Transsexuality in Iran

Throughout this class we have covered how trans-identities inform other aspects of the self through politics, privilege, and a few other ways. One thing that we haven’t discussed is the how the matter of faith often intersects with trans-identities. This week is the first time that faith (or to be more precise, religion) has been worked into a trans-narrative.  I personally find this fascinating, as most people are under the impression that most religions are against any form of trans-expression, even though that might be entirely accurate.

In Be Like Others, we see how religion intersects with trans-identities in positive, negative, and fairly neutral ways. The documentary takes place in Iran, an Islamic state, meaning that the majority of its laws come directly from the Quran. Since there is no religious restriction on corrective surgery, the Iranian government, medical professionals, and many trans* individuals have interpreted that as the Quran being okay with medically transitioning. This has worked itself into the legal realm in Iran, where the government will pay up to half the cost of the surgery for those who need and will change their birth certificate accordingly.

While this is all well and good, there are some seriously problematic issues in this practice, primarily when regarding people who do not wish to medically transition. In Iran, if trans-folk are approved for SRS then they must undergo treatment as soon as possible. There is no other option. Trans-folk cannot opt out of surgery nor can they openly identify as genderqueer or a non-binary gender. Doing so not only opens them up for harassment, but also legal action because they might be considered a homosexual, which is illegal in Iran. In short, while the medicalization process has done some good for some trans-folk in Iran, the fact that there is a lack of choice in the transition process is extremely problematic. It is great that trans-folk will not have legal action taken against them for how they identify (unlike the rest of the Iranian LGB community), the fact that their identification is treated as a disorder that must be cursed is asinine.

A simple example of why this policy is problematic is this story. The gist of this article is that SRS are often performed haphazardly and that the mental health of trans-folk both before and after SRS seldom goes addressed. A lot of trans-folk experience a great amount of trauma do to poor treatment from their surgeons and therapists. There are many cases of sexual harassment and assault wherein therapists coerce their patients into having sex with them or their surgeons rape them because they know that it is likely that no one will listen to them.

It’s all very interesting how such a religious government can be okay with performing SRS surgeries, yet still have so many issues when dealing with these individuals. What seems like an open-minded interpretation of religious law has turned into yet another measure for the government to exercise control over it’s people. Trans-folk do not have control over their bodies, their identification, or their future in Iran – the government does.

– Kris Krumb

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