A transgender woman on coming out to her Pakistani family: 'Words like transition don't exist in Punjabi'

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor
Amber Abbas transitioned from male (picture left) to female (pictured right). [Photo: Amber Abbas]

From the age of seven, Amber Abbas, now 32, knew she was different.

Born Adam*, the only son in a traditional Pakistani family, she bore the full weight of her parents’ expectation to become an upstanding male figure in her local community.

“Religion and society came first,” Amber tells Yahoo UK. “I was expected to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather; to become a doctor, get married and be a good Muslim.”

Which is why five years ago, Amber – having just began her transition to become a woman – faced the hardest conversation of her life.

There weren’t even words to express it in Punjabi, her mother’s native language, she explains.

“Words like transgender and transition don’t exist in Punjabi,” she says.

Amber (pictured) moved from Manchester to Cardiff to start a new life. [Photo: Amber Abbas]

“I said: ‘This isn’t me, I’m not the way you think I am – I’ve been living as a woman.'”

“She was hearing the words but she couldn’t understand. From that day forward, I knew things were going to be different between us.”

But after 27 years of hiding who she was, it wasn’t so much a choice as a necessity.

Amber had spent her life to date confused about her true identity. At school, she was bullied for her “girlie” appearance.

I looked feminine, and I talked and behaved in the same way. Bullies followed me around wherever I went: near my home, at my local mosque and at school. No one wanted to associate with the weird girlie boy.”

While outwardly, Amber tried to live up to her parents’ dream that she would become a doctor, her grades suffered as she chose to hide the bullying from her parents.

She was further confused by taunts from class mates, who used to call her “Gay boy”.

“I knew I was attracted to men,” she explains. “But I have never fancied a gay man.”

Amber says she finally feels at peace. [Photo: Amber Abbas]

In fact, the only hint Amber had about who she might be was when she attended a family friend’s wedding in Pakistan, where a group of transgender performers known as hijras – a custom in the country – were entertaining.

“For the first time in my life, I found a connection,” she says.

Tragically, when Amber was 20, her father died from liver disease. But it was going out to support her family financially, with a career in retail, that meant she finally found the means to experiment with dressing as a woman.

She later became involved with the transgender community in Manchester, renting a flat away from her family home so she could live as a woman at the weekend.

Five years on from her confession, Amber – who has since moved to Cardiff to start anew – has a strained relationship with her mother: “She struggles to understand the path I’m on.”

Before confessing her secret to her mother, Amber had also told her five sisters.

“It was the biggest shock for them since Dad died. From that day on, I knew I had to leave home for good.”

Amber began dressing as a woman in her twenties. [Photo: Getty]

But, despite everything, Amber feels she has been given a new lease of life.

“I could no longer hide who I was. I wanted to go outside and begin living life as the woman I felt I was, and I have learnt to take the good with the bad.”

Now, she is well on her way to changing her outward appearance to match her true identity.

After four years of laser hair removal treatment at the sk:n clinic to get rid of her body hair, Amber will soon undergo hormone therapy and have a breast augmentation to support her transition.

“Transitioning is such a uniquely personal journey,” she says.

“I can only go at my own pace and I choose to focus on the positives. I finally feel at peace.”

*A pseudonym as Amber prefers for her pre-transition male name not to be known.

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