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.”