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

Rungy’s Story

Last week I introduced Alexis Meade, a fictional MTF transsexual who came out in a highly publicized moment. Now meet Brody Rungy, a 20-something FTM transgender musician. Like Alexis Meade, Rungy is eager to publicize a personal transgender history.

If any of you are fans of TLC’s Strange Sex, you may remember Brody from the episode “Right Guy, Wrong Body” (Season 2, episode 10). In this episode Brody’s name is referenced as Nat (by himself and loved ones), which I presume was a modification of his given name, Natalie:


Jamison Green asks: “what happens to the transsexual man who ‘comes out’ and admits to having been born female? (Transgender Studies Reader, 499).” In the case of Brody Rungy, TLC over simplifies a complex history and coming out story in a twenty-minute segment on ‘strange’ sex. It’s arguable that Rungy’s transgender narrative should not even belong to a show on Strange Sex, but as Green observes: “the majority of our society have not learned how to separate sex from gender, and the use of terms interchangeably (most commonly the substituting of gender for sex in an effort to avoid intimations of impropriety) only muddles the waters” (505).


So, it is not surprising that the episode reveals Rungy’s story within a cheesy conventional framework. Even the title of the episode, “Right Guy, Wrong Body,” implies essentialist assumptions. The show exposes Nat’s childhood inclination towards male interests such as sports, boys’ toys, and boys’ clothing as evidence of his innate masculinity. His mother reveals: “it was always obvious to everyone that Nat was a tomboy.” Clearly the show’s dramatic music and voiceovers intend for this information to be shocking to its viewers, yet I think we can all agree that this sounds like a rather predictable narrative.


I found another interview with Rungy, which was filmed after the Strange Sex episode (I know this because in the TLC episode Rungy said he was 23, and in the following video he says he is 24). In this video, Brody is promoting both his trans history and his music:


I find it really interesting to compare these two accounts of Rungy’s history. In the second video Brody refers to himself as a “straight, heterosexual man.” Now why would a white, straight, hetero man appear on Strange Sex? He sounds pretty normal to me. Like Green, Rungy could pass as a ‘normal’ man with ease. He can grow a beard, he dates women, he lacks breasts, and he sings in a distinctly masculine voice. Although he could be “one more horned beast in the herd,” (436) as Patrick Califia puts it, Rungy publicly puts his pre-trans history out there, and says (in the second video) that he wants to be a voice.


Green demonstrates how transmen: “are supposed to pretend we never spent 15, 20, 30, 40 or more years in female bodies, pretend that the vestigial female parts some of us never lose were never there. In short, in order to be a good—or successful—transsexual person, one is not supposed to be a transsexual person at all” (501). Perhaps Rungy’s comfort in sharing his female past could indicate that there’s a new type of successful trans that does not rely on secrecy.


-Bianca Hasten