THE BLOG

Keeping the Faith

09/05/2013 04:10 pm ET | Updated Nov 05, 2013

Like most other transgender people, I have experienced discrimination, shame, rejection and even hostility for living in accordance with my true self.

Now, as to whether I've experienced more or worse ostracism than others, I don't know. I have lost longtime friendships, relationships with relatives and professional colleagues as well as access to people, places and things that were once part of my life.

By the same token, I have been more fortunate than many other trans people -- and many other people, period. I have been welcomed by people and into places when I expected no such hospitality, and at times I have had glimpses into worlds I would not have considered in my old life.

I'm thinking now of the first time I entered a mosque. After I took off my shoes, a caretaker directed me into the area in which women prayed. We sat on wooden chairs behind a partition about three feet high. The other women prayed, some audibly. A few retreated to a more private but still-visible area (from which they could have seen the rest of us), removed their headscarves and washed themselves.

Granted, we were in the Sultanahmet or "Blue" Mosque in Istanbul. But I had similar experiences in other Turkish mosques, in the countryside as well as the city, some of which were not visited by tourists or other foreigners. While those visits, and the hospitality of both the women and men, left me with no desire to become a Muslim (or, for that matter, an adherent to any other religion), I felt privileged to be allowed to partake of what, for some people, is the most sacrosanct part of their lives.

I hope that Lucy Vallender will have such experiences one day soon.

Three years ago, she had gender-reassignment surgery. Before that, she'd been a soldier in Her Majesty's forces. After her surgery, she met a Muslim man on an online dating site and became his second wife. She is believed to be the first transgender Muslim woman in the United Kingdom.

Although she says she's happy with her marriage and new-found faith, she was upset with the way her local mosque, in the southwestern city of Swindon, has treated her: She's not allowed to pray with the other women and, she says, worshippers have asked her rude questions about everything from her bra cup size to whether or not she has a period. They've even asked to see her birth certificate.

When I took my trip to Turkey, I had been on hormones for nearly three years and had been living full-time as a woman for just over two; about three and a half more years would pass before my surgery. I don't know how long Ms. Vallender had been living as female before her surgery or marriage but, from what I've read about her, I probably had more experience, if you will, than she's had so far. Also, I was nearly two decades older than she is now, which may have given me some social and other skills she has not yet acquired.

I hope that nothing I've said seems condescending toward Ms. Vallender. I suspect (or, at any rate, hope) that her faith, her love for her husband and his for her will give her the strength she will need to develop the patience she will need until people in her community understand (to the degree they can or will) and accept her. I believe that she will find such acceptance, and even the hospitality I've experienced, because in my travels and in my work I have met very, very good Muslim people -- and, most important of all, because she has accepted and embraced herself.