Living in a free land that treats me equally and gives me the right to make my choices—that’s why I am here in the USA. I am a 30-year-old female-to-male transgender Iraqi, born and raised in Baghdad. In 2013, I arrived in the United States as a refugee from Lebanon, where I was waiting on UNHCR’s decision for my resettlement case. As a transgender refugee, my case moved much more quickly than many others — I waited for nine months, but many people wait for several years.
I lived my whole life in low profile in my home country, because I was transgender in a war zone that was ranked as one of the most dangerous places to live as an LGBTI individual. After a March 2012 brutal campaign of attacks and killings of LGBTI individuals, fear and hope led me to seek help through the International Refugee Assistance Project, which studied and helped my case, and UNHCR, who guided me into a safe place to live in the United States.
Living as a transgender refugee comes with many challenges. The biggest challenge is where to start and how to pick up your life from where you left it in a totally different world where everything looks new. In my new home I finally started the female-to-male transition to live as the man I have always been from the inside.
For me, it was never an easy step to leave everything behind to be a refugee walking toward the unknown future, but the situation in my home country forced me to leave with tears in my eyes. On the other hand, I feel blessed to be here in the USA. In this country, everybody is equal and if you work hard you can achieve your dreams. There is something here I have never experienced before, which is the rule of law.
As a Muslim, my first reflection is that this nation accepts everybody with an open heart. I did not feel I was an outcast because everybody here represents a different background and people of all backgrounds join together in loving this county. As a refugee, I feel welcomed by the people I meet, and I have been treated with respect because so many people here were refugees once.
In the few years that I have lived here, I have been able to live as a man, marry the woman I love, continue my studies, work as an IT specialist and volunteer for refugee causes in my state.
Unfortunately, most media here show only the bad side of a few individuals, and I view it as my role to reflect the real image of a Muslim refugee. However, this is a big responsibility to represent my home country, reflect my religion, and show people that refugees are hardworking people. I feel so proud to represent the refugees, simply because I had lived a very hard life in Iraq and this has made me very strong. I appreciate all the little things I have now.
I feel so blessed to be in this land, and it is my job now to return the favor, and be a productive citizen who helps to build this nation and reflect the American spirit and values to the whole world.
Ali Alwan (name changed for privacy), lives with his wife in the Northeastern United States. He works in information technology and serves as an advocate for LGBTI communities and refugee resettlement.