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Interview with Yasmene

Originally published in Huriyah: A Magizine for Queer Muslims



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The  Beautiful Sister: An interview with Yasmene Jabar

Originally published in Huriyah: A Magizine for Queer Muslims



Most of us can't imagine what it is like to be born in the wrong body. All of us have experienced the confusion of childhood ... when you are not sure what your gender really is. You are a child. So, most of us go through it and we find our genders and our bodies go together. And then there are those who find themselves in a different world. Yasmene Jabar was part of the latter. Now, after what seems like a lifetime to her, she lives in the right world she always knew existed for her, as all of us. And, although she fought for that world so persistently, she is happy. So what does she do next? She turns around and makes every Transsexual feel they belong. A wonderful woman, indeed. I was honored to be able to talk to her about her life journey. I hope you get to see the woman Yasmene is from this interview.


AFDHERE JAMA: I will start with your name. Tell me the story behind it.

YASMENE JABAR: Well the name "Yasmene" was stuck on me while I was married to my Syrian husband. He gave me the nickname because he said I was his flower, and then all his friends started calling me that. Later, I used it as my professional name when I was a Photographer, and for any other business purpose but it is not my legal name of which is private and has nothing to do with my professional and public persona. 

You were born on a farm in North Carolina. Talk about that.

I lived a very charmed life for the most part. I knew I was different very early so I spent most of my time to myself on the farm. I learned to love nature and animals, and I spend many hours in the woods pretending to be a Princess or something. I did not trust most people, and especially the boys in school because they were always tormenting me for being different. My family were very close and sort of Mayberryish like in the Andy Griffith Show.

Do you remember the first time you remember feeling "Hey, I'm a girl!"

I always felt I was a girl, and when I realized I was not was when my life took a bad turn. I always played dress-up with my cousins, and played with dolls. When I went visiting anybody with my mother when I was little, I always ended up in the closets dressing up in women's hats and shoes. I loved it. I dressed up so often when I was little that everybody knew about it and most people had photos of me dressed up and thought it was soooo cute. "Don't he look just like a girl," they would say, "sooo pretty." I ate all that talk up and kept wishing I was a girl.

Tell me about your life, growing up in a boy's body.

When I became a teenager was when the torment really began. I began to have sexual desires for males but not as a homosexual male but like a girl is sexually attracted to a boy. I thought more of having my hand held or kissing than actual sex. I never had any kind of sexual relations with any male while I was in school because I did not want the shame that would go with it. But still they called me queer and some even claimed I had oral sex with them when I had not. I never let myself be alone at any time with any of them so it was impossibility. I had all the feelings the other girls had but could not express them.  I wanted to be a cheerleader or be a part of their groups and clubs but of course I could not. I was hormonally intersexed, meaning my body produced more female hormones than male so my body did not change. I never produced facial hair or body hair, my voice did not change and my organs did not fully develop, but my body did grow tall and large, which made me look like a tall big girl. All of this made for a very lonely teenage life with no friends and no social interaction. All I could think of was the time I could leave home and become a real girl. 

So you did know you could become a girl when/if you wanted to?

I had learned very early about Christine Jorgenson and also read about others like Canary Cohn, even a girl from North Carolina was in the News for having had a Sex Change so I knew what I was going to do, but just how I was going to get there was still a question that needed lots of answers. 

How did you start finding those answers?

Back then without internet it was hard to find out anything, I remember reading a little ad in the back of a Play Boy Magazine about Michael Salem's TV Boutique, so I wrote to them and got a list of books and publications they offered, one was written by Dr. Harry Benjamin about the Transsexual and the other was a list of Pamphlets put out by The Erickson Foundation which helped Transsexuals, so I had a very basic understanding of my condition by the time I was fourteen years old. By the time I got my license to drive a car, I was going out dressed as a girl-- just going shopping, to the movies or out to eat. Sometimes I would talk a cousin into going with me so I would not be alone, at first it was scary but I got used to it quickly and to the fact that I passed as female better than I did as male. People treated me differently, I was now a real person and my life was beginning to open up for me.

