Afsaneh Najmabadi

In Transing and Transpassing across Sex-Gender Walls in Iran, Afsaneh Najmabadi seeks to illustrate transsexuality in popular culture in Iran. “Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran occupies the unlikely role of global leader for sex change” (Najmabadi, 25). The increased number of surgeries in Iran, as well as the assumed tolerance, is a result of framing, not acceptance. The conservative, Islamic Republic receives much acclaim for being a major leader in gender reassignment surgeries; however, the attention is misrepresented. Religious, political, and medical leaders determined that gender reassignment surgery could be granted because the Qur’an does not explicitly ban the procedure and because they consider it a cure to a gender identity disorder. Though the state now sanctions medical procedures for transsexuality, they consider their identity as a disease or a mistake.

Interestingly, the selection process, or “filtering,” aims to identify the “true transgender” as opposed to the “homosexual.” The stark differentiation between “transgender” and “homosexual” is indeed complex, but one major distinction exists (according to Iranian officials). A “true transgender” follows the narrative of disharmony between their soul and their body; therefore, medical advances can realign the dissonance. A “homosexual” engages in sinful, same-sex acts. Nonetheless, Iran does not differentiate sex from gender; thus, the distinction is often blurred or ambiguous. Homosexuals are often pressured by the social expectations of doctors, family members, and psychologists to have gender reassignment surgery in order to become normalized and live more freely. However, instead of illuminating same-sex practices by encouraging transition, the new regulations opened a new, relatively safer social space for gays and lesbians. An individual could live as a non-operative, certified transsexual in order to prevent abuse.

Additionally, the strict differentiation between “homosexual” and “transsexual” has polarized the two social groups and inhibited alliance. The stigmatization of homosexuality encourages the gender-variant community to criticize and demoralize homosexuals, because they do not want to be identified as homosexual. They do not want to further their alienation from their religion or their family. Nonetheless, in recent years the two groups have reached an agreement and have started to organize together to rethink dominant culture practices.

It is indeed interesting that Iran has high rates of gender reassignment surgery, because contemporary, mainly Western, media portrays the region as ultra-conservative and unchanging. However, it is also important to observe that the media attention does not highlight acceptance of the culture or contentment in the individual. The numbers are high, because their identity is considered a disorder or a disease, and the official decisions of Iran to allow gender reassignment not only reflect the medicalization of an identity, but also the stigmatization and discrimination of homosexuals. Nonetheless, many Iranians do not wish for international thoughts and debates to enter into Iranian discourse and change the meanings and interpretations of the Republic. Nevertheless, the discussions have reached Iran, introducing foreign terms and concepts that complicate current definitions. Regardless, the citizens, gender variant or not, are charged with defining and interpreting their identities according to their ideals and customs.


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