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


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

Transexuality in Iran: Accepted?

The video play list was very interesting to me in many different respects.  First of all, I found it intriguing how transexuality is more accepted than homosexuality when in the United States it is almost the opposite.  Here, it seems that transgenderism is seen as less acceptable than homosexuality.  We were just talking in class last week how trans issues and rights are one step lower than gay rights as if it is only important after gay rights is “accomplished.”  However, in Iran it seems that as long as you are transsexual, society can account for your behavior because you are now deemed “mentally ill;” however, homosexuality is still so taboo that it can be punishable by death.  What is even more interesting is that religion is used to justify this.  Religion playing a role in government is nothing new especially when it comes to homosexuality.  However, because transpeople are not specifically written about in the Quran, it is not deemed as “sinful” as being gay.  This reminds me of the arguments against trans people in the United States.  The argument, in religious terms, is that God does not make mistakes (assuming the gender dichotomy is even the Truth with a capital T).  It just shows how different cultures can have very different viewpoints on some of the same issues using the same basis for their reasoning. 

The next thing that I found interesting is that the only way to be homosexual and not punished is through being “diagnosed” as trans and undergo sex reassignment surgery.  What I am wondering is how this is affecting the actual mental health of the homosexual population in Iran.  Is this not causing more psychological harm by forcing someone to change their gender?  In my mind, it is the same as not allowing a trans person to change their body to match themselves.  Living in a culture where sex reassignment has so much taboo, it is weird for me to see a culture where SRS is preferred over homosexuality.  Also, in the videos I felt as though they were trying to show how much freedom that trans people had in Iran because they were at the very least legal and could receive a sex change.  I think this is ridiculous.  Trans people do not have any more rights in Iran than they do here.  In the first and second video, the interviewees recited the same story that is required to jump through that medical hoop in America.  The normative trans person still had to feel that way from birth and have contemplated suicide.  It does not allow for any more fluidity in gender transition than we do here in America.  In fact, they seem to have even more hoops to jump through since it was stated that they have to also get a signed waiver from their religious leader.  I do not agree with how Iran is painted as a more tolerant place for transgendered people.  If anything, they are only more tolerant in relation to their very extreme policies for homosexuality.

Nicole Amodeo