The situation for transgender people in Iran is a complex one, in which laws, religion, and family come together to dictate the terms in which transgender people are able to transition and live out their lives. Although legislation is in place to assist people with physical transitioning, the rules and regulations about being able to transition legally are stringent and depending on the person, can liberate them or limit their freedom greatly.
On the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association website (ilga.org) legal regulations around transsexuality and queerness are listed. For Iran, although the information is limited, they go into some detail about the laws against male same-sex sexual relationships. In Iran this type of relationship is against Islamic law, made illegal and punishable by death. Although they don’t discuss trans rights specifically, this law means that in order for a MtF trans woman to legally have sex with her male partner, she would need to have a sex change operation.
Although some MtF transgered individuals in Iran might want to have this operation, others may not. The operation is painful and may come with complications. Also many people who get the operation are doing so against their family’s wishes, so they are forced to go through traveling and reconvery on their own, not to mention they might be ostracized from the family completely after going through with the operation. This, as Najmabadi explains in her article “Transing and Transpassing Across Sex-Gender Walls in Iran,” can lead to great emotional hardship, homelessness, loss of an education, and loss of job opportunities. For Askar, a MtF transsexual followed and interviewed in the documentary Be Like Others directed by Tanaz Eshaghian, the disconnect from her family dictated her whole life after her surgery. She came from a small poor village, coming to Tehran for her surgery with very little money. Her family severed all ties from her when she went through with her surgery and she began working as a sex worker to make money to continue to live on her own. She says her work as “killed [her] ability to love” and if she’d known she would be so shunned from her family she would never have had the surgery.
This predicament creates a very conflicting situation for transgendered individuals in Iran. If they don’t have the surgery they are stigmatized by their government and society for being considered homosexuals and have a hard time being in relationships because of the legal status of their sexual relationships. On the other hand if they get the surgery they may risk the such stigma in their family that they lose them completely and, as in Askar’s case, feel forced into going into a line of work that may keep them from experiencing love as they had desired it before the surgery.
It is important to mention that not all people who transition in Iran have this kind of negative experience. Another featured person in the documentary was Anahita who was able to be with her boyfriend more freely and felt less harassed on the streets and tension in her home with her mother. Some people’s lives are greatly enhanced by their ability to get the sex reassignment surgery and change their gender status legally, but it still is done in a manner in which individual freedom and choice are extremely limited and many are excluded from the ability to live more safe and fulfilling lives.