At birth Barbara was identified as male. She struggled with gender dysphoria since childhood and very early on knew she needed to transition. Her Orthodox Jewish upbringing would not allow this. She eventually entered into an arranged marriage, where after disclosing her gender identity she suffered severe emotional abuse by her spouse.
This is Her story
I got married 14 years ago. It was an arranged marriage, encouraged and coerced by the Orthodox Jewish community, but in a grotesque way it also suited me as I believed being married will help me fight what I at that time referred to as ‘evil inclinations’. I was hoping to overcome my feelings and urge to transition.
From the first day on l lived with a manipulative, controlling person. She tried to control a lot of what I did and said. About a three months into the marriage she came to an idea, I should try on women’s clothes. It was supposed to be a joke, but I seized that moment to tell her I wanted to transition. Her reaction was horrific. I would not be allowed to pursue my female identity, she also threatened to share this information with the entire community if I asked for a divorce.
From then on my gender identity was denied and ignored at every given moment. My wife would insult me on a regular basis and belittled me whenever she could. I refused to have sex with her, however was always coerced into it. It was far from consensual, and I know that now, then, I went along with it. To avoid abuse at home and particularly in the bedroom, I did all I could to supress my gender identity. However the need to behave and dress as a woman would resurface and I would go back to wearing makeup and women’s clothes. My wife would find me out and when she did that would make her instantly violent. There were times when she wasn’t controlling and abusive, this wasn’t a nonstop reality. Also it wasn’t always correlated to my gender identity, it was just the personality she was.
About a year into our marriage I was desperate to leave. My depression over my gender identity was constant and consistent as I was repeatedly reminded my wife will use any means available to keep this marriage together. Remaining married and not being allowed to transition, however, had started to seriously influence my mental health.
Four years into our marriage we went to Israel to conceive. Whilst there I reached out to a psychiatrist, but my wife found out. She was upset that I was still affirming my gender identity and suggesting we end the marriage so that I should be able to go and transition. She said: “If you leave the marriage and go and transition this will surely cause my dad to become ill, so don’t worry, my brothers with their deep concern for their father’s health will avenge your horrible deed and hence go and arrange your demise.”
Eventually she conceived and we returned to UK. At some point during the pregnancy I got in touch with my GP to talk about transition. The GP, influenced by the community’s norms, identified my need to transition as a result of too much stress and gave me an ultimatum on which therapist I was allowed to see. The therapist then suggested a reparative therapy which should influence my manhood and self-confidence. The therapy exercised was one of the worst kind of reparative therapy imaginable. I was compared to old ladies, afraid to touch door handles and was told that my identity correlated to my desperate desire to be womanly i.e. passive and pampered. After six months of sessions I was told I was cured and my therapies ended.
Soon after birth, I started having suicidal thoughts again and this went on for years till I came to a point where I really couldn’t hold it together anymore.
Approximately two months ago, when my wife gave birth to our third child I sent a message to a friend on London which said I will commit suicide if I can’t transition. The message also included instructions on how they are to publicise this news within our community as I wanted to raise awareness around gender identity issues. I wanted the community to become aware of all the pressures I had to endure. With my permission the story was publicised on Facebook where it went viral and a lot of people reached out and offered support.
Since then I received an enormous amount of emotional and legal support. I got in touch with Broken Rainbow UK and and instead of committing suicide I managed to re-build my self-esteem to a point where I felt empowered enough to leave my wife, my religion and my community.
As soon as I felt legally protected and assured, I was ready to leave. I’ve had no contact whatsoever with my family and my wife since I left, but I trust I will be granted visiting rights to see my children.
That was nearly four weeks ago.
The support I’ve received so far has been absolutely amazing. For the first time in my life, I feel I am gaining control over different areas of my life. I am comfortable with myself and excited at the idea of finally being able to explore my female identity. I feel respected, supported and positive about the future.
As told to Jasna Magić, Broken Rainbow UK / July 2015