By Maya Jafer
I was born and raised in the south of India in Madurai, Tamil Nadu with my parents, older brother and younger sister. I was born into a very religious Muslim family. My parents gave me the name Mohammed Gulam Hussain though now, as a post-operative transsexual female, I am Maya Jafer.
My journey to the U.S. began in 2000, at the age of 30, when I moved to Seattle on a F-1 student visa to complete my second doctorate in Natural Medicine.
The past decade has been a tremendous struggle for me. Though I entered this country legally, I faced intense discrimination as a Muslim in the post 9/11-world. My last name – Hussain – did not help and I often dealt with interrogations concerning my perceived (and false) association with Saddam Hussein. I often wished for stronger protections against this profiling and discrimination in immigration and law enforcement.
In the 10 years it took me to become a U.S. citizen, I faced financial hardship, dozens of interviews, and lived in constant fear of deportation. Despite being a highly skilled, in-demand worker as a doctor, the process was nothing short of painful. By the time I got my citizenship and gave up my Indian citizenship, I was traumatized by the U.S. system. I even wondered whether it was worth it to get my citizenship and work here, even after the US had invested resources in educating me.
Yet, I still choose this path. I knew I was transgender and could get killed, raped or beaten if I transitioned from male-to-female in India. Surviving became more important than the continual discrimination dealt to me through the immigration process.
On May 27, 2009, I received my first Estrogen hormonal shot to begin the physical process of transitioning. In late 2010, I received my U.S. citizenship. Years before, I had completed my paperwork and interviews as a male for my interview so, when I applied for my citizenship certificate and saw the option of changing my name, I stated my name as Maya Jafer.
More recently, with the help of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, I was able to change my gender, and applied for a passport as a female. I was fortunate as the law had only changed 2 months prior to allow for this change. This allowed me to travel to Thailand for gender reassignment surgery on February 10th, 2011. This pivotal moment allowed me to change my name and gender on my social security card.
However, the paperwork and process has left me drained and depleted emotionally and financially. While I have official documents stating I am female, I will not have complete recognition until I get a U.S.court order. This process takes several months and I am so tired that I have no energy to take this step until absolutely necessary.
In addition to the dual, intersecting documentation burdens of being a transgender immigrant, my family found out about my transition a few months ago. My brother and sister sent me excruciating emails filled with abuse and name-calling. They still believe they are protecting my only surviving parent by not telling her. I was suicidal for months.
I work every day to stay positive, to survive, to heal. I was and am able to survive only because of my spirituality, and my strong relationship with God. I am hoping all of this hard work will pay off some day as I continue my life as a doctor, actress, activist and dancer. While I don’t know if I have a better life here, I do have my life. I’m going to stay in gratitude and that’s how I’m going to stay alive.
Of all the traumas I faced, some can be prevented by immigration reform. We can expand and streamline the process for skilled workers and students like myself to immigrate on H1B visas. We can offer more transgender immigrants asylum from persecution, alternatives to often abusive detention, and a straightforward paperwork process. We can create real prohibitions on discrimination and profiling in immigration enforcement.
No one else should have to suffer as I have. That is why I support comprehensive immigration reform.