Framing Transsexuality in Iran

I was really taken aback from the videos presented on Transsexuals in Iran as well as Afsaneh Najmabadi’s “Verdicts of Science, Rulings of Faith: Transgender/Sexuality in Contemporary Iran.” What struck me most was the way in which people in Iran choose to undergo the surgery. So far, our focus has been on transsexuals in the U.S. In the U.S., people choose to undergo surgery for a variety of reasons. Also, not all people who consider themselves transgender choose to have surgery, take hormones, or they may have only some work done. Furthermore, changing one’s sex does not necessarily mean they will also choose to be heterosexual. 

In Iran, however, things are much different when it comes to transsexuality. There are laws put into place forbidding any kind of homosexuality because of their religion. The government has gone so far as killing anyone who is homosexual. They do, however, allow people to be transsexual. They claim it is a “mental illness,” and their religion does not discuss it. Due to these laws put in place, many people living in Iran undergo surgery only so they can live as someone who is heterosexual. As Najmabadi explains, “For legal and medical authorities in Iran, sex-change is explicitly framed as the cure for a diseased abnormality, and on occasion it is proposed as a religio-legally sanctioned option for heteronormalizing people with same-sex desire and practices,” (4).  It is used as a way of getting around the system in order to not only survive in Iran, but to live the way they want to live. This of course, creates a load of problems for those who don’t actually want to change their sex, but do so anyway.

My main concern for all of the surgeries occurring in Iran (Iran having the second most surgeries in the world), is the fact that the way Westerners look at the issue. Unless people learn about transsexuals in Iran, they are going to frame it in a positive way, instead of understanding that most of these people don’t actual desire to have these surgeries. One article I found discusses Iran allowing its first transsexual marriage: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/11/iran-transexual-marriage 

This article tells the story of a woman who desired to marry a transman.  Her father was against the marriage because of how he used to be a woman. However, the court allowed the marriage because he was not legally a man, making the marriage legal. The way this article is written, it is as if Iran is developing into a more accepting “westernized” country. This reminded me of what we discussed in class last week in terms of how we tend to frame other countries based on Western ideas. This article reinforces the idea that non-Western countries are “behind” the West and it ignores the underlying problems that are occurring for transsexuals in Iran. By only focusing on these positive ideas of transsexual surgery being available and the legalization of transsexuals to marry, it pushes aside the hatred that is happening for homosexuals in Iran, which is the real problem.

– Miranda Fencl

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