Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's easy to get a sex change in Iran

The poster for Be Like Others, a documentary that aired on HBO this week, looks like a CD cover for a glam-rock band. One gay-looking Adonis sits on the arm of a red leather couch, his arm linked with that of his sexually ambiguous lover. She or he smiles coyly, other hand resting on her/his inner thigh. This suggestive tableau is in fact a snapshot from Iran, and not even some futuristic Iran after the street protesters have won.

Since the reign of the Ayatollah Khomeini, sex-change operations have been legal in Iran. Khomeini once ran into a man who wanted a sex change, the filmmaker Tanaz Eshaghian explains in an interview, and he was "very moved." He said: "You were born in the wrong body and this is a medical issue. It has nothing to do with issues of sin or being a degenerate. You're allowed to have your body match your soul if it's done medically."

Coming from the Ayatollah, this all sounds very enlightened and queer theory-esque. Except, as the film explains, "homosexuality is still punishable by death." We are so used to thinking of "transgender" as the last stop on the gay train to freedom and self-expression that it takes a minute for these twin realities to sink in. For the reigning powers in Iran, homosexuality exists at the opposite end of the spectrum from transgender. The former is a sin and degenerate. The latter is a useful tool for the regime to restore someone with aberrant behaviour to the expected gender norms. As a result, dozens of young men and women in Iran resort to sex-change operations as a step toward a happy, normal life – a step that, the filmmaker suggests, rarely leaves them satisfied...

Story Continues...


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