been a man before and thus you would treat her good (I m talking about the average arabic man), but if you see a man behaving girly (aka pre sex correction operation), then you wouldnt be treating him good.In Iran, the operation is legal. May not be socially accepted, but legally is.

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  3. I couldn’t watch the episode but I heard that a lot of people talked about it and I know about these cases from the media long time ago, and I think each one of them has the right to be whoever they want to be as long as that won’t affect them later emotionally since u can’t reverse the operation.No_Angel actually these characters had exposure long time ago and there was no need *personally speaking here* for them to be exposed more

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  4. you gotta point there with the acceptance thingas for trangender is anyone who adopts a socially recognized trait of the other gender (it includes transsexuals) so a straight women who drives trucks and does handy work is transgender also a drag queen is transgender they are comfortable with their bodies they just don’t adhere to the social norm thats all transsexuals look to change their bodies to fit who they are on the inside thats why i told u they don’t see themselves as transgender

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  5. Thats the problem of sexism.I although it might seem harsh, in some sense transsexuals are sexists. For example, in the story as told by you -Observer- it seems to me that Sally has some sexist views. (I discussed this before on my blog < HREF="http://zeidspex.blogspot.com/2006/07/transsexuals-and-gender-stereotypes.html" REL="nofollow">here<>)Thats NOT to say that Sally’s demands should be denied. But the problem that Sally is handling an effect not the root of the problem. Part of the problem is in Sally’s head. The other part of the problem is in the system. [Don’t be quick to make conclusions, read on]The problem that Sally and the system share is sexism.Sally is so insisting on the separation of sexes. She got her right to get back to university, but she insists on being grouped with men not women.The question I wish to ask Sally: Whats so bad about being grouped with men?!Don’t take this the wrong way, but if I was wrongly categorized as a girl, and say, as a consequence was sent to a girl’s school… That would be heaven! I am not gonna sue anyone for it… But hey that me!Sure, the other part of the problem. Why would the sex of the student be a factor in activities at universities?!For example, a common dilemma for a transsexual is whether to go to the men’s bathroom, or the women’s in public places!! If we had uni-sex bathrooms, the problem would not exist to start with!

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  6. hi Fadi, i don’t know too much here, i want to understand if i got you right and whether my understanding is right or not. someone’s sex is what his body/organs say. either a male or a female by definition. gender identity is what you precieve/believe yourself to be despite your body, either male, female, “both or neither”[please explain]Sexual Orientation is based on your instincts and natural attraction and could be either hetrosexual, homosexual, omnisexualso if i categorise what i just said in three columns of {sex,identity,orientation} i get the following:1-male,male,hetro2-male,male,homo3-male,female,hetro4-male,female,homo5-female,female,hetro6-female,female,homo7-female,male,hetro8-female,male,homohow do you define orientation? is it based on sex or identity, i assume sex? who from all these cases is subject to transsexual operation and why?i dont understand the word transgender but i assume 3 4 7 and 8 r, right?is there any similarity between 2 and 4? i dont get case 3 as well.

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  7. I’m confused like TalaIs this whole discussion about what they call ” She male” which means that the person looks like a girl, behaves like a girl, has breast, long hair, and no facial or leg hair,and they don’t undress you will never know it. However,when they take their clothes off you will see that in reality they are male.Is this the same like transgender, transexual, and so on?!Please forgive my platitude.

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  8. DM, I don’t think that Sally would mind studying among all other men. The problem is that they dismissed her from college for doing the operation. She wanted to have it before her graduation so that her certificate would be issued in her female name.As for the sexist thing, I went over your post and read it again. I think that while there are social constructs that are built by societies to emphasize the gender roles, there are as well some innate attributes that define each gender. In Sally’s case, I believe that she has a female brain with a males body. Would she recognize that if she was born in another planet between aliens? Maybe? Would I recognize being a man then? or you? something to think about..

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  9. Tala, Hatem, things are more complicated than that. While we can put some distinctions, I think that each one of those attributes are there in nature in degrees as like in spectrum.Now lets define things:Sex/Gender: male, female, hermphrodites (physical)Gender Identity: What a person identify himself to be. Like a person with physical male body identify himself to be man, or even womanSexual orientation: homo, hetreo, bi, ..etc. It is about sexual attraction. If a person is male and attracted to males, then he is a homo.Sexual identity: What a person identifies himself in terms of sexual attraction. Like for instance a male practicing same sex while still identifies himself as being straight.I dont know how much correlation is there between all of the above and how much they are connected with masculinity as femininity

