I came to the UK by boat 20 years ago – makeup helps heal my PTSD

I first fell in love with makeup while watching RuPaul’s Drag Race last year.

As I listened to Season 8’s Kim Chi talk about how it boosted her self-esteem, I was intrigued, because confidence is something I struggle with a lot.

When I finally worked up the courage to tell my friends that I wanted to experiment with makeup, I honestly didn’t expect them to react like that. They showered me with palettes and starter kits.

That support alone made a world of difference.

In finding this medium of expression, I was able to find my happiness as a gender non-conforming person who came to the UK on a boat 20 years ago.

I grew up in Sudan, which was difficult because the civil war made violence commonplace.

My most vivid memory of this violence was when I was about four years old, watching as a mob of three people grabbed a young man, forced him to his knees and beat him mercilessly with everything she had handy – stones, sticks and so on fists. I could see his eyes through the blood.

This violence often entered my home from the streets. My father in particular used extreme violence on me for no apparent reason. Whether I accidentally made too much noise and woke him up, acted too girly, lost his soccer team, or he was just having a bad day.

His favorite method of violence was whips made from old belts and AV cables. The worst of the beatings I received caused lacerations that became infected and made my eczema septic. I spent a month in the hospital.

Faris Khalifa in a suit stands next to a person in a floral dress and holding a pink umbrella

My struggles with gender identity started at a young age (Image: Supplied)

In 2002, at the age of 14, I lost both my parents in the Sudan conflict.

This was a complicated experience because of the violence they inflicted on me, but I don’t harbor any negative feelings. I wish I could have asked them if they knew what they were doing to me and how much it would affect my life. When they died, my uncle took care of them.

My gender identity issues started at a very young age. Growing up I always had a very high pitched voice and also suffered from severe eczema. This made me a target for serious bullying.

Other kids often recoiled in horror when they saw my skin, forcing me to isolate myself and experiment with hair and beauty – anything that would make me less repulsive to the world I lived in.

Seeing kids running away from me and hearing parents tell them not to touch me broke my heart as a kid. This had the opposite effect and increased bullying.

I was often labeled as “girly” and beaten up for it. I struggled to figure out what would make me acceptable to the world.

The same year my parents died, my uncle decided to put me on a boat to England.

I was given no directions, no plans, and didn’t really know where I was going at the time. I was alone and remained so throughout the trip of approximately 90 days. At this point in my life I had almost shut down the trauma from all of this.

After a very long journey I reached the docks in Liverpool. I was alone and quite exhausted, but at least I could speak some English.

Faris Khalifa wears rainbow makeup and a Legend of Zelda hat

I started practicing the art of makeup to add some color to my life (Image: Included)

After wandering the streets for hours, a concerned citizen called the police, who took me to the Home Office. I was interviewed but I was heartbroken at the time and couldn’t stop crying.

I was then accidentally taken to an adult home for refugees, which was run down and empty. I just cried until I fell asleep.

When the residents at the time saw that I was clearly too young to be there, they called social services and they came the next day.

A very angry social worker came and took me to lunch and bought me comics. It was the first time in years that I had been treated like a child.

After a brief stay in New Brighton, where I spent two weeks in a home for violent children, I settled in Liverpool in 2002. That was because I was told all the local houses were full and I was there while more permanent residence was found.

It was a very scary place as the children were really worried and would take their aggression out on the house. I was never hurt, but the police were there almost every night. It was a really sad place.

I was then transferred to a permanent children’s home in Liverpool.

My first impressions of those early days in Britain were the extreme culture shock that came with my new surroundings. Going through high school in a new culture was even worse. I was bullied a lot in the UK too, which made everything I was involved with worse.

At the same time, I struggled with suicidal thoughts because I wasn’t sure I could overcome the damage that was being done to me, both physically and emotionally.

I was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after moving into the nursing home, but as a kid it didn’t really mean much to me. I was still too fixated on everything I had lost and everything I had yet to accept.

Only recently have I begun to understand how important this diagnosis is, how it affects me, and how to overcome anything that comes with it.

My life in Britain has been troubled for a long time. It was extremely difficult to cope with various mental and physical health issues that I developed as a child.

I still live in a state of constant fear where, regardless of my surroundings, I feel like I’m being attacked imminently. Physically, I was diagnosed with nerve damage which leaves me with severe chronic pain. The intrusive and debilitating effects can be overwhelming.

I studied into college but dropped out after a failed suicide attempt caused me to lose focus and direction. My mindset at the time was one of defeat.

It wasn’t until one of my old caregivers from the Liverpool home took me into her family that I slowly began to find myself. She and her family supported me in every possible way and it was only with their love that I began to accept myself. She has been my “grandma” for 16 years now and I love her.

Full acceptance of my non-gender identity came only recently.

A year ago I started practicing the art of makeup to add some color to my life.

Chronic pain limits how often I leave the house, so I figured catching myself in the mirror would cheer me up. I found the makeup process very cathartic and a great distraction from physical pain and anxiety.

An unexpected side effect was the confidence boost. People who stop me in the street to tell me they love my makeup have done wonders for me.

Faris Khalifa wears rainbow makeup, a wig and holds a cat

The amount of support and people reflecting my feelings has made me feel less alone (Image: Delivered)

I got involved with the mental health charity, Mind, after a video I made about my mental health went viral.

It was a video about living with physical and mental illnesses. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible about how much I struggled on a daily basis.

The charity asked if I could be their media representative, which gave me an immense sense of worth and self worth. Having a new goal slowly made it possible to accept myself.

My life today is still troubled because chronic pain can take its color from it, but I’m still very hopeful of finding a way that will allow me to support myself financially and do the things I love — be it writing, makeup or fashion.

I’m very busy practicing my makeup skills and starting a TikTok account has opened up a new world of acceptance from others. I’ve been very open about my struggles with my mental and physical health on the platform.

The amount of support and people who reflect my feelings have made me feel less alone. I get the same amount of love for my makeup efforts.

Finding the silver linings in my experiences and sharing them to make the world a more open place has given me a new chance. The Spirit has been a great help in showing me that good things can come out of everything I’ve experienced.

My only hope for the future is that one day I can feel safe – that’s all I ever think about and I can’t wait for it to happen.

I know I’m well on my way to making this a reality.

immigration country

Immigration Nation is a series that aims to destigmatize the word ‘immigrant’ and explore the powerful first-person stories of people who have arrived in Britain – and called it home. If you have a story you’d like to share, email

MORE: ‘You have to prove you’re gay’: The reality for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in the UK

MORE: I lost my mother and brother trying to seek asylum by boat

MORE : I’m starving — I can’t afford to feed myself on the money I’m getting as an asylum seeker celebrates 50 years of pride

This year we are celebrating 50 years of Pride so it only seems fitting that goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support with a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raise awareness for the community this Pride month.

MORE: Find all of’s Pride coverage here

And we also have some big names on board to help us. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week, including Rob Rinder, Nicholas Adams, Peter Tatchel, Kimberly Hart Simpson, John White, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranjwe will also have the likes Sir Ian McKellen and drag race stars the vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offer their insights.

During Pride Month, which runs June 1-30, is also supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in times of conflict , as well as the youth homelessness charity AKT. To learn more about their work and what you can do to support them, click here. I came to the UK by boat 20 years ago - makeup helps heal my PTSD

Justin Scacco

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