In light of the social restrictions imposed on the city of Aleppo, Inana's soul is imprisoned within the walls of her home, isolated from her family, who refuses to recognize her new sexual identity, while surrounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am comfortable today with my new identity. I was never satisfied with myself like I am today.” This is how Inana started her interview with Rozana.
The circumstances surrounding Inana, 40, did not change so far despite the inner peace she is experiencing these days. But this peace has not reflected in her reality and community.
She said: "When I go outside the house, I wear baggy clothes and a hat on my head so I can hide my face. I am afraid of being molested and harassed in the street because my features are still swinging between femininity and masculinity."
Homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Syria face legal and social challenges that other members of the LGBTQ community elsewhere are immune to, in addition to their families’ ruthless rejection.
Are you a boy or a girl?
Inana lived for many years trying to get out of her isolated cocoon. She stated: "All my life I did not have friends, I was an introvert, and people thought I was a weird child. They always asked me whether I am a boy or a girl?."
Inana continued: "This question haunted me at home, on the street, at school, and everywhere."
The family thought that time would perhaps change Inana’s behaviour, while doing everything to correct the misconduct of their "prodigal son" according to their beliefs, but it was in vain.
The sound of the bell ringing on her first day at school still resonates in Inana’s ear: "I was four years old. We did not go out for the break that day, and the boys' screaming was horrible. I remember that I preferred to stay closer to the girls and get away from the boys, but when I went to primary school, I got bullied every time a girl approached me. "
"We are a conservative family, and no matter how close I am to my sisters, there are limits between us. I had my own room and I did not get along with my brothers. I did not go out or do any activity with them. In my early teens, my brothers tried to get close to me but I did not respond to them."
The most difficult times for Inana was the period of puberty, as the indicators of a new internal conflict started to unfold again, and her depression affected her grades and academic level.
By then, the family found themselves facing an inescapable reality, which is to consider Inana's situation more seriously. It was not easy for the traditional Aleppian family to accept that their firstborn son wanted to transform into a girl, in a society that takes pride in giving birth to boys.
Do you want to be gay?
The best solution was taking Inana to psychiatrists. She told Rozana: "One of the doctors I visited with my family asked me if I wanted to be gay and get AIDS"
Despite this confusion in her sexual identity, Inana was not immune to sexual harassment. She recounted: “I was once in a medical laboratory for a routine blood test, when the nurse read my hormonal analysis, he dragged me into a room to harass me, and he started asking me if I had female genitalia.”
"Son, you have to date women, you are a man"
When Inana turned 17, her father surprised her with a very strange attitude to a conservative family, despite the fact that in this particular family atmosphere men were given more freedom than women. He entered Inana's room and threw some money at her and said: “Son go get drunk and date money. Get out of this state of mind, you are a man and nothing can shame you.”
Inana said: "With this body, I did not accept the idea of having a relationship. I did not even try a kiss my whole life. I met girls and men, but I feel that I am asexual."
Failure of psychiatrists led me an Imam in the mosque
Inana said: "At the age of 21, the only choice I had was to commit suicide. I overdosed using pills, but my mother rescued me. I made the decision to live in a soulless, empty body and accept life as a man”
When the psychiatrist's advice failed, Inana’s mother took her to an Imam in the mosque.
She told Rozana: "In the beginning I embraced the spirituality atmosphere in the mosque. I started attending rituals and mystical religious gatherings. But after a while I discovered the hypocrisy of the men of religion, and the feeling of religious hypocrisy started to pull me away from these gatherings", noting that she had assisted at these sessions and prayed in the men's section.
Inana added: "Sometimes my soul suffocated inside my body, and when I screamed out loud with anger, my mother used to say ‘do not shout like women do, you will bring shame on us’."
She continued: “As the saying goes ‘the last cure to the disease is cauterization’. Failing in all previous attempts to correct me, my family was relieved when I was summoned to join the military service. My uncle and father managed to delay the date of enrolment until the last time by paying a bribe, so that I would not be referred to a medical committee that might exclude her from serving in the army.”
The officer asked me what I was doing there
One afternoon, Inana's father and uncle packed her bag, asked her to get dressed and took her to the military service enrolment centre.
The officers looked at her and said: "What are you doing here?” All they were able to do was to exempt her from some difficult morning training activities such as running or some combat missions.
Every time the sun went down, Inana was driven by a new fear, pushing her to escape from the dormitory to other places, where she can feel safe. She confirmed that she was being harassed by recruits.
The father's funeral was another nightmare
The funeral of Inana’s father, who died of lung cancer, was an indescribable nightmare for her. She was the eldest son, so they forced her to help bathe, shroud and put the body in the coffin, and then bury him. According to Islamic Sharia, the son is responsible for his father's descent into the grave.
Sharia says that only men are responsible for burying the dead, whether men or women. The deceased is supposed to be buried by the guardian that he /she named. Then comes the role of the relatives in case they want to participate in the burial. If not, then anyone else can do it.