You left home very young. How old were you and where did you go?

I left home two months after my eighteenth birthday. I had already been going out to Drag Clubs in Charlotte North Carolina about 25 miles away from the farm where I lived. I will never forget the first time I ever went to a club where Female Impersonators where accepted. It was a valentine's party in 1975 and I was amazed at the beautiful women who were not women. Some turned out later to be Drag Queens while others were Transsexuals like myself, but it was like an awakening for me and I started making friends and plans to move to the big city as soon as I could. I moved to Charlotte a few months later, doing odd jobs at first dressed in what we called plop drag, I was not actually dressed as a girl but wearing unisex clothing and already looking like a girl. 

Did people know you were in a boy's body?

Most people thought I was a girl. I started taking female hormones at the same time purchased from a black market pharmacy where you'd put down your money on the counter and Jack would give you your monthly bottle of hormones. He later was arrested and went to jail but he helped many girls who could not have started any other way. I know he helped me. By the time he was arrested I had already had my Sexual Reassignment Surgery.

Tell me about life after you left home?

Soon after I started taking hormones, I began working at a Female Impersonators Club in Charlotte named Orleans. The club was run by an older woman named Olean who always wore a long blonde wig, and false eyelashes and lots of makeup, who looked more like a drag queen than the real drag queens. I started out just doing shows once in a while then I was hired to be a part of their House Show and worked regular. I became well known during that time, not for my talent but because of my looks. I looked like a real woman and since the crowd was a mix of straight and gay I went over very well to the audience. 

You are one of the few transsexual women I know who had the privilege of having a sex change at a such a young age at a time when it was neither as popular nor as accepted as today. How old were you, how much did it cost and how did you come up with the money? 

I was making enough money to live but not enough to save money for my surgery. So, while I was visiting with a Transsexual friend who had worked as a call girl in Charleston, South Carolina, she talked to me about going into that kind of business to make my money. I really had no desire to get mixed up in that lifestyle so I told her I would think about it. I talked to my mother telling her how badly I needed to borrow the money for my surgery, she said I should work and make the money myself. That I would feel I had accomplished something by doing it myself. I told her in what way I thought I could make the money and she said you do what you have to do, and don't worry about what you have to do, just do what you must. After that I went for an interview with Vogue Massage Parlor in Charlotte, and got the Job. But the catch was that the owner did not know I was a Transsexual as she ran a very classy house and all her girls were expected to be top of the line. So I was honored to get hired but at the same time scared to death about it. Buy that fall I had the money for my Breast Implants which I did out patient and was back to work within a week, and within one year I was able to fly to Dr. Stanley Biber for my final Surgery. When I come back I went to my parents farm to get well and never went back to work as a call girl. I was twenty years old when I had my surgeries. My Breast Surgery cost $1,000 and my Vaginal Surgery cost $2,500. But today's prices start at about $10,000 just for Vaginal.

In your twenties, you met an Arab man. I know you ended up marrying him, divorcing him and leaving him behind. Tell me more about that, and how you met and what kind of life you guys shared. 

When I met my Arab Husband Mo, we were both in Collage, he was studying Computer Science, and I was studying Art. We met at a Party at the School, a dance I think. He came up to me with the famous line of "I saw you when you came into the room, and you are the most beautiful women here." That's all it took. We started dating, fell in love and spend seven up and down years together. Our marriage started off very good, we had a good time together as a couple, we went out a lot and he introduce me to a lot of his friends, and family during that time, I thought it would last for ever. He was a handsome ladies man, however. He was a good and loving man, but he had a weakness for other women and that is what caused our marriage to break apart. When I first found out about his cheating I was in shock and I tried to work things out in my mind for several years before I divorced him. When trust is broken, it's hard to mend it, especially when you are young. But during that time I learned to love Middle Eastern life, I met so many wonderful people, some Muslim and some not, so when we divorced I felt like a big part of my life was over, not just my marriage but my life itself.

Tell me about your current Arab husband. How did you two meet? 

