The Creation of This Title Has Taken 30 Minutes…

                The most interesting thing about the sources for this week was that they pointed out that no one has it figured out. The people of America see themselves as superior to the world and yet the most normative of gay people (i.e. Matthew Shepard) are still being killed and the trans* population is still considered abominations. In Iran, transgender/sexual individuals are better off, but confirmed homosexuals are put to death immediately (or almost immediately, if you’re a woman). It turns out America is not much better than the rest of the world. Just as the Defense of Marriage Act is coming into question in America, trans* individuals are being recognized by the Iranian government as mentally stable individuals.  Now trans* individuals are recognized as what they truly are: people with glandular disorders? Well at least America is ahead of the curve with their new policies… to legalize gay marriage?

                I think the Young Turks say it best with their words on both trans* and gay clashes with different governments. The mockery of the way Iranian laws ‘favor’ lesbians over gay men because lesbians are presumably the more attractive target of male fantasies. The mockery of trans women through terms like “trannys” and “chicks with the kibbles and bits,” all of this, of course, in an incredibly offensive stereotypical (fake) Iranian accent. The disregard for both groups of people is horrid and demeans them to less than human and illegitimatizes struggles that they are facing daily that threaten their livelihoods and, sometimes, their lives. At one point I literally yelled at my computer screen, “People are dying. Stop laughing!” How long will people assume that discrimination is a non-issue just because it is not happening to them?

                That is just covering the ignorant discrimination that is found in modern privileged audiences of these human rights campaigns in America and Iran. The Iranian government grants trans* individuals legitimacy and kills homosexuals. That is going to immediately cause an influx of homosexual individuals into the operation room with the idea that they are going to be able to finally love who they have always loved without discrimination. While transitioning is a convenient loophole for the homosexual population in Iran, it will also create a lot of people with self-induced gender dysphoria in their attempt to conform to the heterosexual  norm that is so heavily enforced in Iranian law.

                During the most recent Pride Film Festival, they showed a film about the life of a trans man living in Iran whose father was attempting to marry him to a man so he would be incapable of leaving Iran and completing his transition in Germany. When Eddie was explaining his gender identity and its dissonance with his physical sex, he defines what it means to be trans and why he has to transition. It was translated (and paraphrased here by my vague memory) as something like, “I’m transitioning to change my sexuality.” Initially this made me shudder like the knowledgeable person that I am on the difference between gender identity and sexuality.

After reading these articles and watching the clips on Youtube, I realized the reality of that line in the context of Iranian politics. Eddie was attracted to women while also identifying as a man. However, the government’s main concern is that he cannot be a woman attracted to other women. The shift in gender was reasoned through the idea that Eddie’s sexuality was incorrect. If he had been attracted to men, he would have probably chosen to present as female in order to keep his inclinations heterosexual. In Eddie’s world, the thing that keeps homosexual and transgender people alive is their ability to fit inside the heterosexual matrix.  

By: Skyler PowellImage 

#no one deserves to be fit in a box… even if it has a picture of you on it.

Trailer for Facing Mirrors:


Being Trans in Iran

Reading the Najmabadi article I was struck by how similar the process of becoming eligible for trans* surgery in Iran was to the process in America. It seems as though Iranians are forced to jump through just as many medical hoops as we are here. Najmabadi points out that a trans* persons word is not good enough; they must carry the documentation with them wherever they go. They must visit a barrage of doctors who are the deciders of the validity of their trans*ness and hold the key to surgery much like here. However, this key includes health insurance, financial assistance, military service exemption and a name change that entitles the person to receive new national identification papers (Najmabadi pg. 9).

This makes the identification as either homo or trans of utmost importance. Homosexuality is seen as extremely deviant and wrong while trans*ness appears to have become more accepted because surgery is “correcting” homosexuality. If a person is receiving surgery it is so that their desires may be heterosexual and not homosexual. This may help explain why the government is so quick to offer aid in the financial aspect of surgery for trans* individuals. These notions are of course dominated by the assumption of gender-sexual dimorphism (Najmabadi pg. 12).

While the norm appears to still be a gender-sexual dimorphism here in America, trans* individuals have a much harder time receiving health care let alone financial assistance with their surgery. Last year I was taking a sociology class and my professor scheduled a guest lecturer to speak to the class about his transition from female to male. When the guest lecturer walked in I was surprised to see he was a professor I had previously had in a gender studies course. He spoke of all the difficulties that come after transitioning, in particular with government and medical documentation. He spoke of insurance companies claiming a persons’ transition from female to male as a complication and therefore the cause of diseases such as ovarian cancer. These are the companies’ excuses for not paying.
However, recently some LGBT groups have challenged Medicare’s denial of benefits to transgendered people. While this is a step in the right direction, trans* individuals are still stigmatized and pathologized. One must be suffering from severe gender dysphoria in order to have any voice in this fight. Returning again to the hoops that one must jump through just to be seen as legitimate and be taken seriously.


