“In Holland nothing stops me from being who I am”

In Iraq, being gay or transgender is considered a crime. Gehzlan fled from her family and homeland to go to Ukraine – but there she wasn't safe either. In the asylum seekers' center in the Dutch village of Echt, Limburg, she found a new family: "The people in Limburg accepted me through all my stages – from gay guy to transgender woman."

Gehzlan: "I'm a woman born in the wrong body of a man. In Iraq if people find out you are gay or transgender, you get rejected from society, and that's exactly what my family did. My brother even tried to kill me. That's why I fled my home country. I went to Ukraine because I thought: this is Europe, so this must be a free country. But Ukraine and Iraq both have the same mentality: religion controls people. Life was terrible in Ukraine. Strangers insulted me and teenagers started beating me on the street. Not just because I'm transgender, but also because I'm from an Arabic country. There is a lot of hate there for foreigners. So I changed my name to that of a man. I couldn't wear high heals outside, because I needed to be able to run when people would start attacking me. That's why I fled from Ukraine to come to Holland."

New family and friends
"When I came to the Netherlands I was almost dead, my immunity was so weak – I had chronic bronchitis, Hepatitus and aids. I didn't think I could have a life. I just wanted a quiet place to die, because I couldn't find a solution to my problems – why did God chose this life for me, in the wrong body, why does my family hate me? First I stayed in the asylum seekers' centre (azc) Echt for a year and a half. There I met people who accepted me for who I am. They became my new sisters and brothers. My health improved. When my immune system was strong enough, I was allowed to undergo a sex change operation at the University Medical Center Amsterdam (VUMC)."

Why did Gehzlan come to the Netherlands? Gehzlan smiles: "In Holland my life is different: nothing stops me from being what I am – a normal woman. Here I can walk normally on the street and I can be sure that no one will hit me or spit on me. I was very happy to receive my asylum residence permit. My experience with the application process of the IND has been a good one. At the same time I didn't want to leave the azc, the first place where I felt safe. The residents were like a family to me. Saying goodbye was terrible. I moved to Amsterdam, but I felt less safe there. Fortunately, a friend from azc Echt who works for COC Netherlands helped me to find a studio in Limburg once more, in the town of Eindhoven. The people in Limburg are very kind. They accepted me through all my stages, first as a gay guy and after the operation as a transgender woman."

New ID card
"When I started with my transition to a woman I changed my name and gender on my ID card. That to me was more important than getting the surgery. I sent a copy of my new ID to all my friends to show them. Now, when I walk into a lobby and the receptionist reads my name, the card matches with my appearance, and they see me as a woman. Before my operation I could never understand why transgender people seem to be half naked all the time. But now that I have breasts I understand: I want to show to myself and to the people around me that I'm happy with my new body."