Constructing Transsexuality and Homosexuality in Iran

Afsaneh Najmabadi’s article, “Verdicts of Science, Rulings of Faith: Transgender/Sexuality in Contemporary Iran,” looks at attitudes towards transsexuality and transgender people in Iran, especially in relation to homosexuality.  In Iran, same-sex desire is understood as shameful and unacceptable, and same-sex procedures are illegal.  Interestingly, while transsexuality is similarly considered shameful, transsexual practices are acceptable, legal, and even state-subsidized.  From a medical discourse, desire for sex changes becomes pathologized; medical authorities allow them to occur in order to cure abnormality and disease in a person.  From a religio-legal discourse, sex changes are sometimes authorized as a way to rid a person from their same-sex desire and need for same-sex practices, thus reinforcing heteronormativity.

Additionally, individuals in Iran, who believe they are transsexuals, are subjected to 4-6 months of “filtering,” which is a combination of hormonal and chromosomal tests and psychotherapy.  During this time, a board of “specialists” determines if a person is a real transsexual.  If yes, the person is given an official document stating their new status as a transsexual.  Not surprisingly, psychologists and psychiatrists in Iran often base their diagnosis and treatment plans for transsexuals on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) – III and IV and other U.S.-based methods.  The process in Iran is not an unusual one, rather it’s a familiar process often used in the U.S.  Ideas and solutions constructed by physicians or psychiatrists are similarly viewed here as having a higher level of authority compared to those outside the medical profession, allowing them the ability to own, define, and construct categories as deviant and pathologized.

Additionally, in the “Transgender Youth in Iran, “ video, Iranians discuss the tension between viewing homosexuals as deviant and transsexuals as acceptable.  The video describes how part of this tension may be due to the Koran.  Homosexuality is considered a sin to Islam, because the Koran defines it as a repugnant act.  However, transsexuality is not discussed in the religious doctrine, thus it is not considered a sin that needs to be banned in Iranian society.  An article I found on BBC also describes some Iranian attitudes towards homosexuality.  To some, it is viewed as “unnatural and against religion.”  Furthermore, same-sex desire is seen as something that disturbs the natural social order.

In addition, the “Transgender Youth in Iran” video discusses how transsexuality may be legal in Iran, but transgender people still face a negative stigma in the country as a whole. The BBC article expands upon this idea, stating that individuals who have tendencies for the opposite sex are viewed as dirty and wrong.  For example, Anahita describes how before her sex change, the Iranian police often harassed or threatened her for her female clothing or constructed female appearance.  However, once she became labeled as a transsexual and underwent surgery, she was seen as having a medical condition, allowing her to avoid feelings of shame and sin.  Fortunately for Anahita, her family accepts her more now that she has had a sex change.  For other transsexuals, like Ali Askar, having a sex-change can end up straining family relations further – her family prays and hopes she dies soon.  Thus, is transsexuality really accepted in Iran?   Perhaps Ali’s family reaction is in the margins rather than the center?

Here’s the link to the article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7259057.stm

-Anna Sekine

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