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"Sex Reassignment Surgery? They'll Kill Me"

in ISRAEL, 08/03/2011

Getting hit and spit on was usual for a young Arab-Christian woman from the central region of Israel, only because she was born male. "The treatment Avir got set a precedent," says The Aguda's social worker Shlomi Eingr.

Three months ago, Avir (alias) was forced to flee from her home, because her life was threatened. Aged 24, well dressed and speaking gently, she talked about her struggles to cope as a male-born Arab-Christian from Israel's central region, who has suffered harassments her whole life for being a transgender. She dreams of being a designer, but instead of pursuing her ambitions, she must focus on surviving – she is being threatened that she will be harmed if she undergoes a sex reassignment surgery (sex-change operation).

"I'm used to being called names, getting hit sometimes, and being spat on by people who know me," Avir told Ynet about her harsh life, as though it was ordinary. "Lately the situation has become unbearable. I want to be what I am, but I was told the

day I undergo surgery – I will get shot in the head. I am very frightened, but I can't live a lie anymore. Ever since I can remember, I've always liked to play with Barbie dolls and design.

"I've never played soccer with the boys, or showed interest in cars. I love going to weddings and looking at the brides' gowns. I'll never forget the first wedding I went to, I saw the bride and touched her dress, and dreamed to wear one someday, too."

Since fleeing home, Avir is hiding from her family, who are looking for her, while the money she earned waiting tables is running out. "I ran away from home without anything, and I had to buy everything myself. My family members only threaten me, and will not accept me as I am. The only thing I miss is my cat, which I left behind," she said with tears in her eyes. "I have a few friends that I managed to keep in touch with, and they even helped me purchase new clothes. I have to find a new home, and I would very much like to start the sex-reassignment process, but I am alone in the world – and I am asking the country to help me. I didn't harm anyone; I just want to live my life.

"Dozens Deteriorate to Prostitution and Drugs"

Sadly, Avir isn't the only one having those problems. Dozens of transgenders have turned to drugs and prostitution. The country has no organized support programs for transgenders and there also aren't any shelters or rehabilitation programs for transgenders and their specific needs. This might be the reason people in the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services are having difficulties helping, even though they are trying.

That is also what happened in Avir's case. Following Ynet's petition, the Ministry decided to help her, and promised to give her financial aid for two months, so that she can find a home. Later, they will also ask the Ministry of Construction and Housing to assist her with paying rent. Even though they are aware of her life threatening situation, and show a lot of empathy towards her situation, there wasn't a single shelter for battered women that would accept Avir, not even on a temporary basis.

"The treatment Avir got set a precedent. I know dozens of other cases where transgenders’ lives have deteriorated into prostitution and drugs only because they didn't have any ability to provide for themselves," said social worker Shlomi Eingr from The National Association of GLBT in Israel. "Sometimes they don't have any support from their family, and while going through the sex reassignment process, it is very hard for them to find a job. The country, and specifically the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, don't have any organized programs for them, which contradicts the fact that every citizen or group deserves a social safety net. For some reason, only they don't get any organized treatment."

The Ministry of Welfare and Social Services confirmed the claims, but emphasized that "the referred case is very complicated, and only a few such cases have come to the attention of the Ministry. Because of its uniqueness, the case is getting specific treatment. The Services for the Individual and the Family are putting a lot of effort into finding an immediate solution for Avir, and at the same time they are trying to help her with a solution for the long term. It is important to emphasize that because the case involves a life threat, we are prevented from giving any more details."

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