Then the war came…
How can she participate in the rituals of manhood and at the same time reject their world? Inana explained: "For me, visiting the barber meant going to the slaughterhouse."
Neither treatment by religion nor traditional psychiatrists brought peace of mind to Inana. The last resort was classical music, which was useful to soothe the pain for a while, before coming back came to tear her apart.
Then the war came not only to change the traits of the country, but also to infiltrated the smallest details of life in Syria. Inana’s family sold a large part of their property and decided to emigrate.
As for her, Inana decided to stay in Aleppo, which was the battlefield of the most excruciating conflict that the Middle East has seen in years.
She describes that period, saying: "I stayed alone to guard the house like a dog."
Doctor kicked her out because the requirements of Islamic khilwa are not met
The blockade was deepened with the outbreak of the pandemic in Aleppo, which worsened Inana’s financial situation even more, along with the lack of opportunities to find a job. She said: "in normal times finding a job was difficult enough, but the problem has become worse with the outbreak of coronavirus".
The Syrian regime's government covered the real number of coronavirus infections, as there are no free examination centres. Additionally, the general mortality rate has increased despite the publication of medical reports explaining that many deaths had occurred due to other diseases not related to the coronavirus.
While everyone was trying to protect himself/herself from the infection, Inana felt sick. So she took her medical file and went to see a doctor. But as soon as it was her turn to be checked, a weird incident took place, as the clinic secretary told Inana that the doctor cannot “receive you, as the requirements of Islamic khilwa are not met.”
(inanna telling her story through pandemic)
This behaviour does not only come from doctors in private clinics, she also has to deal with it in public hospitals when the medical staff discovers that she is a transsexual woman, where she gets discriminated against directly.
Inana said: "The lack of medical hormones that the girls were taking due to the new circumstances made matters worse, as they resorted to birth control and hormonal pills as an alternative solution, despite the known harmful effects of these drugs such as weight gain and liver problems that may develop into blood clots, in addition to other medicines that can harm their health."
"She's not crazy after all"
Every time Inana looked at herself in the mirror, she hated her reflection, "I always thought that I looked like a monkey."
But as she did more research into the world of transsexuality, Inana was able to discover her true identity and learn that she is not autistic as she used to believe. She was also able to obtain a medical certificate from a psychiatrist proving that she is mentally sane.
She left the psychiatrist clinic feeling thrilled, and with the other certificate she obtained from an endocrinologist, she can now get an accreditation from the Sharia judge in the city stating her eligibility to have a sex change procedure.
Nowadays, Inana is waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to end, so that she can travel and have the surgery she needs, for her soul to rest in a body that resonates with her true identity.
She added: "I used to look at myself as an alien ... a group of aliens brought me to this place then left me here and fled."
Today, Inana has no connection with her brothers. As for her sisters, they understand the situation she is going through, but they are forced from a social perspective to deny their knowledge of her new sexual identity.
As for her mother, she insists to this day on calling her by her previous name, and told her: “If you want to have the surgery, then you must change the family name and spare us the scandal.” Everyone was seeking to hide the scandal and did not care about Inana's suffering.
Transgender people are allowed to change their legal gender. Sex reassignment surgery is permitted for people whose gender is ambiguous or whose physical features do not match their physiological, biological, and genetic characteristics.
After the pandemic, my income was no longer sufficient
I was left alone to watch over the house, and when my family found out I wanted to change my gender, they rejected my wish and did not provide me with any help. Quite the contrary, if my paternal and maternal uncles had known that I want to live as a girl, they would hurt me, because for them I was smearing the family name. "
Inana lives off the rent of one of the shops that is left for her, but after the economic inflation that Syria is going through, the rental fee almost has no value. She tried to work before, but the circumstances were not favourable. She also worked in a sewing factory before the war, but she did not fit into the work atmosphere, the same had happened in a women's clothing store.
"Most of the transsexuals work in the fields of clothing, styling, hairdressing, and hairstyling. I always tried to get training courses in hairdressing, but after a while I would always get frustrated due to my depression."
Most of the job seekers face difficulties to find jobs, but in Inana's case, these challenges increase even more, as she is a male according to her identity papers but has a woman’s body in reality.
She continued: "The small shop was left for me to live from its rent, as my social life did not require huge expenses. But after the pandemic, this income was no longer enough."
With the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, domestic violence has increased in general, and especially against transgender people. There are no longer spaces outside the house to escape to.
Inana explained: “With the onset of the economic crisis, I had to deal with a new reality. The only way to have a sex reassignment surgery is to travel outside Syria. I started preparing for the trip at the beginning of this year, only to have my hopes destroyed by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Today, Inana is trapped by closed barriers waiting for her new spirit to be released. She ends her interview with Rozana saying: "Until this day, I try to accept my life after I had been living like a zombie for too long."
This survey was conducted with the support of the International Media Support Organisation (IMS) and in cooperation with Rozana Media Organisation, lokSujag and HariTV/ Sri lanka, fatu network/ Gambia, Inkyfada/ Tunisia, malagen/ Pakistan.