I met my current husband Ali who is from Jordan on the Internet. We met and became friends over a four-year time frame. At first we were both involved with other people in real life so we were nothing but chat friends, but over time it became more. Finally he sent me a ticket to go visit him in Germany where he had been living for 16 years, during that visit he asked me to marry him. We spent another year apart while I took care of business and he finished his degree then we went to Jordan together where we had a Traditional Muslim Wedding. By the way he knew about my past from the first, but his family do not know of my past, and he feels it's not anybody's business as I am completely female in every way.

You became a Muslimah, was there pressure from your husband's side for you to convert? 

I did not become Muslim for my husband. I was Muslim when I met him already. I accept Allah as the only God and Mohammad as his Prophet. 

Alhamdulillah! You now live in the Arab world. Tell me about that. 

Well, the worst part is having to cover your head on a hot day in Jordan, so I stay inside during the day and only venture out during the evening when it's cooler. The people are great here. So friendly and the families are very close. Of course, the women will ask you very personal questions. I have been asked why I have no children, and will Ali and I have children, so I just say only Allah knows the answer to these questions. Women don't enjoy the freedom that they do in the West, I miss being able to just drive where I want to go when I need to go, but I'm getting used to it. I have a good husband who treats me with love and respect. I would not take aMillion Dollars for him; he will be with me for my life long.

You have been living your life as a complete woman for some years now. How does it feel to be able to be who you are when you know there are so many men and women out there trapped in the wrong bodies who do not have the means -- financially and otherwise -- to be who they are?

I feel privileged to be where I am in my life, I had my surgery twenty-eight years ago this year and I thank Allah that I have had such a good life after my surgery. Before my SRS, I had no life at all but now the sky is the limit.

Speaking of knowing, you have set up the well-respected International Transsexual Sisterhood, which helps so many transsexual souls around the world. Tell me more about how you got involved in activism?

I have never considered myself an Activist, only that I have a motherly instinct. I wish to help those who need help to find their way. It's like I want to supply a safe home for those who need some comfort. I began with my first support Web Site Cafe Trans Arabi because I could find no such support on the internet for the Trans girls in the Middle East. All I could find was Porno and sex sites but no support to help them find their way with dignity. The other groups simply evolved from that first group to expand and offer support and information and most important fellowship to TS girls around the world.

The Trans Eastern Conference (TEC) is scheduled to take place in Turkey early 2005. Tell me more about this!

TEC is the world's First Transsexual Conference to ever be held in an Islamic Country, and it is being produced by TEA Trans Eastern Association. The Conference will have a focus on the hardships of Transsexuals who find themselves in the restricted Muslim World, to help them with Answers to their questions and give them support while they make their own choices as what to do with their lives. They should have all the information provided to them in a safe environment so they can think clearly as to what is right for them. We hope to have some notable Trans professionals on hand during the Conference such as Dr. Lynn Conway of USA, Christine Burns of UK, Dr. Fatemeh Javaheri of Iran, Adnan Hossain of Bangladesh and Demet Demir of Turkey. For more information your readers can check out the conference's website.

What is next for you? 

Who knows? If this event explodes and my cover is blown here in Jordan my husband and myself just might have to relocate to another country, maybe back to the States, but I am sure I will remain active in helping the Transsexual in what ever way or means that comes to hand. 

In every interview that I do, I ask this last question; if you had the power to change something about you, what would it be and why?

I wish I had finished my education instead of giving it up for marriage. I would feel I had a better foundation to do the things I need to do. But life is a learning tool so we never stop learning.

Yasmene, darling, it has been a wonderful experience getting to know you. Thank you for letting me talk to you about all of this!

Thank you so much for you time to interview me for your publication. I wish you much luck in your future. 

Yasmene Jabar can be contacted through The Sisterhood website at
the-sisterhood.net. Those of you interested in learning more about the TEC conference in Turkey for 2005, please visit the TEA website at www.the-sisterhood.net/tea or send e-mail to tec@huriyahmag.com