UAE | General

Family asked hermaphrodite to live as a woman

At 33, Yousuf Al Refal has endured the pain of being born a hermaphrodite — and he’s estranged from his family as a result

  • By Noorhan Barakat, Staff Reporter
  • Published: 21:20 September 20, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Gulf News/Asghar Khan
  • Yousuf was born with both male and female sexual organs. He was raised as a girl but now lives as a man despite the objections of his family. By living as a man, his brother faces completion of military service in Egypt.
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Dubai: A man, who lived as a woman until he was 18 years old, told Gulf News he was unaware of his condition as a hermaphrodite.

Yousuf — who grew up as Sara — has suffered a breakdown after his family insisted he stay female.

Troubled Yousuf, 33, who now wants to live as a man and has officially changed his status to male, tells a sad story of a feud that has ripped his family apart.

He claims his relatives want him to live life as a woman to save his brother from military service in their native Egypt.

Rules there mean a lone male in a family is exempt from duty — but this would mean Yousuf remains as Sara.

He told Gulf News: “I just want to live like a normal human being, just like everybody else.

“Ever since I can remember, I felt like a boy trapped in a girl’s body.

“I played with guns, I couldn’t understand why girls played with dolls.

“We had no idea such a condition existed back then, I thought that something was wrong with me.”

Yousuf, who lives in Abu Dhabi, was born in Egypt a hermaphrodite, a condition where he has both male and female reproductive organs.

He was named Sara and brought up as a girl.

His biological mother and father split in his early childhood and he was brought up by his Egyptian father and Syrian stepmother in the UAE.

Yousuf’s reproductive organs are female with some irregularities but his internal system is male — he has no ovaries.

His condition was discovered by doctors when Yousuf underwent a routine operation at 18.

Yousuf has had another operation for sex correction and has started a course of hormone therapy.

But pressure from his family saw Yousuf trying to pluck his eyebrows and keep his hair long in a bid to look feminine and please his family.

“My stepmother has made my life very difficult all my life and I have suffered for years with her. On top of that she stood in the way of treatment to fully change to a man over the past years and until now.

“As soon as I found out this condition existed, I felt so relieved.

“But my stepmother did not want her only male child, my half-brother, to serve in the Egyptian Army.”

Every Egyptian male between 18 and 30 years old, who is no longer studying, is obliged to serve in the army for up to 36 months.

However, if the male can prove that he is the only male child or is the sole bread winner of the house, he can file for exemption from service.

Conscription is compulsory even for those living abroad.

“Serving in the Egyptian army is very strenuous and my stepmother does not want her spoilt son, who is now 19, to go through that, as she says that he will die on the first day there.”

Yousuf told how he has struggled to come to terms with his condition as there are no organisations or authorities for hermaphrodites and intersex people in the Arab world.

“People mistake my condition for homosexuality, I have suffered from prejudice, humiliation and mockery.

“I have all the official documents, reports and certificates that explain my condition.”

Yousuf explained that he has changed his paperwork — which stated that he is “Sara” and “female”, to “Yousuf” and “male”.

He said: “I escaped back to Egypt and applied to get my name and sex corrected.

“After I was checked by a health committee assigned by the court, which included checking my sex hormone levels and getting a fatwa [religious ruling] from Al Azhar [the Egyptian religious authority] regarding my sex correction, I was granted the permission for changing my details on all my legal documents.”

He said that he later went to conscript, but as he has diabetes, cholesterol and had suffered a stroke, he was exempt from service.

“I came back to Abu Dhabi, and as soon as I landed, I was arrested because my stepmother falsely accused me of carrying a fake passport.”

Yousuf told how he was imprisoned until the authorities checked the legitimacy of his new passport.

He said: “My stepmother has filed over 18 false reports against me for impersonating someone else and having a fake passport at Abu Dhabi police stations, she does this to pressure me into giving up my new passport.

“I have been locked up several times, and because I have not undergone all the sex change operations yet, the police did not know whether to put me in a male or female holding cell.

“They would put me in a solitary holding cell, where no one would see me for days. It was very tough and unbearable.”

“I gave up and agreed to do what they wanted and I returned home with them.” Yousuf said.

“But god did not want me to live the rest on my life tortured and confused, as my dad after multiple attempts, was not able to change my documents back.

“She and my father told me that if I let go of my identity and give my father a paper authorising him to change my passport to Sara again, they will drop the reports against me and allow me to live with them.”

