I want you to keep these questions in the back of your mind as you read this story. What is your definition of strength? Do you consider yourself strong?

[Keep thinking; I’ll have questions later].

Despite some protections that have been rolled back for transgender individuals by the current US administration, when it comes to gender we are allowed to express ourselves freely. We have access to affirming therapists, healthcare and surgeries that allow us to tackle our dysphoria. We enjoy the luxury of being allowed to express ourselves freely and even marry who we want. Even though we might receive negative feedback from those who are ignorant, we are free to be ourselves. But, imagine if homosexuality, same sex marriage, and transition were illegal? Imagine for a moment if living in your truth was illegal? Would you have the strength and the courage to still become the man you always knew you were? Would you have the strength to leave behind the entire world as you knew it including your entire family? Well we know a man who did that. A man, who despite all odds being stacked against him,not only survived but conquered and overcame each and every obstacle. The definition of strength and perseverance are personified in Adam Darko and this is his story.

Adam was born and raised in Algeria, Africa which is a predominantly Muslim environment and due to his location he was also raised in the Muslim faith. Although Adam had many questions about himself from a young age, like many of us do, he was forced to suppress his thoughts of being “different”. Since people who were a part of the LGBTQ community were not accepted, Adam who at that time most closely identified with the lesbian community he’d located online, was forced to be extremely discrete while dating women. Being raised in a Muslim household meant following a certain set of rules and standards so although Adam was noticing a change he was unable to express himself.  

From the age of 5 Adam had already begun to realize he was not like everyone else. He questioned his mother about his body parts but was unfortunately stifled because LGBTQ topics and discussions were not allowed in his home. These feelings and questions continued to grow within Adam and by the time he reached high school the feelings he was experiencing were too strong to ignore. Fast forward to Adam’s first year of University and his feelings of dysphoria had become overwhelming. Why was he feeling this way? Was there a name for it?  Was he the only one who felt this way? Adam didn’t know how to rid himself of these feelings so instead he decided to become completely immersed in his religion, Islam. Despite him doubling down on his religion at the time, there was a lion, a king inside of Adam that no religion could tame or change. As that King was trying to come to light, Adam began to hate himself. He was experiencing Gender Dysphoria without the words to help him understand it. He would go months without leaving the house, suffering from severe depression and anxiety. Finally, after an emotional night, his girlfriend at the time asked him to explain what he was feeling. 

“I feel like I’m a man in a girl’s body, this body is not mine and I’ve never felt like I belonged in it… it feels like a cage”  

-Adam Darko

After hearing this his girlfriend suggested that he might be Trans. How could he know if he was Transgender? He’d been raised in a sheltered household and needed to do some discrete research. As he learned more and more about the term and what it meant for others, he realized that this had been the missing information. That the nagging feeling inside of him had been because of his gender identity and the dysphoria that comes with being misaligned.Finally, there was a name that explained everything he was feeling.  There was only one problem.

In Algeria, a Maghreb region in North Africa, LGBTQ people have been struggling for acceptance, and are often met with violence and intolerance. According to the International Lesbian and Gay Association’s May 2008 report, both male and female same-sex sexual acts are illegal in Algeria. Cross-Dressing is prohibited by law, and prevailing social attitude is openly negative, even violent. Those caught often face up to three years in prison and heavy fines. Today, only 26% of the population believe that same-sex partners should have the rights of their heterosexual peers. There are no gay-friendly establishments and no political organizations allowed to campaign for LGBT rights.

What it must feel like to know that your culture has this animosity toward you as you discover aspects about your sexual orientation and gender identity.  When Adam actually experienced outward expressions of physical violence it was at the hands of his father.  

Do you remember when I asked how strong you were?  Would you be strong enough to withstand not only the hurtful comments your father made about you but also him wrapping his hands around your neck as he choked you, threatened to kill you and put you out of the house or even lock you inside the house?  Would you be strong enough to press on and still become the man you are today?  Well Adam did!

After all this he continued to push forward. He continued to attend University (college). Since his family wouldn’t allow him to work he would starve himself to save up money so he could move. He was strong enough to endure living in the same house as his father as his father ignored him for 5 months.

Without the support of his family, Adam sought community elsewhere and found it in an unlikely place called… YouTube.

He began watching videos of different trans men and following their journeys.  It was at this time that he met Chase Ross, a transgender social influencer. It was this community that gave Adam the courage to start his own YouTube Channel!  Although he hadn’t yet found anyone trans in Algeria, he was finally able to find other LGB individuals in the same boat as him.  He was able to form his own community support group in Algeria where they would have meet ups!  Adam expressed this helped them to not feel alone and that it was always a beautiful experience filled with acceptance and love. The King had finally emerged and he was there to provide the emotional support needed to those in his community.

Since he had not yet met anyone trans in Algeria he relied on his online community to offer insight into ways to alleviate the dysphoric feelings, ways to cope with stresses, start hormones, see surgery results, and so much more. He recounts how it was the kindness of these strangers, and the impact of these videos that got him through the most difficult times.

Only a leader, only a king could turn that type of hurt and negativity into a beautiful experience.

