Afghan Transgender Woman Describes Abuse in Conservative Culture
Laila, a transgender woman who lives in the city of Herat in western Afghanistan, says she faces many hardships in the conservative and male-dominated society, including physical abuse that has left her nearly blind in one eye.
Laila is her name, but Abdul Saboor is the name given her at birth. She is 64 years old.
For the past 40 years, she has taught at a primary school in Guzara district, which requires a 10-kilometer commute from her home in the city of Herat, which she makes on foot. She says she is often mistreated by men when she is out.
Laila wears a hat, shirt and tie as a disguise, but says these do not help in many instances because she has long hair and a style of walking that draws attention. In a recent incident, Laila lost 90 percent of her sight in one eye when she was beaten up by a man on her way home from the mosque.
“Sometimes I face discriminatory treatment when I am walking outside my home,” she said.
Laila says she has a "strong interest" in makeup, but she keeps it hidden.
“People do not understand us, we are taboo. We live in a difficult time and we keep ourselves hidden,” Laila said.
She attends weddings and birthday parties--wearing makeup--but says she must be careful.
Laila said she learned how to dance in India in 2010 when she spent a year in the country. Now she dances at wedding parties.
After 64 years, Laila says she is finally speaking to the media about her identity and her situation. From childhood, she was advised by her aunt to not disclose her gender because of the danger. She says she has faced many problems since speaking to the media.
She said her parents abandoned her when she was a child, so she lived with her aunt.
She avoided playing with other children.
Laila graduated from school in Kabul in 1980.
She says she is one of thousands in the transgender community in Afghanistan, a community of isolated, embattled people.