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  10. For Tala:<>how do you define orientation? is it based on sex or identity, i assume sex?<>In short, Identity. Ok, in the old days, it used to be about physical sex. But that view was offensive to the transsexuals, so it was changed.So if you see two men, who both identify themselves as women… Well, they would be lesbians!!!now as Fadi explained… Things are a bit more complicated.Imagine a man, who identifies himself as a heterosexual male.Now this man is okay with having sex with women.But how would he feel to have sex with a man who identifies himself as a woman?! Technically, thats still heterosexual sex! But many men, would not sleep with men who identify themselves as women…What about this man having sex with a woman who identifies herself as a man?! Technically thats homosexual sex. But some men might not have a problem with this!!So we might need to introduce new terminology to identify all of these details!!<>who from all these cases is subject to transsexual operation and why?<>Well, if your identify is different from your physical sex, you might consider sex change operation.{male,woman}{woman,male}Orientation is irrelevant here.But why?! Thats a good question.Some people identify themselves differently from their birth-sex.Some of them are happy with their body. Others are not!Consider a woman who identifies herself as a man. The question is, is having a penis so important for her (him, strictly speaking)?! Some people that what is “down there” is not important for their sexual identity. So if such a woman is ready to accept herself as a man without a penis, then she needs no operation.If that woman feels that a penis is so important for her sexual identity, then goes undergoes the operation.Some women with penises consider it a bless, they love this “tool” they were born with. They might even consider it to spice things up in bed.Other women with penises consider it a curse, and want it removed.Same goes for men with pussies. Some like it, others don’t!

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  11. In my opinion the solution for all of this highly intricate situation is “don’t ask don’t tell” type of a deal. What does it mean? It means that if the person looks like a girl on the outside and behaves like a girl, and you don’t ask the person, and the person don’t tell you,then the initial image that you have about the person is that this person is a girl. Although this person may have a penis even though she looks like the girl. I think that my initial guess is correct. The topic basically addresses the “She male” and “he female” that is all.

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  12. For Hatem: Shemale is considered a transsexual… But its almost half way there…Transwomen (Female male-at-birth transsexuals) need to go through two stages to become transwomen…First step is hormonal therapy. The next step is sex reassignment surgery. So a man who wants to become a woman must first undergo hormonal therapy… Hormonal therapy causes most female attributes to show… Like softening of voice and growing boobs. The degrees of success vary. Usually, you can tell by looking that its not a woman-at-birth. But in few cases you cannot tell the difference.Some transwomen choose not to perform surgery, and keep their penises (and those are called “shemales”)… Others choose to undergo surgery and have their penises cosmetically modified to look like a pussy….

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  13. While we are on this topic I have something relative to mention over here.One time I was watching television program about some people that are neuter. They are niether male nor female, they don’t have any of the features that define them as male or female. My question is: What do call these people? They are not homo, they are not hetro, they are not bi sexual, they are not lesbians, they are not transsexuals, they are not she males.So What are they ? Any body would like to help.

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  14. Well, I am not sure how accurate my answer is… But its probably by their sexual identity..So sexless people might identify themselves as males or females, and hence we take that into consideration.Another complication would be when a male or a female identify themselves as sexless…And since we are talking about sexless, there is also an asexual orientation… Asexual is a relatively rare sexual orientation where the person in question doesn’t like having sex altogether…

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  15. so if a male identifies himself as a female and sleeps with a male who identifies himself as a male, makes their sexual identification straight, if this is so, i got it, thanks a lot🙂

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  16. Well Tala, its heterosexual… Yes…But is it straight?! Some people do call it straight…But the whole concept of transgender and transsexual is not considered straight by most people.So a man who identifies himself as a woman is not usually considered “straight”… And him having sex with either a man or a woman is on both cases not considered straight.The concept of “straight” has more to do with the judgment of an average Joe. And would an average Joe see a man having sex with another man who puts make up and wears short skirts straight?! I doubt it!

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  17. well, the whole problem stems from promoting what gendre identity means, if publically it is more known and understood, the whole concept of sex and relations changes. we made these definitions in order to be able to communicate about these certain cases whether its a transgender, transsexual, straight, homo, hetro and it will always be blurry because we can’t experience all cases.. its a definition afterall and basically it serves people accepting each other. at the end of the day, you are you regardless of what others tag you, if you can understand yourself, thats 99% problem solved.

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  18. Tala, exactly, the problem is the we teach all of our kids a certain kind of what we call normal attributes, and thus those who feel themselves *different* struggle to define their own selves, and even when they do, they end up facing many problems and fighting a lot of people to prove what they figured out about themselves. Unfortunatly, religion is used as a gun in the heads of those people and a wall that prevents others from accepting them. A difference in a sexual identity or sexual orientation means not only a loss from being among the majority in terms of sexual related issues, but also a strain on someone’s faith and social state!

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  19. I’m aware It’s bit late in the day for me to reply, but I’ve just discovered this and wish to express that I’m glad there are sensible discussions out there about such a sensitive topic. I’ve also enjoyed looking through a couple of other entries in your blog, keep blogging! :o)

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