Qatar: TS/TG people – human beings or behavioural deviants?

April 27, 2009

Qatari flagCompared with certain other Arab states – Saudi Arabia, for example – Qatar might appear to have relatively liberal laws, even though it’s still not as liberal as some other Persian Gulf countries. However, since the mid-1990s, Qatar has been undergoing a period of liberalisation and modernisation which brought many positive changes. For example, Qatar became the first Arab country of the Persian Gulf to extend suffrage to women. Nevertheless, the country still lags behind the UAE or Bahrain in terms of more westernised laws and though plans are being made for more development, the government is cautious. (Via Wikipedia)

Regrettably, with regard to TS/TG people, in some areas this caution seems to manifest itself in a rather old-fashioned but nonetheless toxic form of transphobia, as can been seen from a recent report in the Gulf Times (link here):

[…] Dr Saif al-Hajari, the deputy chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, described the emerging trend of “manly women” and “womanly men” as a “foreign trend” which, he said, had invaded the Qatari and Gulf communities as part of the “globalisation winds”.

Interestingly, the terms ‘manly women’ and ‘womanly men’ could have come straight from the pages of a reparative therapist’s manual and they are almost common currency amongst those transphobic cis women radical feminists who, believing that gender is absolutely a social construct, insist that trans people can only be deluded dupes and pawns of the patriarchy for undergoing medical transition when all we really need is a good talking-to, and perhaps a nice cup of tea.

And, at the same time as Dr Saif al-Hajari talks of the ‘globalisation winds’ that have ‘invaded’ the country, the Qatar Foundation’s own website (link here) makes much of its mission to prepare the people of Qatar and the region to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world.

There’s more than a hint of small-c conservatism about Dr Saif al-Hajari’s words, which seem curiously at odds with the wider trend towards a more liberalised society. And the rest of his comments don’t inspire confidence that he thinks TS/TG people should be treated fairly and with respect:

“This is an issue which can harm all our social and religious values.”

I would suggest that a society whose social and religious values can be threatened – in an unspecified way – by a tiny minority of people who self-identify in a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, is a society which has far deeper fissures in its foundations than anything that could be caused by the existence of TS/TG people.

“It needs some sort of bravery to address it.”

Oh please, Doctor: just listen to yourself. Perhaps if you did some work on the subject, you would realise that the real bravery is exhibited by those TS/TG people who live in another gender role, in a country where kneejerk transphobic reactions – like yours – are not only tolerated, but given airtime on national television.

“I have never imagined that one day I can see such behavioural deviations in our streets, schools or universities.”

This is simply a rather embarrassing display of an irrational fear of any gender presentation that exists outside a rigidly defined, artificial – and, frankly, archaic – binary. ‘Behavioural deviations’, indeed. Such things are defined by human beings and can easily be redefined to include, as to exclude. From where I sit, the phrase ‘behavioural deviations’ comes very close to hate speech, and is all the more cause for concern when it emanates from a country with a long and proud history of interacting with a multitude of races, peoples, languages and religions.

Not content with out-and-out transphobic hate speech, Dr Saif al-Hajari then proceeds to introduce xenophobia and paranoia into his arguments:

“These cases of behavioural deviations we have are not working alone. They co-ordinate with similar groups on regional and international levels,” he added.

The implication seems to be that there is some sort of international conspiracy to influence otherwise fine, upstanding, morally correct citizens into becoming some sort of threat to the established order by means of questioning their gender identity and presentation. Even a moment’s research would expose this assertion for the laughable fallacy that it represents. We transition to survive; not to overthrow governments.

To a question whether foreign education institutes established in Qatar are responsible for the spread of the phenomenon, Dr al-Hajari said that Qatar Foundation, which is the umbrella of foreign universities in Qatar, should set up a mechanism to protect young people in such universities from “invading behaviours”.

“We need to educate the administrative and teaching staff of these [foreign education institutes] on the special traits of our society.”

Hmm. Socio-cultural rehabilitation, anyone?

We are expected to accept the phrase ‘the special traits of our society’ without question. I’d be very interested to know how Dr Saif al-Hajari defines those ‘special traits’, and where he obtains his authority to make such definitions.

As for “invading behaviours” – has Dr Saif al-Hajari never heard of mukhannathun? There have been TS/TG people across the Arabian Peninsula – across the entire world – for as long as there have been humans. This is not a new phenomenon, a ‘trend’ to be reversed or a conspiracy to be repressed: it is an established and internationally recognised condition with a considerable body of medical evidence to support its existence.

“Some foreign schools and universities hire staff hailing from communities that do not see any problem in what we think of as deviations. This is a problem that should be dealt with.”

Again, it is unclear precisely why Dr al-Hajari believes that TS/TG people are a ‘problem’ to be ‘dealt with’.

It must surely be a matter of concern for anyone with even a passing interest in equality and human rights that such a forward-looking country should apparently tolerate such regressive and repressive views being expressed by so senior a person as the deputy chair of one of Qatar’s best known private, chartered, non-profit organisations. Dr al-Hajari, it is time to leave behind these proposals for the inhuman treatment of gender variant people – you may not understand us, but you can at least accept us as the fellow and equal human beings we are, in all our glorious diversity.

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