“I dreamt of waking up as a girl”: a story of gender transition in Tajikistan

A story of a Tajik transgender woman
19 January 2023

Transgender people are around us, but often we may not notice them because many cannot expose themselves. Transgenderness means that a person does not completely identify with their assigned-at-birth gender. Trans people may define themselves as female, male, or non-binary (people whose gender identity does not conform to concepts of female or male).

“To live a full life and afford to be themselves, transgender people make a transition – they start following their gender identity rather than playing the gender role they were assigned at birth. It is a long process of change that each person goes through individually. Some seek medical interventions to bring their bodies in line with their gender identity. Some openly declare their identity (come out). Often their significant others are not accepting and may behave aggressively. To overcome negative attitudes, we need to talk more about transgenderness,” says Nurbanu.

“I’ve always felt like a girl”

It started when I was a child, and my self-acceptance developed gradually. At first, I couldn’t exactly say I was a girl, but I always wanted to play with dolls, play with girls rather than boys, I got on well with them and understood them.

I remember how much I loved dressing up in my mother’s clothes. When I was a child, it was okay for my family, but when I turned 10-11, they started scolding me. I kept doing it anyway. I felt it was wrong, it was my secret, I didn’t show anyone who I was, or who I felt I was.

When I was in sixth grade, my family and I moved from Khujand to Dushanbe. I was still changing clothes, secretly wearing make-up or lipstick. I used to feel like there was no one else like me. I had a fear of showing my true self, of being real.

Until one day I met a real trans woman in Dushanbe. My friends introduced me to her, and I was shocked. Most importantly, I found out that I wasn’t the only one, and there are many trans women out there.

I’ve always had a bitter relationship experience”

In 11th grade, I registered in Agent messenger and started chatting and getting to know people there. I took a friend on dates and insisted on crowded places for meetings.

Once I went to meet someone alone and got beaten up. On another occasion, plain-clothed police detained me and threatened to hold me or tell my parents about me if I didn’t tell on other LGBT people. I had a hard time getting out of that situation.

I wanted to change my appearance, but I had to start hormone therapy on my own based on my friend’s advice and instructions on the internet because we didn’t have any doctors who specialised in this field.

Since 2016, I started taking hormones at my own risk because there were no tolerant doctors. My other friend and I, hoping to start a physical transition, went to the hospital to get a prescription for hormones. But at the appointment, the doctor started insulting and shouting at us, saying: “We don’t do things like that, go to Europe where you belong”.

I took hormones to stop my body hair from growing and my breasts from getting bigger, to make my body look more feminine. A friend who was already taking hormonal pills gave me some advice. My hormonal therapy lasted for over two years until my body was the way I wanted it to be.

I moved to Russia for a better life

It was hard to find a proper job, and I was deceived several times, either underpaid or not paid at all.

In 2018, a friend of mine introduced me to a girl who was a sex worker, and she offered me a job in that field. I was hesitant for a long time, but then I decided to give it a try.

It was not from me that my parents got to know about my transgender identity. When I was doing sex work, one of my clients who found me through an app turned out to be our neighbour. Of course, he recognised me when we met. A year and a half later, when he returned to Tajikistan, he showed my photos to everyone, saying, “Look, I went to see girls and met our neighbour’s son”.

…I did not talk to my parents. In 2020, when they found out about my transition from that neighbour, I did not reach out to them for three months, I was ashamed. I was afraid of their reaction. After a while, when they calmed down, we talked.

I remember exploding then, starting to cry, and sharing my feelings with them. My dad said: “I have a psychotherapist who will cure you, I’ll share his contacts, he lives in Russia”. I called that therapist, but there was no treatment, I just told him that transsexualism was not an illness and asked him to explain this to my parents.

He recommended a psychologist for my parents, and my mother agreed to do the therapy. At the moment, my whole family knows all about me, they know who I am and what I do. My mother, my brothers, and even my uncles and aunts support me. Except for my father – we don’t talk, he says I have disgraced him and his honour.

I don’t want to go back to Tajikistan again

Many members of the LGBT community in Tajikistan face illegal detentions by law enforcement agencies, and their rights are violated.

When I flew to Dushanbe to change my ID, I was detained on no grounds. At the police station, they held me in a male cell for 10 days, even though I did not look like a man. They seized my phone and offered to “cooperate”; I refused. Then they “charged” me with distributing pornography because of the photos on my phone and filed a case, although I had not published my photos or shared them with anyone.

When I sought the help of the prosecutor and told him that I had been illegally detained and that my phone had been seized, he commented: “It doesn’t matter, you’d better show me what you have in your pants”.

I said that it was irrelevant, so he threw me out of the office and opened a criminal case.

I had to hire an expensive lawyer to resolve the whole situation, and I ended up under house arrest before trial. Fearing that the detention might happen again, I fled to Uzbekistan. Even though my criminal case is now closed, I don’t want to ever return to Tajikistan.

I dream of living in peace

I plan to go to Germany, France or the Netherlands and dream of finally living in peace.

I wish people would accept themselves as they are. From my experience, I can say that parents will accept their children anyway because they love us as we are.

I would advise you to be careful if you live in Tajikistan because persecution is ongoing in our country. I wish people were more aware of their rights so that they are never violated by anyone.

This article was originally published here

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