In thinking about gender, we can easily assume that questioning or passing as another gender is a form of transition, that it comes as a means to satisfy an otherwise unknown gender identity. Yet, it could be more political than that: it could be as a means to adapt and to be accepted in society, a punk rock middle finger to gender assumptions.
This is the story of Sisa Abu Daooh, an Egyptian woman whose story sounds like great fodder for an empowering Angelina Jolie film. In a recent New York Times feature, you learn that Ms. Daooh has been passing as a man for more than forty years. Why? Because she needed a job. She wanted a better life that was unavailable to her as a woman; thus, she switched her gender to get ahead.
In an interview last week, Ms. Daooh, 64, said she began dressing as a man as a practical matter, to escape restrictions on women’s employment in a patriarchal culture and earn enough to support her daughter, Hoda.
But now, whether she still needs to pose as a man or not, she said she had no intention of changing. What began as a way to survive rural poverty has evolved into her preferred way of life and a means of navigating a world dominated by men.
The announcement was made as an effort to raise awareness of differing gender and sexuality circumstances in the country, where police arrest those with atypical expressions. Daooh has been accepted because her situation though. She seems like a necessary symbol who can—in the words of my mother—”change hearts and minds” in regards to LGBTQ issues.
The article details just how important this is. It’s wonderfully fascinating and a great example of something people in America (Ahem, Arkansas and Indiana.) can learn from, that sometimes the way your sex and sexuality manifest has nothing to do with your place in the world. You have to do what you have to do to survive.
A large part of the reason her story has been so widely accepted by Egyptians is that there is no suggestion that her choice of clothing had anything to do with sexuality issues. Nevertheless, her story has demonstrated how many in Egypt are “pushing at the limits of traditional gender roles,” said Scott Long, a human-rights activist living in Cairo.
“While the state appropriately honors her for her courage, it imprisons others who call themselves transgender,” he said. “If the government cared about principles, not exploiting prejudices, it would respect people for being true to themselves and for doing what it takes to keep themselves and their families alive.”
Daooh has no plans on changing who she is and seems like an all around rad woman and mother. We certainly need more stories like this, more “straight” allies who cross into our world. It would make a ton of difference here. And, again: just wait until this becomes a big Hollywood production a la Albert Nobbs. It will make a lot of people go HMMMM—and hopefully galvanize the scoffers.