Almost five months ago, Yousuf fell into a diabetic coma from all the pressure he was under.

“I was unconscious for a week, and when I came around, I found out my family had left for Qatar, taking everything I own, even my money.

“They left the UAE so that they can say that my brother and I are in different countries and so he [his brother] is the only bread winner and so be exempt from serving in the army.”

He claimed they even used his Visa card and now he has Dh40,000 in debt, the bank has reported him and he cannot leave the country.

Yousuf said: “I had a nervous breakdown and was deeply depressed and so was transferred to Shaikh Khalifa Medical city’s psychiatric ward, were I currently stay until I can get the money together to move on.”

Yousuf has been treated for severe depression and suicidal tendencies since 2009.

He told us: “I have had a very tough time, people with genetic defects or birth abnormalities are usually given sympathy but in my case, I’m humiliated and accused of being all sorts of things.

“I hope one day to be able to pay off my debts and complete his sex correction operations in Canada where I’ve heard doctors are specialised in such operations.

“I want to start my own family one day, instead of having a family who do not accept what god chose for me and caused me so much trouble.”

Comments (13)

  1. Added 15:48 September 21, 2012

    Everybody needs to be given a fair chance in life. Family and friends need to protect people and understand their predicament at the time of their need. please husbands who have second wife, your child is also important..please listen to them too.dont be blinded with whatever your wife says.

    Grace Dsilva, Toronto, Canada

  2. Added 15:25 September 21, 2012

    I am always impressed by how generous Kenyans are. Thank you Fred Kombo for offering to assist Yousuf. We need action not just the usual Inshallah's!!

    Salem, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

  3. Added 15:23 September 21, 2012

    Yousuf....please be strong and if your family failed and left you, I will be happy to be a friend to you.

    Felix Sabiniano, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 14:12 September 21, 2012

    I agree with Mariam (below) on this, i am absolutely stunned by the injustice in this story, and it pains me to have to hear about this kind of situation existing as a result of a family's lack of love for it's own. My heart truly goes out to Yousuf on this...and to others around the world in a similar position. Thanks Gulf News...

    Anonymous, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 11:31 September 21, 2012

    A very sad and heart breaking story indeed. Thank you Gulf News for bringing such despicable life's reality to the attention of your avid readers. Please advise me how I could reach Yousuf so as to join other well wishers in assisting bring speedy relief to him.

    Fred Kombo, Nairobi, Kenya

  6. Added 10:33 September 21, 2012

    I'm glad that Gulf News has highlighted this case, and even more grateful that it was done in such a sensitive, objective manner. Yes, hermaphrodites are misunderstood in almost every culture, especially in parts of Asia and the Middle East. As Yousuf said, it has nothing to do with homosexuality. He has the outward organs of a female, but his internal physiology is male. My heart goes out to this young man whose life has been turned upside down as a result of accidental biology, and a family that does not seek to understand him. I wish him well, and I hope he is treated with the care and respect that every human deserves.

    Mariam, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 09:41 September 21, 2012

    Dear Yousuf, you are a very courageous person. Always remember no matter how much negative the situation be, Allah is always with you. Please do let us know how we can contribute and help you out of the debt incurred.

    Fahad, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 08:50 September 21, 2012

    I also suffered like him but I am still as female but a male trapped in female body but i was mentally strong and could lead a good life with ups and downs. I was also in UAE for some time and once at the Dubai Aiport I was interogated as my voice is bit male like and they thought i was a imposter then as i had my other IDs with photo and proved that I was living as a female al my life. And also I told the immigration official if this condition is from birth and it is not my mistake. He felt sorry for it and was also sad for my condition. Its living a life in search of what we are are and we cannot be classified anywhere I am not a Homo or a lesbian but leading a life till our end comes. But now I am strong and this situation is not hindering my living. But one thing at work I am respected and been given the due importance and made a leader at work. Thanks for all the support I got. The identity change from female to male on records is not advisable as it leads us no where live as we are and lead the life. Its a waste of time and money.

    Anonymous, India, India

  9. Added 08:41 September 21, 2012

    Allah chooses you as a man more than a woman. So be brave and have patience. Be a man and live like a man. Have faith in Allah sure He will bless you.

    Anonymous, DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 07:53 September 21, 2012

    What a sad story. Despite all the technological advances humans have made, many or most of us still live 'mentally' in old age. To help such people live in a better world, each of us has to change our perspective.

    Tina Vibin, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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