I set along this path over a decade ago to live authentically as the man I am, and I have been lucky in that Allah has not deserted me.
My pre-Ramadan shopping list this year did not resemble those of years past. In lieu of baklava and almond-stuffed dates, I found myself purchasing sterile gauze, anti-bacterial wipes, and antibiotic ointment. 10 days before the start of Ramadan this year, I would find myself sitting in a hospital waiting room, about to have surgery to reconstruct and masculinize my genitals.
“You must be super hungry,” said Jenn, part of the group of loved ones who had come to see me off. “How are you not hangry right now?”
It was around 5pm, and they’d expected to start my procedure three hours prior, but there had been complications with the previous patient. We were just going to have to wait until the surgeon and his team could get to me. Per pre-surgical procedure, I hadn’t had any food or water since midnight.
"Sabr"—patience—was the thought that immediately came to mind. As an inherently impatient creature, I was often exasperated, as a child, when told to wait. But as a Muslim, waiting without food or water was nothing new, and anyway, my work autoreply had been on since 7pm the previous evening, so it’s not like I needed to be anywhere in particular. As a transgender man, I’d waited a lifetime for my genitalia to shift, what was another few hours surrounded by my closest friends.
When they finally rolled me into pre-op for the final discussion with my surgeon, I found myself channeling my mother. “Have you had something to eat? Is someone bringing you caffeine?” I demanded of the surgeon. “You’re going to be operating on the most nerve-rich part of my body, I need you at your best.”
Dr. Yasir Hamdi, my surgeon, was an affable West Coaster, who would treat a patient’s concerns with the utmost seriousness, and yet might also crack a joke in the same encounter. I felt like I was in safe hands. His name made it obvious that he was from a Muslim background. At one point, I considered mentioning to him that my Advance Medical Directive includes a provision where if I died, I wanted the closest LGBTQ-affirming practicing Muslim to whisper the Shahadah into my ear – could that be him? But that line of questioning seemed unduly intrusive and unprofessional. And I’m from New England, where religion is an intensely private thing. So I focused my last-minute questions on the procedure at hand, and soon enough, the anesthesiologist put some medicine through the IV in my hand, and Dr. Hamdi and the room went dark.
The rest of the day disappeared into the vaguest of memories of post-op nausea, of coughing up gunk from being intubated, and of hearing that things had gone well.
The next morning, when Dr. Hamdi did his rounds, I asked him if he thought I’d be able to fast during Ramadan. “That’s far enough out that you probably could, yes. As long as you eat and drink at night,” he said. Then, with a thoughtful look, he said, “I can’t fast and keep being safe for my patients. You saw what long hours I work. There is no way I could do that without eating or drinking.”
I nodded. “As your patient, I absolutely understand,” I agreed.
In some Muslim countries like Iraq or Egypt, one can legally change one’s sex marker. In others like Pakistan and Albania, gender is more complex than “man” or “woman.” But I don’t call any of these countries home, and I’m Muslim in a decidedly North American sense – aside from my talent for getting ethnically profiled going through airports, being Muslim is an important part of my cultural identity. But my spouse is Jewish, and I’m not necessarily super observant… until I see blue flashing lights in my rearview window, at which point I start to recite Ayatul Kursi under my breath—under my breath, of course, because I really don’t want to freak that cop out.
So even if I could have possibly judged Dr. Hamdi for not fasting, even if I believed judgment had a plate in religion, I had absolutely no desire to do so. In that moment, his visibility as a Muslim meant so much to me, that I couldn’t care less how observant he was or wasn’t. Prior to that moment, I hadn’t even dared to dream about finding Muslims who were trans-aware and accepting. And now in Northern California, just days short of Ramadan, a Muslim surgeon took painstakingly constructed my penis and scrotum in order to affirm my gender – inshaallah, by Eid my brand spanking new family jewels will have healed. I set along this path over a decade ago to live authentically as the man I am, and I have been lucky in that Allah has not deserted me. In this, as in every other part of my transition, I was so fortunate to feel like Allah had my back. As the cool kids say, mashaallah—as Allah willed it.