Kathleen Hennessy

Who’s next

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. “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.

Patrick beane

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

Iran: transsexual, but at what cost?

Watching the “Transgender in Iran” playlist, especially the “Iran: Death to Gays, Surgery For Transsexuals” video, the first thoughts that came to my mind were, “Are you F***ing kidding me?” and the following Scumbag Steve meme:

According to the videos on the playlist homosexuals in Iran are forced to be recognized as transsexual so they may receive a surgery to make their sexual feelings “normal” rather than worthy of the death penalty. One part that caught my attention is there are different laws for men and women. If a man is caught engaging in homosexual behavior, he is immediately executed. However, if a woman is caught engaging in homosexual behavior, it has to be the third time before she is punished at all (and then it’s “only” lashes). Now let me make myself clear. I am not trying to suggest that I am mad because women are getting less severe punishment for doing something illegal in Iran. What I am saying is that the whole thing is messed up! Just like the Scumbag Steve meme, the Iranian government is saying that homosexuality is wrong, but if it’s two women it’s allowed to a point. No. If you’re going to say that one group of people gets a lesser punishment, then all others committing the same “crime” should get that same punishment. In other words, the Iranian laws against homosexuality are extremely scared of men having sexual contact with men, but not women with women because c’mon “it’s hot!” Are you frigging kidding me?? The problem is I hate when people (governments, news, politicians, etc.) decide they hate or condemn others for their beliefs/practices, yet allow certain people within that “other” to continue with their lives because it’s “not as bad”. What does that even mean? None of it is bad, or horrible, or blasphemy, or whatever else you want to call it! 

So the bottom line is I appreciate that Iran allows transsexualism. I appreciate and am in awe that such a religiously strict country allows operations for individuals to change their bodies in such ways. On the other hand, I have to say F*** you to the Iranian government for picking and choosing what it does and does not ban in such a way which ruins the lives of many people who actually identify as homosexual, not transsexual. These people, who are identifying as transsexual simply to bypass criticism and hatred for being homosexual, are in agony. They are conforming to ridiculous laws, fleeing the country for refuge, and sadly many commit suicide from the pressure of transitioning and being what they are not. 

I would like to add that I it saddens me to know people in Iran and around the globe are forced into categories, situations, lives, etc. which are so far detached from their true selves. To a certain extent it’s great that Iran has the second largest “tranny” population, but at what cost? 

-Jocelyn Crizer

Transsexuality and Homosexuality in Iran

In Iran, homosexuality is banned and punished by the law, yet transsexuality recognized under Islamic law. The reason for this is that the Koran states homosexuality is a “repugnant act”, therefore outlawing it among Islam people. In “Transgender Youth in Iran” a clerk in the video states that homosexuality will never be accepted in Islam because of the Koran, but because transsexuality is not recognized or called a sin in the Koran it is not banned. This realization has made sex change operations increased over the past decade or so. I find it comforting that transsexuals are accepted. But on the other hand, banning homosexuality is inhumane.      

In another video, “Changing Sex to Escape Death: Homosexuals Dilemma in Iran” we discover that people are using sex change as a way to protect themselves from possible death. Since homosexuality is banned in Iran, certain people think that by getting a sex change they can escape prejudice and harm. But in reality, this scapegoat is extremely problematic. This completely ignores an entire sexual identity group and prevents homosexual people from obtaining civil rights. Also, undergoing a sex change does not protect you from discrimination. In the first mentioned video, youthful transsexuals struggled to find a way to express the way they felt and the problems they faced from society. But I can understand why people would think this option would be the easiest way. Sodomy could be punishable by death in Iran. So I can see why it is difficult for those who don’t know what to do.

After watching a few of these videos about transsexuality in Iran, I wanted to learn more about those who were homosexual in Iran. I watched a video called, “Being a Gay in Iran, how does it feel?” ( where Ramtin and Ali tell us their own personal stories on what it is like to be a gay Iranian man. The video began by stating that hundreds of gay Iranian men flee to the UK to seek asylum. From there the two tell us how close they came to being executed for their sexuality. It was heartbreaking to hear that these men had to leave their own country to stay alive. Knowing that there are still nations that punish people for their sexual identity still shocks me. Yet, as I have learned in all my gender studies classes sexual identity is portrayed and viewed differently all around the world. And when religion gets involves, things get more complicated (even though church and state should be separated). 

