A man with the memories of a woman: Ali's story

31 Mar

The mail is addressed to "Mrs. Hamidi" instead of "Mr. Hamidi," and at his language school, he is addressed as "Oula" instead of "Ali" because that is the name on his identification card.

For Ali, every time this happens feels like a slap in the face. The young man is transgender. He identifies as a man who was born in a woman's body. Ali came to Berlin in the summer of 2015, leaving behind his home and past as "Oula" in Syria.

These are scenes from the DW documentary, "I was born in Berlin-  A man with the memories of a woman," that saw Ali being accompanied between 2016 and 2020 during his journey towards a new life as a man and in the body he now feels comfortable in.

For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth does not match their actual gender identity. Some of them undergo gender reassignment procedures, such as hormone therapy or surgery, to live out their actual identity. However, this is a lengthy and painful process.

Since 2009, March 31 marks International Transgender Day of Visibility, which aims to raise awareness of the discrimination against transgender people.

Towards a name change

Ali's first port of call in Germany back in 2015 was Magdeburg, the capital of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. He struggled with loneliness the most: of not being able to be himself, being uncomfortable with anyone else and always having to hide.

He came to Germany without knowing much about the country. Because of the female name in his documents and his identity, Ali felt he couldn't integrate into society. Even registering at a language school and looking for a job proved to be very difficult for this reason. In desperation, he took on work under the table, but even there his identity caused problems.

"My whole life takes place between these two identities: Oula and Ali. I just can't do it anymore," Ali explains in the DW documentary."I'm looking for the moment when my heart will align with my body and my feelings." Without any friends, his days are boring and monotonous. A change of scene is a first ray of hope.

Ali sits on the bank of a river

After arriving in Germany, Ali first lived in Magdeburg, before he moved to Berlin. His move to Berlin marked the beginning of the long and difficult procedure to become "Ali" — officially and physically. The young man started taking hormones and, after a six-month procedure, managed to have his name changed by court order.

For the first time, his true name appeared on his ID card, which Ali can now show with confidence and pride — such as on his first trip to France as a transgender.Ali then started to learn German, made his first friends and came into his own in Berlin. "I am Ali, with all his will and strength," he declares proudly into the camera.

Forced marriage and arrest

Ali's past is something he left behind in Syria. As a child, he had already noticed that something was different — but in Syria, this was a taboo subject. His family had forced him into a traditional life as a woman and marriage.

Ali was raped. The young man got involved during the revolution against the Al-Assad regime in 2011 and enabled people with fake IDs to escape across the border. For this, Ali was arrested on October 12, 2012.

Memories of the detention keep haunting him: bloodstained walls, bodies wrapped in cloth on the floor, humiliated women being beaten. It was in prison that Ali made the decision to finally acknowledge his identity as a man.

On the condition of leaving Syria, he was released a short time later and arrived in Germany via Turkey on the Balkan route in the summer of 2015. "Oula, the woman, died here in prison and will never come back. Deep down, I feel that I am Ali," says Ali onstage during the play "X-Adra" by Ramzy Choukair, where he talks about the violence during his detention and his personal decision.

In memory of 'Oula'

The removal of female physical features through the gender reassignment surgeries in Berlin helped Ali move further away from "Oula." He spent much time in hospital due to the surgeries, needing a lot of patience and stamina for the procedures. Seven months before the final operation, known as gender affirmation surgery, the doctors inserted a silicone tube into a part of Ali's forearm, which was to become his make genitalia.

The physical changes were the harbingers of the future Ali had wished for. "I feel like I started my life in Berlin, I was born in Berlin. And everything I've always dreamed of has happened in Berlin," he recalls in the documentary. His new everyday life is settled and secure: a steady job, a house and a partner.

The DW documentary also introduces Ali's caregivers and partners in Berlin. They agree that Ali is a man with the memories of a woman. In a relationship, he says, this is a particular advantage since he does not make the typical mistakes. The remains of "Oula" help Ali to better understand his female partners. But he is certain that this was the right course for him.

"If I had not done all these operations and had stayed in Syria, I would certainly have to fight for my life today. Because Oula could never have survived," Ali says in "I was born in Berlin." "Now she has missed out on so many things since my transformation. So, I decided to make up for that." Tattooed on his skin are signs of reconciliation: "Ali" reaching out and embracing "Oula," carrying her forever under his skin.


Author Kim-Aileen Sterzel

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