A leading Egyptian actor who revealed on TV that his daughter had transitioned to become a man has been widely applauded on social media.
Last Sunday, Hisham Selim took viewers by surprise when he spoke openly about 26-year-old Nour’s step – a rare occurrence in the conservative country.
Two days later, Selim was again interviewed on TV, this time accompanied by Nour – previously Noura.
It prompted a wave of support, with LGBT activists seeing it as a boost.
In Egypt, a religiously conservative society, the LGBT community is widely stigmatised.
Transgenders, however, are comparatively more accepted by society and government in Egypt than homosexuals.
Although homosexuality is not explicitly criminalised under Egyptian law, LGBT people are periodically subjected to crackdowns and arrests on the grounds of “debauchery”.
‘I must help him’
In the first interview, on the privately-owned channel Al-Qahira Wa al-Nas, Selim revealed how his son – then aged 18 – first told him about feeling uncomfortable with the gender he was assigned at birth.
“I am living in a body other than my own,” he recalled Nour as saying.
“I was not surprised… because from the day [he] was born I felt [his] body was a boy’s body. I always suspected this,” Selim said.
Selim, 62, praised Nour for being “courageous”, especially as “we live in a society where these things are difficult… very difficult”.
He also spoke about the challenges his son was facing in getting his gender reflected on his national ID – which expired two years ago – because his transition was not yet complete.
“The problem in Egypt is that we have either female or male; we don’t have anything in-between to refer to the transitional stage,” Selim said.
Although transitioning is legal in Egypt, the process is long and complex. It involves medical tests, psychological treatment and approval from both doctors and religious clerics.
Only 48 hours later, Selim and Nour were interviewed together by DW Arabic on a yacht moored at the Red Sea resort city of Hurghada.
Nour said he had thought about taking his own life before talking to his father about transitioning.
“I didn’t feel I was normal. I didn’t feel I could live like that. I didn’t see a future for myself,” he said. “If I hadn’t done this, I would have killed myself.”
“I don’t think anyone will see me now and say ‘no, he should have stayed as Noura’,” he added.
‘A step forward’
Clips from both interviews were widely shared on Egyptian social media, with many expressing admiration for their courage.
Hisham Selim’s openness was celebrated by fellow celebrities, LGBT activists and others.
Transgender woman and human rights defender Malak El-Kashif – whose detention at an all-male prison for three months last year on what Amnesty International called “trumped up charges” sparked an international outcry – described the actor’s statements “a step forward for the social acceptance of transgender people”.
Film director Amr Salama tweeted: “Of course Hisham Salim’s position should be saluted, but the more beautiful surprise is the support from most people for his son.”
But Hisham Selim’s confession that his reaction might not have been the same if his son had wanted to identify as a woman disappointed some people.
“Honestly, when thinking about it I thought, ‘Thank God, it’s not the other way around,'” he told DW Arabic. “Although I believe both are the same, as an Arab and an Egyptian who’s raised believing that men are stronger or have higher status, then it would have definitely been different for me.”