– Colleen Griffin

Transsexuality in Iran

While watching the Transgender in Iran playlist, I noticed familiar images from a transgender class I had taken as a freshman. However, this time watching the video clips I understood something that I hadn’t when I first watched them; these surgeries aren’t positive but in fact can cause more harm than good. Many trans people getting these surgeries aren’t trans at all but are actually homosexual. In a country where homosexuality is punishable by death, gender reassignment surgery is a viable option for these people to live their lives freely. Unfortunately, it isn’t really freeing when one has to undergo surgery in order to be accepted in society. And often, these people still aren’t accepted because their families disown them and equate their identity to homosexuality. These people are led to believe and are forced to obtain medical documents stating that what they have is a disease, a mental illness. And as the Verdicts of Science, Rulings of Faith article mentioned, “becoming marked by mental disease made one virtually unemployable” (2) which might explain why so many post-op transsexuals often turn to prostitution for income,

Another problem I noticed when watching the playlist is the clip of the two radio hosts discussing the issue. The one host was talking about the leader, Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini, who decided that transsexuality would be legal. He was explaining his view on why homosexuality was illegal while transsexuality was legal and he believed it to be because Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini “had a thing” for transsexuals. This was annoying because as a person in a previous video clip stated, transsexuality was legal because it wasn’t stated in the Koran as a sin as homosexuality was. Even though that radio host annoyed me, he also presented an interesting point. In Iran, he stated, there are two different crimes for homosexuality, one for men and one for women. For male homosexuality, one infraction resulted in death whereas female homosexuals were given three infractions before punishment was given and that punishment was 100 lashes. After the third infraction death was the punishment. If the reason for homosexuality being illegal is that it is considered a repugnant act in the Koran, then why are there different punishments for men and women?

I found a photo essay online of transsexuals in Iran. There are only a few pictures and they are of two different people who met through their experiences. The captions under the pictures describe the stories of the people in the photos. These captions are very similar in detail. Many describe the narrative of many trans people. They were attracted to the opposite genders games, dress, behaviors etc. One even describes that one family was afraid of their son being a homosexual, and because that is illegal in Iran, he underwent surgery to become a woman.

–Casey Born

Trans* realities in Iran

Afsaneh Najmabadi’s article Verdicts of Science, Rulings of Faith, deals with the realities of trans* people in Iran, namely that transsexual/gender identities are accepted by the government as long as a sex-change operation is had. She also makes a point of connecting medical and religious ideas of transexuality.

She begins her paper by saying, “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 desires and practices.” (3-4) However, she also warns against relying solely on this explanation of Iranian trans* identities. It is often said that transsexual/gender identities are legal because of the illegality of homosexuality, but this basic, governmental explanation ignores the work done by trans* activists in Iran.

Najmabadi also points out the linking in Iran of transsexuals and homosexuality, despite the belief that trans* identities were heteronormalizing: there was a “…disarticulation of transgender/sexuality from the intersex, and its re-articulation with homosexuality. Transgender/sexuality became re-conceived as a particularly extreme manifestation of homosexuality.” In Iran this is problematic because of the illegality of homosexual behavior. “…sexual deviance was diagnosed as potentially criminal…male homosexuality [was thought of] as almost always violent, akin to rape, prone to turn to murder, and almost always aimed at the ‘underaged.’” (6) In the US there was (and sometimes still is) a similar linking of homosexuality with pedophilia, but instead of violence, gay men were expected to be effeminate and weak. Najmabadi makes sure that we can see the difference between American and Iranian perceptions of homosexuality.

She challenges the American notion of trans* identities further by describing “woman-presenting-males” in a post-revolutionary Iranian Islamic state: these “woman-presenting-males” had become accepted in certain places/professions but then “transgressed the newly imposed regulations of gendered dressing in public.” (7) Their unacceptability came from an outright religious source, rather than the American notion of crossing social boundaries that are not necessarily informed by Christianity. The pre-revolutionary scientific community was not concerned with “Islamic rulings on medical matters” but post-revolution had to “present their reasoning about transgender/sexual matters in a different style…to be able to interact with legal authorities as needed.” (11)

Finally, Najmabadi explains that many medical definitions of transsexuality have come from the US, but because they are presented to non-Western cultures as “just science” they are “dis-located, as if with no history of origin.” (23) This is, of course, untrue – it is informed by American thinking and American culture. This final point by Najmabadi is very important to the conversation of trans* politics and identities: if Americans see everything as Eurocentric and disseminate information under this belief, then the American ideal becomes the norm and erases cultural identities as less legitimate.

-Catlyn Smallwood

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:

-Anna Sekine

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: 

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