The Suffering of Egypt’s Transgender Community

Letter from Cairo

A woman walks along the sand dunes as the sun sets over rocks in the White Desert north of the Farafra Oasis, southwest of Cairo, Egypt, May 2015.  Abdallah Dalsh / REUTERS

Yara would wake up every day to face the same agonizing question of what to wear. Unlike for many other women, however, this was not a question of picking between a dress, a skirt, or pants. For her, it was about dressing to avoid stares. Yara is a transgender woman in Egypt, and after years of hormonal treatment, she has been forced to live a double life, picking clothing to mask her transitioning body. “I wanted to avoid another beating,” Yara said, explaining how in 2009 a dozen men had surrounded and beat her based on her appearance. Two years later, she was beaten a second time, this time by state security forces.

Yara began her path to transition in 2012, when she was 21 years old, after years of feeling like she was living in the wrong body. Because of the general lack of awareness about gender dysphoria in Egypt, many transgender individuals only become aware of the possibility of transition in university or after. “The treatment journey may take up to seven years or more…every single step is with bumps and pits,” Yara said as she began her tale.


Psychiatrists first prescribed for Yara antidepressants and mood stabilizers, which also suppressed her sexual drive. “It did not make sense; it was not about sex,” she said. She was also told to “turn back to God,” advice many doctors in Egypt give their transgender patients. The psychiatrist who first diagnosed her with a so-called gender identity disorder told her to live as a male among her family but as a female in more accepting circles.

But this would not work. Soon, Hashem Bahary, Egypt’s pioneering psychiatrist in transgender issues, came into the picture. “He was a haven for us,” Yara recalled, referring to a support group of transgender individuals Bahary brought together. Between a shortage of medical attention, family oppression, societal shunning, and political crackdown, transgender people in Egypt are normally forced to live hidden lives. “At first, patients thought they

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