There’s plenty going on between the videos and Najmabadi’s text, but I want to focus on the representation of trans* issues by the media. Throughout the “Trans In Iran” YouTube playlist, I was surprised and upset with how trans* issues were almost always framed in relation to gay rights. The tendency bespeaks the domino effect created by homonationalist neoliberal rights discourse, in which non-normative sexualities become acceptable once first and foremost the gateway stigma against gay marriage has been lifted.
The homonormative rights movement has created a model for dominant culture to view and treat non- and anti-normative sexualities, which results in the fight for trans* issues in Iran to be framed as a “state-driven and controlled project that at most has produced some policy benefits for transexual persons” (Najmabadi 2). Najmabadi does work to demonstrate how trans* issues in Iran are not reducible to gay individuals escaping legal punishment, but rather interacting with and changing how the state is.
This isn’t the focus of most of the YouTube playlist. The videos’ narrators often act surprised at the availability of rights to trans* individuals, but not to gay individuals. current.tv “Being accepted as transexual or transgendered is not an easy road. And especially so when you’re in a country where homosexuality is a crime that can be punishable by death. So, who would’ve thought you could get a sex change operation in Iran?” Any sort of non-normative sexuality is conflated with homosexuality, which is probably the least socially transgressive non-cishet identity category in contemporary U.S. legal discourse. For trans* rights to exist in a society without gay rights is unthinkable in the U.S., because aren’t all sexualities/genders created equally?
HBO2’s presentation similarly gawks at a society where trans* folks are accepted, “but homosexuality is punishable by death.” It then (facetiously?) asks, “What would you do to conform to a society’s strict moral code?” The video reduces being trans* in Iran to finding a loophole to legal homosexuality. It also distances Iranian moral codes from U.S. moral code, which is totally not strict.
The Young Turks (which is my latest least favorite thing ever) program also reveals the marginalization of trans* folks in dominant U.S. culture and the weirdness of accepting trans* folks and not gay folks. The horrible awful anchor on the left says, “This is a doozy. They have laws against homosexuality… What is not wrong, and what is not illegal, is transsexuals,” and asks, “How do they allow that?” Gay neoliberalism has helped to construct a civil rights approach to distributing/creating life chances that makes it hard to think trans* issues coming before or even in the same conversation as queer rights.
In the “Trans In Iran” playlist, the speakers tend to represent trans* issues as something to follow the legalization of same-sex marriage (which I guess helps everyone?). The trans* individual is either seeking a legal cure or acting out of turn. Nothing in the videos really speaks to the specificity and intracategorical differences of trans* experience in Iran. I think the final video tells a different story than the others.