Transgender in Iran

    This week’s readings/video clips examined how trans people live in Iran.  It seems strange that such a conservative society would allow for legal sex changes.  It seems out of character for Ayatollah Khomeini, who also issued a death warrant on Salman Rushdie for Satanic Verses, to tolerate the presence of transsexuals.  One of the comments on “Iran’s Undesirables,” talks about how Iranian society is more tolerant of trans individuals than American society.  While that comment carries a certain amount of truth, the reality, as least as it is presented in the videos, is actually much more complicated. 

    As other posts have mentioned, many Iranians have elected to change their anatomical sex in order to circumvent laws against homosexuality.  This can be highly problematic for many people.  A lot of these people do not identify as transgender, and are only transitioning in order to avoid the penalties for homosexuality.  They are changing their bodies in ways that conflict with their personal identity.  In one of the interviews, someone says that they would not have gotten the surgery if they lived in another country. 

    This brings me to my next question.  I think Americans in general usually wonder why, if life is so hard for homosexuals (and others) in the Middle East, why don’t they just leave?  This question came up a couple times in the comments for each video.  While YouTube comments normally make me weep for humanity, the responses to these questions brought up some fairly interesting points.  They pointed out that moving to another country would not necessarily make these people’s lives any easier.  Discrimination against homosexuals is hardly unique to Iran.  In other countries, they might face the added stigma of being transgender.  The second point of these responses to this question is that it is actually very difficult to emigrate from certain countries, Iran being one of them.

    It is very expensive to move to a different country, so this is not an option for many people.  It can also be very dangerous.  There are also many personal reasons why it would be hard to leave Iran for some people.  People form strong ties with their home culture, despite its problems.  Leaving their culture means leaving behind a way of life; an identity, and in some cases, family.  Some of the video comments talked about how the people who left Iran for the West found that they were still outsiders, even though they were now in societies that were more accepting of different sexual and gender identities.    

    I had one major problem with the video that had the two radio hosts.  One of the hosts used the word “tranny” multiple times.  His use of this offensive word showed that he did not know much about the subject.  To me it looked like an example of outsiders imposing their judgments on another culture without thoroughly examining the complexities of a particular issue.

-Zhaleh Breen

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