Transgender Awareness Week 2023

This Transgender Awareness Week we spoke to Hannah, a trans woman from Sri Lanka, about her experiences.
Transgender Awareness Week

Micro Rainbow has worked with trans people since the organisation’s inception in 2012. Trans people are some of the most vulnerable and most resilient people in our community, and some of the most persecuted.  

Hannah is a trans woman from Sri Lanka. She has been part of Micro Rainbow’s community since April 2022. In Sri Lanka criminalises same sex sexual between men and between women. Furthermore, the gender expression of trans people is criminalised. The maximum sentence is 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. In Qatar, where Hannah lived for many years, the punishment is even more severe – sentences can include a possible maximum penalty of death by stoning.

Hannah is telling her story for Transgender Awareness Week:

I’ve always known I am a woman

“I’ve always known I was a woman, but it took me a long time to find the words to express it. Growing up in Sri Lanka, I would go to sleep every night and pray that I would wake up as a woman. I wished I could be a woman and be ‘normal’, and not have to live with the everyday abuse and harassment I was receiving. 

My family knew I was different and tried to change me. They tried to get me to act more masculine – change the way I sat and walked and held myself – and tried to make me give up my ‘feminine’ hobbies. I loved sewing, and one day my sister went and took my sewing things and threw them in the road. A woman saw them in the road and when I went to get them I had to pretend that they were my sister’s things.

Secret life

At one point I had a boyfriend in Sri Lanka but we to keep our relationship completely hidden. Behind closed doors he was my boyfriend but outside we were just friends. It wasn’t safe to be open. In Sri Lanka, there are gay people, but no one is out because the punishment is severe. People live in fear.

Life for me in Sri Lanka was miserable. I faced constant harassment and endured many rapes and sexual assaults. I tried to commit suicide twice. I couldn’t go on trying to live there. Eventually, in 2008, I left Sri Lanka and went to Qatar, where I stayed until 2021.

Escape to Qatar

Despite the laws in Qatar, I lived there as a gay man. I didn’t know about hormone therapy; I didn’t know about trans – this was the only way I knew how to be. But during that time, I was still desperate to be a woman.

In 2021 I came to the UK. I claimed asylum in March 2022, and went to my first Micro Rainbow event in April 2022. My first event was a body and movement workshop. Coming into contact with Micro Rainbow, meeting other LGBTQI and especially trans people, was really important for me.

Friends and community

The people I met at Micro Rainbow events became my friends and my support network. I learnt so much about the LGBTQI community from them. I learnt what being trans is. They helped me to understand that I wasn’t a gay man. Maybe I was non-binary – something I had never heard of. Eventually, I came to understand that I really was a woman and I was trans.

Two of those friends, a trans woman from Pakistan and a lesbian from Bangladesh, even marched me down to Dean Street to have an appointment with a doctor. I told the doctor about my life and the things I was feeling about my gender identity, and she said to me: yes, Hannah, you are a woman. I am forever grateful for this doctor. She is also a trans woman, and I will travel for hours to see her. She saw me and still sees me for who I am.

Reborn in November 2022

In November 2022 I was reborn. I was first born in November 1982, but in November 2022 I was prescribed hormones for the first time and that was a rebirth for me. It was my first moment of true trans joy and acceptance.

Now, I have been on the hormones for a year. I have seen my body change so much. I look at pictures of me from a year ago and I look so different. I am so happy that I am on this journey.

Waiting for refugee status

I am still waiting to get my refugee status. Even though I feel much more positive living openly and as myself in the UK, the waiting is very difficult is hard to cope with. I really try and be positive. I have had amazing support from many organisations in the UK while I have been here. I have never actually had anything in my life like that before. They are so genuine, and when you need them, they will be there for you.”

Help us continue supporting trans refugees and asylum seekers like Hannah

Help people are fleeing persecution because of who they are. Become a Micro Rainbow ally and help support our three programmes.