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Breathe Free Client Testimonies: Manar

This week, IRAP launched a nationwide photo awareness campaign dubbed Breathe Free, featuring 14 portraits of IRAP clients who have successfully started safe, new lives in America. IRAP law students participated in Breathe Free all over the country, gathering in 15 cities to mount the large format portraits in public fora. Breathe Free seeks both to empower participating clients and to educate the public with success stories of refugee resettlement in the United States. You can learn more by joining the Facebook event page here, and by searching #BreatheFree on Twitter.

This week, we’ll be sharing written reflections from the participants each day. Today’s piece comes from Manar, an Iraqi Female to Male transsexual who IRAP helped come to the United States in 2013. Manar now does incredible work as a gender identity and refugee rights activist. His personal goal is educating society about gender identity and the refugee situation in the Middle East.

Don’t miss the photos below of Manar’s portrait at Breathe Free launches around the country. 

Living as a normal man was my biggest dream.

I am a 33-year-old Female to Male transsexual, born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. In May 2013 I arrived to the United States as a refugee after 9 months in Lebanon waiting on UNHCR’s decision for my resettlement case.

I lived for 30 years low profile in my home country due to the sensitivity of my situation as a transsexual in a war zone that been ranked as one of the most dangerous places to live as an LGBT individual. After a March 2012 brutal LGBT attack campaign, fear and hope led me to seek help though UNHCR and IRAP, which studied my case and guided me into a safe place to live in NY with my new family (my American country girlfriend and her twin daughters – we met online 3 years prior to me coming here).

Living as a transsexual 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. My biggest support comes from my girlfriend Stephanie. Stephanie provides me with guidance and emotional support to find a start. Within the past 2 years living in US, I was able to find love, a home, a simple job, and to learn a lot about American cultures. Most importantly I was able to seek medical help and start living as the man that I am supposed to be. The treatment process and changing my official documents was very smooth.

Recently I initiated social media activity to provide help and support to Arab transsexuals. My group provides success stories, medical information, and details about the resettlement process, and refers potential clients to IRAP for further assistant. On the other side I represent my group in LGBT activities and events spotlighting the Arab Trans situation and challenges in the Middle East, which does not acknowledge transsexual rights nor provide medical resources.

I live as a normal man now with my small family in the gorgeous countryside of NY. Stephanie and I just got engaged and are planning for the big day!

No more dreaming about the future, now it’s time to achieve my dreams. That’s what living in the USA actually means.

Passersby contemplate Manar’s portrait at the Breathe Free installation at the University of Michigan Law School. 
Manar’s portrait at the Hartford Public Library, where IRAP’s UConn chapter currently has all its Breathe Free posters on display.