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Algerian transsexual's memoirs reveal life of discrimination

By Mark Tutton for CNN
"Randa: The diaries of a transsexual" is the biography of an Algerian transsexual.
"Randa: The diaries of a transsexual" is the biography of an Algerian transsexual.
  • Randa is an Algerian transsexual who now lives in Lebanon
  • She has just published her memoirs, telling of her struggle to be accepted
  • She said she was forced to flee Algeria after receiving death threats
  • Randa lives as a woman and plans to have a sex-change operation

London, England (CNN) -- An Algerian transsexual has published her memoirs, describing the discrimination she faced in her home country, which culminated in death threats that forced her to flee to Lebanon.

Randa, who says she's "around 30," now lives as a woman in Beirut, Lebanon, but was born a boy, called Fouad, in Algeria.

Even as a child she identified more with her three sisters than her brother, she says.

"When I was a child and I was at home with my sister I thought I was like her. It's only when I went out in the street that I realized what being a boy was and what being a girl was," she told CNN.

"That's when I realized I wanted to be a girl and refused to be the boy people were forcing me to be. I was very young then, about five or six years old."

Randa said her sisters were jealous of the softness of her skin and the shape of her legs, and would tell her it was a shame she was born a boy.

But her feminine demeanor and appearance meant she was beaten up at school and her parents were forced to change her school four or five times.

"During my teen years I felt like I was unique. I thought I was the only one on earth to feel such a thing. I had never heard of transsexuality," she said.

I considered it a disease at first; I thought that I wasn't normal and that I had to change.
--Randa, Algerian transsexual
  • Sex Reassignment
  • Algeria
  • Lebanon

"I considered it a disease at first; I thought that I wasn't normal and that I had to change. But the harder I was trying to look like a man, the stronger I felt I was a woman."

Aged 20, she began hormone therapy while she was at university but said she had to stop for fear her family would completely disown her.

Her family eventually did disown her, three years ago, when she first dressed as a woman.

As an adult Randa worked as a nurse in a clinic and set up a support group for gays and transsexuals in Algeria. But she said her public support for homosexuals brought unwelcome attention from the authorities, in a country where homosexuality and transsexuality is illegal.

"In Algeria I didn't feel safe at all," she said. "The last month I spent there, every time I was leaving home for work, I wasn't sure I would come back alive in the evening.

"Pressure was way too high. People were following me. Policemen came to my office twice asking where I was. It was a way to frighten me."

Randa said she was eventually forced to flee the country after receiving written and verbal death threats from radical religious groups.

She ended up staying with friends in Beirut, which is more tolerant of homosexuality and transsexuals. But she told CNN she faced discrimination even there and was rejected for a job at a Beirut hospital because it was against their policy to hire transsexuals.

"It is actually very hard for a transsexual to find a job here because although there is no law forbidding transsexuality, transsexual people remain easy targets for everybody -- society itself, the police," she said.

"But in some parts of Beirut I would say I feel 70 percent safe, whereas I never feel more than five percent safe when I'm in Algeria."

Writing her memoirs came about when a Lebanese artist called Chaza Charafeddine photographed Randa as part of a project using transsexuals as subjects. Charafeddine introduced Randa to her husband, journalist Hazem Saghieh, and suggested he write Randa's biography.

The book has been published in Arabic by Lebanese publisher Dar Al-Saqi. Its title translates as "Randa: The diaries of a transsexual."

Randa said women have reacted positively to her book -- men less so.

"I guess men don't like it because it hurts their own virility in a patriarchal society such as ours here in Middle East," she said.

"The man here is supposed to be the master ruling over the family and state. Therefore it is completely inconceivable to him that another man would wish to let go all those advantages to become a woman. Because women here are second-class citizens."

Randa started taking her hormone pills again two years ago and now lives completely as a woman. She is trying to save the estimated $10,000 it costs for sex-reassignment surgery in either Lebanon or Thailand.

For Randa, that could mean finally becoming the person she always felt she was.

She told CNN, "There is a French saying which explains it quite well: 'Trying to fight against your instincts surely is the best way to reveal them totally.'"

Stephanie Busari and Olivia Martinez de la Grange contributed to this report