Earlier this week, US lifestyle and culture magazine Vanity Fair unveiled Caitlyn Jenner to the world. Of course, a lot of haters hated and many internet trolls mocked; she is part of the Kardashian clan after all.

But what if Caitlyn was not American? What if The Sisters' stepfather came-out as transgender? How would Lebanese society receive the news? Sure, the comparison isn’t perfect. The Kardashian dynasty is headed for global denomination while The Sister’s, well, let’s just say they are still trying to find themselves. For the sake of this article, though, I would like to posit the question: would Caitlyn Jenner be accepted in Lebanon?



(The cover of this month's Vanity Fair magazine, a US publication, welcomes the public transition of Bruce to Caitlyn Jenner.)

Beirut.com caught up with Georges Azzi, the Executive Director of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality and a prominent LGBTQ, gender and sexuality activist and blogger to get his perspective. He explained to us that official and legal gender transition is possible in Lebanon, although not easy.

“It requires a long procedure and several approvals from psychiatrists and psychologists, the procedure can take a few years and it is costly and it forces transgender people to have a complete sex change operation before changing their [official] papers. While the government can cover part of the surgery, the remaining [cost may] vary between $5,000 to $10,000.”

However, regardless of the tedious legal hoops, the lived reality of transgender people is often far more complicated, subjecting them to extreme societal discrimination. “Since most transgender individuals do not have the luxury to change their papers, it is almost impossible for them to get a job," said Azzi. 'They are usually immediately fired when their employers discover that they have a different gender from their papers.”

Even worse, transgender individuals are often at greater risk of being victims of violent crime and rape. But shouldn’t the law protect them? Guess again. “Transgender people do not report [this] violence to the police since they will be, in the best scenario, arrested, if not abused by policemen," Azzi told Beirut.com.

You may remember the case of the gay raid in Dekweneh two years ago and of course, the oh-so scientific (read: not at all scientific) so-called egg test conducted by authorities to find out whether a man is homosexual. Regardless of these problems, Lebanon “remains the most liberal country in the region as far as the LGBT community is concerned,” according to Azzi.

“The main difference between Lebanon and the West is the legal protection offered to LGBT individuals as well as free medical and social services, also many western countries would change the legal papers in a faster procedure without forcing the individual to undergo a complete sex change surgery.”

Lebanon also has several organizations working to improve the lives of transgender individuals. Azzi explained, “Both the MARSA sexual health clinic and Helem are providing support groups and basic medical and social services for trans individuals.” Additionally, “MARSA in collaboration with the Arab foundation for freedoms and equality [recently] launched a "trans-empowerment" project aiming to provide psychological, medical as well as legal support for trans individuals.”

So let’s not pat ourselves on the back here, Lebanon, but let’s also not turn our heads in complete shame either.

Yes, transgender individuals face awful discrimination within Lebanon but regionally we still lead the way. At the same time, as Azzi pointed out, “Violence against transgender people is international.” Often, transgender individuals are discriminated against even within the LGBTQ community, as gender dysphoria is not well understood or accepted.

This is precisely why Caitlyn’s story is so important for the millions living with gender dysphoria throughout the world. Her story has the power to reach millions, allowing them to recognize an ignored, misunderstood and discriminated against segment of society while also communicating to transgender individuals the world over that they aren’t freaks. As one of my friends recently posted on Facebook, “Caitlyn Jenner is not a hero. But she is a heroine.” Mabrouk ya ikhtee!



(Another image from Vanity Fair's June cover story on Caitlyn Jenner.)

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