Saudi Sex Surgery Skepticism

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The story of the five Saudi women getting F-M sex changes that Jesse Walker noted earlier seems too good to be true. I spent 45 minutes yesterday trying to get my Arabic-reading brother in law to find the original story on the website for the Saudi paper al Watan, but it wasn't there or on any of the other al Watans. I do think there was an original story in al Watan, because this Jordanian paper has slightly more detail than is found in any of the other versions—all of which are clearly reading the same original. But nobody has any names or specifics.

It's weird the way these third-world post office stories—in which everybody passes along an article about how a bunch of Egyptians drown trying to get a chicken out of a well, etc.—have survived into the web age. The sex-change story certainly may be true, but I don't think I believe anything anymore in this post-Frey/LeRoy/Blair/Glass/Finkel/Jones/Forman/Cohn/Rothman*/Newton world. A few weeks ago I read David Remnick's excellent story on the Palestinian elections, and when he mentions his conversation with a Gazan whose first name is "Eichmann," my first reaction was Good for Remnick, that even at his high level of career achievement he can still get into crazy situations like that. But my second reaction was Remnick made that shit up!

That was just my reaction: I'm not really accusing Remnick of making anything up. But if he did, who's gonna go scour Gaza proving that there is not a local resident by the name of Eichmann? For that matter, there probably are five Saudi trannies out there somewhere. But like St. Thomas, I'll believe it when I can put my fingers through their…nevermind.

Update: Just as I've always suspected, my inlaws can't read. Commenter anon (my favorite writer) sends in the original story, which includes some interesting details about how the wo/men got their new identity papers, and citing some dubious-sounding verses from the Prophet condemning gender reassignment. That seems pretty forward-looking for a person speaking in the seventh century, but I guess for a man born without a foreskin all things are possible.

* John Gilmore gives a spirited defense of Rodney Rothman in the comments.

Update of the update: My inlaws can read. Not only that, here's a complete translation/commentary of the al Watan story from my brother in law Tony Karam:

After reading your story about the five Saudi women who changed their gender in Saudi Arabia, I believe the same way you believe. I am also like St. Thomas. I don't believe unless I witness because they don't mention the names of the women or the country and hospital where the surgery was done.

Here are more details of what the Alwatan Newspaper dated April 3, 2006 says:

The Assistant Director of Dr. Orfan Hospital in Jeddah, Dr. Mohammad Abdel-Mawjud, told "Alwatan" that five (5) Saudi Women changed their gender within one year and became men. Dr. Abdel-Mawjud said that those five (5) women refused to be labeled as mentally ill patients, that they knew exactly what they were doing and why they did it. But it looks like the Saudi society wanted those women to be labeled as "mentally ill" like the Afghani Muslim men who became Christian. This doctor continues to say that those five women traveled to other Arab countries where the surgeries were done, then went back to their country with legal documents different than the ones they used to leave their country issued by Saudi Embassies in those countries (i.e., indicating that they are men.)

Dr. Abdel-Mawjud says that those women decided to do this surgery because men dominate the Saudi Society.

Dr. Abdel-Mawjud mentioned that there is a black market that is encouraging Saudi Women to do this surgery in some Arab Countries, India and Far East, which allows those women to go back to their countries only two weeks after the surgery.

Dr. Abdel-Mawjud added that most of the women who have had this surgery and changed their gender regretted this and wanted to become women again after it was too late because this kind of surgery is irreversible.

Sheikh Abdallah Bin-Beih, the vice-chairman of the Muslim Imams at King Abdel Aziz University in Jeddah, said that according to the Holy Koran we have to accept what God gave us and do not change God's creation.

Sheikh Abdallah Bin-Beih added that this is mainly a psychological problem and it is coming from the Western World.

The story adds that according to Mr. Mohammad Al-Asmari, the director of Saudi Customs in Jeddah, none of those women who had this surgery were put in jail and they are being treated as mentally ill patients.

The story says that the Saudi Embassies outside Saudi Arabia have the right to give those papers to women who became men. The Saudi Embassy gives this person a passport, which can be used only once to allow that person to go back to Saudi Arabia and finish the rest of the legal paper work.

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  1. “It’s weird the way these third-world post office stories?in which everybody passes along an article about how a bunch of Egyptians drown trying to get a chicken out of a well, etc.?have survived into the web age.”

    No, it’s not weird; it’s natural. The internet is tailormade for this sort of thing because your local newspaper is limited in space and therefore won’t run most of these items, but it’s trivially easy to build a website that consolidates a whole bunch of sources.

  2. Might want to add Mimms to that list.

  3. How can we get a good discussion going when they keep posting new threads?

    Stop spoiling us with so much conversation fodder!

    :=)

  4. Tim, here is the article you are looking for.

  5. i want to see of the saudi sex surgury

  6. Tim,

    Rodney Rothman is a friend of mine, and i’ve narrated the events of his new yorker debacle here twice before. I dont think he belongs on that list, and i think his past work probably deserves a little more scrutiny before labeling him a ‘bad journalist’. AKAIK, he’s never written a piece of jouralism in his life. He’s a comedy writer.

    David Remnick’s ‘outing’ of Rodney’s thing in the NY observer – independent of anyone else’s comment on how David ended up publishing something he later decided was a Very Naughty Thing – was some cheap bullshit motivated by a need to avoid professional embarrasment &/or legal liabilities. The guy was covering his ass over something unrelated to ‘veracity’, but very much related to his own publishing the ’embellished’ account of what amounted to endorsed corporate espionage. Tresspassing, at the very least. From my [not legally representable] rememberance, the NY’er paid for the piece (as did others) before he even wrote it.

    anyway, his name shouldnt get stuck in the public memory toilet as being a ‘BS artist’, just through the repetition of a blog meme about journalistic factiness.

    anyway, his book (‘Early Bird’ http://www.bookslut.com/nonfiction/2005_07_005948.php) is written with the same approach as that ‘my fake job’ piece: he ‘broke in’ somewhere, and wrote about events he witnessed… and made those events funny. funnier. The book is not labeled ‘facts’. I dont think he’s in any hot water over this, regardless of the nonfiction moniker.

    anyhoo. Take his name off your link! or pistols at dawn. I demand restitution good sir!

    or i’ll just bitch more!

    JG

  7. But it looks like the Saudi society wanted those women to be labeled as “mentally ill” like the Afghani Muslim men who became Christian.

    Tim, just to be clear, the highlighted part above isn’t in the source so I guess Tony wanted to spice things up 🙂

  8. Just HAD to revive the Egyptians drowning in the well story. Took me years to get the ribbing from that to die down in college (I’m Egypt-American).

    I remember when my mom visited me in college, and my roommate had posted that outside our door. I’ll never forget her look of horror/disappointment as she read the article, hand over mouth and all. Damn you, Cavanaugh.

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