I remember the first night I took my pills.
One was round–tan, roughly the size of a dime, AN/515 inscribed on a side–and the other was ovoid–blue, half the size of a pinky fingernail, 887-2 on one side, “b” on the other–and they were going to change my life. I had been taking the first pill, spironolactone, for three months. Ostensibly, this was to allow my body time to adjust; truthfully, it was so my doctor knew I was committed to the changes my body was about to undergo.
I was 18, and I was lucky.
Transgender women often use butterflies in their iconography. After all, what better creature is there to depict the rare struggle of self-transformation? So much of our lives are spent trapped in an ugly, uncomfortable body, and it’s not until we reach the “safe” cocoon of adulthood that we are allowed to become ourselves. But while my sisters and brothers fawned over butterflies, I was distracted by a much humbler insect: the luna moth.
Luna moths don’t live long after their metamorphosis into adulthood. They are reborn without mouths, unable to eat or drink, and have only seven days to reproduce before they are forced to fly no more.
I think, like the luna moth, I was still consumed by the same motivations that led my initial transformation. To borrow an old saying, I could not see the forest for the trees. I was so distracted by what I deemed to be the big things (but in truth were small) that I could not realize I was safe. I had made it. All of my dreams had been realized.
In that initial nightmarish haze of hormonal confusion, I had forgot the only thing I was seeking: womanhood. Femininity. Hera. The rawness of my new emotions, the chaos of a world gripped by a pandemic, and the rise of neo-fascism in my country served as excellent distractions for the quality of my mental health.
And I am lucky.
The U.S., for all of its many faults, at least grants access to the medication that would save my life. I can legally change my name. I will not be arrested just for walking down the street.
In Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia, they are not so lucky. A report titled “The Trap” details the efforts of police in Egypt to intimidate, abuse, and jail transgender and homosexual persons. Quoting from the report, “In the period from October 2013 to March 2017, the total number of people arrested and prosecuted in such cases has reached 232 people–an average of 66 people per year–a figure far exceeding the figure of 189 individuals, with an average of 14 people per year in the 13 years prior to the start of the crackdown (2000-2013).”
In 1999, a Lebanese court ruled, “To allow the applicant legal gender recognition would lead to a disturbance in the fabric of the society. For the greater good of the society, we cannot allow sex change for a psychiatric reason, as we do not consider it as a necessity.” In 2016, a transgender man was able to establish precedent in an appeals court, allowing him to change his gender marker and legal name on his identification documents. Despite this, the difficulty of facing prolonged, drawn-out court cases discourages transgender Lebanese from attempting the process.
In December 2022, a Tunisian transgender woman and homosexual man were tried and convicted for homosexuality, and received a sentence of three years and one year respectively.
But what can be done about this, especially by American citizens with no foreign power? Spread awareness. Open a dialogue. Give your support to the people kept down by a regime of oppression and cruelty. Most importantly of all, empower your local LGBT+ communities. We can make this world a better place for us all, even if we have to do it person-by-person.