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Coco Moreno also known as ‘Abdullah’
Victim of traditions and liberties in a free world Transgender gropes for identity

 KUWAIT CITY, May 6: The American writer Sarah Bulmer in a newspaper the ‘Daily Iowan’ yesterday highlighted the issue of a Kuwaiti citizen Coco Moreno (not her real name), aka also known as ‘Abdullah’ in Kuwait, who talked about ‘his’ sufferings in Kuwait and in the United States, where ‘she’ studies, reports Al-Rai daily.

Once or twice every year, Coco Moreno braces herself for a full 24 hours of travel over the Atlantic Ocean, a layover at Heathrow Airport, and sometimes Schiphol, Amsterdam, then on to the Arabian Gulf, where she touches down in her homeland of Kuwait. On rare occasions when Coco returns home, she faces the grueling process of putting on what she calls her ‘mask’ of maleness.

She dreads when she must leave her bras, lacy underwear, and makeup in her apartment in Iowa City, where she is a junior at the University of Iowa, to live up to her parents’— and her society’s standards of masculinity.

Journeys
During one of these long journeys back home, she was stopped by a uniformed Kuwaiti customs officer who wanted to know if she was carrying any illegal hormones. Even though she wasn’t, the officer told her he needed to search her bag. He unzipped her small suitcase and sifted through the few articles of clothing she had brought, including pair of skinny jeans, which Coco said she never leaves behind although she is aware she may be ridiculed in Kuwait. Amid her T-shirts and socks was a copy of the Holy Quran.

The officer stammered apologetically and sent Coco on her way. Now, the process of returning home for Coco — a Kuwaiti citizen on a student visa in the United States — will only become more difficult, she said, since she has begun taking hormones, costing thousands of dollars out of her own pocket, which will soon supplement her gender- confirmation surgery. “I’ve gone through so many layers of transition,” said Coco, now 21, but who once upon a time was a young boy Abdullah living in an affluent small suburb in downtown Kuwait City.

Although, for most part, the Kuwaiti government operates under a somewhat similar legal system applied in countries such as Italy and France, Sharia law weighs in on certain matters, including gender roles. In Kuwait, male homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment of anywhere from seven to 10 years, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. In Saudi Arabia, which shares a border with Kuwait, homosexuality is punishable by death by stoning. Coco Moreno also known as ‘Abdullah’ In May 2007, the National Assembly voted to amend an article in the country’s penal code that anyone “imitating the opposite sex in any way” would face one year in prison and KD 1,000 fine. The amendment “doesn’t punish any specific behavior or act but rather physical appearance, the acceptable parameters of which [are] to be arbitrarily defined by individual police,” said Human Rights Watch. And now, because of the ancient laws set in place in Kuwait, Coco considers herself ‘country-less’. One of her options is to seek asylum in order to avoid almost ensured persecution in her home country.

However, the United States — her home away from home — holds a very high bar for immigrants seeking asylum. The refugees need what experts call a personal and unique ‘credible fear’ in order to be granted asylum. While being transgender doesn’t guarantee that a person will be granted asylum, a case like Coco’s will probably go forward in the courts.

Coco remembers growing up next to the coastal Al Sha’ab amusement park in her grandmother’s house in Salmiya, largely considered to be the social center of Kuwait City. It’s the same house where her father was raised with his 17 siblings. Her parents were never very religious, but Coco is now in the process of taking estrogen and progesterone hormones, one of the first steps of gender confirmation. “It’s weird because I still believe in God. God was such a big part of my life,” Coco said. “I used to pray five times a day and fast during Ramadan. But, did I honestly believe in it? She paused to reflect on this for several seconds as she thought about her family in Kuwait. As for Coco’s mother and father — who refer to Coco only as Abdullah — religion is important, but they are considerably less religious than many of their neighbors. “I was used to hearing the call to prayer.

Everyone around me was doing it,” she said. “I still talk to God almost every day.” Maybe that’s why the woman her parents still call ‘Abdullah’ was allowed to come to the United States to attend high school and college in order to get an American education — and what better way to beat one’s chest with collegiate pride than to attend the University of Iowa, home of the Hawkeyes, right in America’s Heartland? However, moving to Iowa, and gaining the freedom of any American college student only reaffirmed what she had known along: that she was more comfortable wearing 4-inch heels and a tight black dress than donning baggy pants and boxer briefs. And she isn’t alone. An estimated 2 to 5 percent of the population is transgender, according to the Transgender Law and Policy Institute. The report said the number of transsexuals is smaller.

Long ago, during a pilgrimage to Makkah with her mother at the age of 11, Coco remembers herself as Abdullah, praying to Allah and desperately begging for help. “Dear God, is there something wrong with me? Please fix me,” the girl cried from inside her boyish body.

Help
From an even young age, Coco knew she was different from the neighborhood boys. She had no interest in playing cards or soccer on the team for which her father, an exprofessional soccer player turned firefighter, was the coach. She always knew how to talk to girls but dreaded the days when she’d have to lace up her cleats for soccer practice as ‘the coach’s son’ and the ‘older brother’ of four sisters, who range between the ages of 6 and 18. For her father and her Muslim family, she was the token child: the ‘only son’. Abdullah, which means ‘to submit peacefully to God,’ in Arabic, would rather play house. Unlike other boys, she kept to herself. ‘Sometimes my parents kept me in the same clothes for three days because I was so clean’, Coco said. ‘I didn’t like getting dirty’.

 

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