Women who wear men’s watches, douse themselves in male deodorant and wear baggy gents’ clothes are at risk of arrest by undercover police at Dubai’s malls and college campuses.
After Dubai Police released details of a new crackdown on “cross-dressing women”, a senior CID official told 7DAYS that plain-clothed policewomen are staking out popular student hangouts to catch butch females or ‘boyat’, as they are known, in their manly get-up.
“We have undercover police from the Vice Department working in places like malls and universities to clamp down on this,” the officer said, adding that the move comes after an increase in complaints.
Police say women who dress in men’s clothes or walk with a masculine gait will be given a warning the first time they are arrested. But, if caught again, they will face the same cross-dressing charges and punishment that apply to men – including a possible stretch behind bars.
“They look like males and have a sexual desire for girls,” the official said.
“They walk and dress like males and even have short hair. If she is tough in her actions or puts on a male watch or male perfume, those are also indicators.”
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The officer continued:?“If they are caught, they will be taken to the police station where their parents will be called and they’ll be released with a warning if it is for the first time. This is to protect the girl’s reputation.”
Police are launching an awareness campaign on the issue but there are fears it could cause a backlash against the girls. 7DAYS found one facebook group, which pledges death to ‘boyat’ in the UAE and says masculine girls should die.
Dana, a 19-year-old, who admits to dressing in clothes designed for teenage boys, says she feels vulnerable in public at times.
“I like to dress this way, but I am not gay,” she said. “I just feel more comfortable like this – I don’t feel confident in the clothes other girls wear. I am not doing any harm but sometimes people look at me in a disgusted way.”
Dubai-based psychologist Dr Roghy McCarthy said many young women wrestle with self-expression and sexuality as they mature and that ‘boyat’ label is difficult to define and damaging to some.
“I have seen cases where girls have emulated male behaviour because their fathers have made it very clear that they long for a son. And so these girls are desperately seeking the approval of their fathers. It’s very sad.”
Dubai Police Chief Lieutenant Dahi Khalfan Tamim first denounced the practice in 2008 and called for greater government intervention, blaming mixed schools for the growing trend in supposedly transvestite students.