Sexual diversity

Transgender Arabs

While there is much debate about the rights of women in the Middle East and the rights of gay and lesbian people have also begun to attract some attention, consideration of transgender rights lags far behind.

In a region where gender segregation is widespread and dress codes are sometimes enforced by law, the problems of transgender people are especially acute. When so much of the social structure is based around a clear-cut distinction between male and female, anything that obscures the distinction is viewed as a problem and sometimes even as a threat to the established order.

Background articles

Transgender issues in the Middle East
A series of 'long read' articles looking at social and religious issues, struggles for recognition and some examples of gender ambiguity in Arab history (al-bab, February 2016). The complete series can also be downloaded as a printable23-page PDF.

Gendering the ungendered body
Hermpahrodites in Medieval Islamic Law
Paula Sanders, 1991

The Effeminates of Early Medina
Everett K Rowson. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1991

The Xanith: A Third Gender Role?
Unni Wikan. Chapter from 'Behind the Veil in Arabia', 1982

Sex Change in Cairo: Gender and Islamic Law
Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, 1995

“They Hunt Us Down for Fun”
Discrimination and police violence against transgender women in Kuwait. Human Rights Watch, 15 January 2012

Cross-dressing in Middle Eastern dance

News reports


Transgender Saudi man speaks out publicly for first time to help others
by Ellen Wulfhorst, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 1 December 2016

A woman's fight for her manhood
Zainab Abdulhafed Rabie always knew she was different, but it was only after her wedding night that she discovered she was actually a man. By Rasha al-Qahtani, Gulf Daily News, 25 May 2016

Transgender ruling in Lebanon an 'empowering' moment
Activists celebrate case allowing transgender man to change official papers and hope it will help ease
discrimination. By Anealla Safdar, Aljazeera, 6 February 2016

Lebanese court lets transgender man change legal status to male
Reuters, 15 January 2016

Lebanese judge rules trans man can legally change gender
Washington Blade, 15 January 2016

Cinemas stop showing ‘The Danish Girl’ after ban in Qatar
Doha News, 11 January 2016


Life as a transgender person in Egypt[video]
BBC, 11 August 2015

The Untold Story Of Egypt’s Transgender Community
By Salma Islam, Egyptian Streets, 12 July 2015

Transgender People Are at the Center of a Brutal Crackdown on LGBT Egyptians
By Laura Dean, GlobalPost, 15 June 2015

On being transgender in Egypt
By Pesha Magid, Mada Masr, 4 June 2015


Morocco's transgender dancer courts acceptance
Associated Press, 22 December 2014

Virginity tests, vile bodies: Stories from Sisi’s Egypt
By Scott Long, A Paper Bird, 11 November 2014

Brutal gender crackdown in Egypt: The tomorrows that never came
By Scott Long, A Paper Bird, 18 May 2014

Transgender surgery procedure set forth
Arab News, 2 May 2014


GCC to tighten gender tests for expat workers
Arab News, 9 October 2013

Medical tests 'crazy'
GDN Online, 9 October 2013

Gays 'to be barred from entering Gulf'
Medical screening tests to be used to reinforce decision
Gulf News, 7 October 2013

Gulf homosexual ban was ‘just a proposal’: Kuwait chief
Possibility of medical checkup rule changes to be presented to GCC members, says Kuwait foreign ministry undersecretary Khalid Al Jarallah. Gulf News, 20 October 2013

Being transgender in Kuwait: “My biggest fear is a flat tyre”
Human Rights Watch, 15 July 2013

'Tomboy' pageantry raided; energy drinks seized
Emirates 24/7, 10 June 2013

Bahrain gives nod for sex changes
By Courtney Trenwith
Thursday, 2 January 2014


Abu Dhabi police arrest man for allegedly cross-dressing
The National, 19 December 2012

Cross-dresser jailed for tricking health inspector into stripping
The National, 25 July 2012

Cross-dressing beautician 'watched health inspector strip'
The National, 25 April 2012

Tourist warning: no cross-dressing, public intimacy
New tourist brochure requests holidaymakers to have ‘respectful’ clothing and behaviour in public. Emirates 24/7, 5 July 2012

Kuwait: End police abuses against transgender women
Law against ‘imitating the opposite sex’ leads to torture, arbitrary arrests. Human Rights Watch, 15 January 2012


The Gulf's gender anxiety
Moral panic over transgender men and women is symptomatic of the Gulf's problem with shifting gender roles. By Rasha Moumneh, The Guardian, 6 July 2011

Cross-dressing women targeted in Dubai campaign
The National, 1 June 2011

Transwoman refused entry at Dubai airport
PinayTG, 3 May 2011

Shedding light on the 'Boyat' phenomenon
Conference separates fact from fiction on the issue. Gulf News, 21 April 2011


Ladies fume as cross-dressers use girls' toilets
Police urges public to report incidents of men in women's clothing. Emirates 24/7, 20 October 2010

Man hauled to court again on cross-dressing charge
The 30-year-old Egyptian worker appeared before the Dubai Appeals Court yesterday and denied the charge of cross-dressing and walking in a woman's bra and panty in public. Gulf News, 16 August 2010

Cross-dressing student has sentence reduced by appeal court
The National, 20 July 2010

Transsexual's memoirs breaks new ground in Arab world
AFP, 3 July 2010

Randa's story
al-bab, 4 April 2010

Cross-dresser jailed over pornography
The National, March 2010

Nine cross-dressers sentenced to one month in prison[Bahrain]
Defendants were wearing women's clothing and had heavy makeup on their faces. Gulf News, 29 January 2010


Legal Landmark: Bahrain Recognises Sex Change
ABC News, 19 June 2009

Man convicted of cross-dressing
A manager, who claimed he was training to play a female in a Bollywood film, has been charged with cross-dressing and using mascara at Mall of the Emirates. Gulf News, 31 January 2009

Cross-dresser says he was rehearsing for film role
A manager has claimed that he was training on performing a female role in a Bollywood film when he was caught cross-dressing and using mascara at the Mall of the Emirates. Gulf news, 8 January 2009


Sex-change cases surge for lawyer
GDN Online, 25 July 2008


Kuwait court refuses to recognise sex change
Reuters, 21 March 2006


Kuwaiti sex-change woman fights a lonely battle against Muslim conservatism
The Associated Press, 2 November 2004

The great Kuwait sex debate
Mail & Guardian, 11 October 2004

Five sisters undergoing sex change
Arab News, 16 June 2004

Kuwait sex-change case upheld
BBC, 25 April 2004