Watching these videos had another impact too, as Adam became knowledgeable about the options available he wanted more than ever to begin his transition. With the current political and anti-LGBT climate of Algeria, he knew he wouldn’t be able to there. As it were, he was experiencing daily harrassment and threats of violence for his androgynous expression. He couldn’t imagine what a full fledged sex-change would do to him.

You’ll find that where there is a will, there’s a way. For Adam, that way was Malaysia.

A follower of Adam’s YouTube Channel, who later became a friend,  suggested that he go there to begin his transition. His family was against him traveling to a country outside of the Muslim faith. He would have prefered Canada, he felt like he would be safe there explaining his situation because they’re accepting and supportive of the LGBT community, but trips across the ocean are expensive and visas are hard to obtain. Even though his family was against moving, after a year of convincing they agreed to allow Adam to continue his studies in Malaysia (another Muslim country).  Little did they know Adam had actually lied and hiis intention was never to study there but to get away from his family and hopefully start hormones in Malaysia!

To make things less expensive Adam decided to do what is called a Visa Run.  This is where you are granted 3 months in Malaysia and one month in Indonesia.  As long as your Visa’s do not expire you can continue traveling between the two locations.

By August of 2017, his trip was planned, executed and Adam was finally able to start hormones a month later in September of 2017!  Adam was so convicted about his transition that he purchased his hormones from someone online and without doctor’s approval. Without doctors approval his dosages were incorrect which actually caused an adverse reaction. Although this was an exciting time for him, it also caused more turmoil because his transition was becoming evident.  With his transitional changes being more and more noticeable he was continuously worried about potential harassment and violence. It was time to speak to someone about Asylum.

Adam Darko /Algerian Airport, August 2017

$#%& HITS THE FAN

“You have been denied entry into Malaysia”

Little did Adam know, but this was just the beginning of his troubles. He’d been denied entry in Malaysia because he requested Asylum, and was subsequently denied entry into Indonesia. The only choice at this point was to return home to Algeria and that was not an option with his transition so apparent.  There was no way  he was returning to a country where anything lgbtq+ was outlawed.  Just imagine, this could put his life and safety in jeopardy if others found out he’d transitioned.  The officers at each terminal were harshly critical of him as he presented his passport. A passport that no longer resembled him. Even Algeria would not accept him back into their country. He was trapped in an airport in Jakarta with nowhere to go, no food, and no home to return to safely.

During his 23 days there he was repeatedly outed by officers. They would bring others over to point and show off the ‘transgender person’. Guards would make subtle comments about his genitals, degrading him by forcing him to say he was female, misgendering him, and encouraging harassment. Adam urgently needed protection.

Remember that word strength?  When you look at Adam how could you see anything else but strength.

Adam reached out to a friend from Malaysia and explained his situation, he was able to receive help from different Human Rights organizations, specifically UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), who fought fiercely on his behalf, but things like that take time.

Adam recalls lying on the cold chairs of the airport and just crying. How did he end up in this predicament? Was he a criminal? How did a guy who was always law abiding and did well in school end up in this situation. Even though he could have wasted away in his tears and sorrow Adam picked himself up, wiped his tears, and began making friends the next day at the airport. Come to find out there were others there who were also unable to leave!  Although he had just met them they provided the support and encouragement he needed and even gave him food to eat.

After 23 days in an airport, he finally received some of the best news of his life! The Canadian authorities had accepted him and he would finally be free to leave. It would take a few days to get all of the paperwork and medical testing in order but Adam boarded his flight and arrived in Montreal, Canada SAFELY.  

Adam Darko – Canada

Adam is now an LGBTQ advocate and uses his platform to bring awareness to the adversities the LGBTQ community faces in North Africa and the Middle East. He even helped with several LGBTQ+ organizations in Algeria, which must remain private for safety concerns.  Although he has no contact with his family, he does say that with healing and time he might be open to communication in the future.

Oh, and you remember the YouTube influencer that helped Adam become comfortable with who he was?  Well they know each other and even recently collaborated on a project!

Do you remember me asking you to think about strength in the beginning of this article? Well let me ask you. What would you do for your mental and physical freedom?  What would you endure?  How long would you endure it? Would you have the strength to create the life you wanted for yourself? Regardless of your answer, stories like Adam Darko’s show us that we can overcome any obstacle put in our way.

Adam Darko – 2020 / Photo Credit: IG: @thememorieshunter

Do yourself a favor and follow his instagram page @theadamdarko to follow his journey as he navigates this world and makes a difference as a trans man! He also has new music you can view here!

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Algeria#:~:text=Lesbian%2C%20gay%2C%20bisexual%2C%20and,acts%20are%20illegal%20in%20Algeria.

Dani Farrell is the Founder & CEO of Trans In Color & TBuddy which are two organizations designed to uplift and support the transmasculine community. He is also the Sr. Strategy Director for the National Trans Visibility March and the new Editor In Chief for FTM Magazine. As an active member in the trans community he devotes his time to helping those who are less fortunate. He currently lives in the DMV area with his spouse.