Still from Daisy Mohr and Negin Kianfar's 2006 documentary "The Birthday," about sex changes in Iran
One of the weirder outcomes of combining fundamentalist religion with national governance is that you have the leader of your country say things like “There are no gays in Iran. We do not have this phenomenon,” at an American university, only to be practically laughed offstage and spend the next week backtracking on the statement.
Another is that your country finds itself in the somewhat awkward position of punishing homosexuality with death, yet publicly funding gender reassignment surgery. According to this recent report in the Guardian UK, Iran is second only to Thailand in the amount of sex change surgeries performed there. Yep, folks – sharia law commands that gays be killed for having sex with each other only once, and that lesbians be executed if they have sex four times (talk about double standards!). But it'll foot your trans bill.
Yet another strange thing to emerge from this situation is that your country is so fucked up that the leader of the major transsexual organization can say, as Maryam Khatoon Molkara recently did, "Transsexuality is a real disaster. It's a one-way street. But if somebody wants to study, have a future and live like others they should go through this surgery." Eek. (She herself convinced Khomeini to make transsexuality legal -- no small potatoes!)
Iran’s fundamental answer to gay love is change one of the partners into a woman. Shazam!
But that’s just the sensational side. In fact, there are an estimated 15,000-20,000 transsexuals in Iran today. Afsaneh Najmabadi, Professor of History and Women's Studies at Harvard University, is coming to Berkeley to talk about the phenomenon and share her own experiences this Thursday – should be fascinating, especially with our supposed representatives in Washington thinking they can sell out the trans community to achieve protections for “socially acceptable” gay men and women in the workplace.
THE BEATRICE BAIN RESEARCH GROUP, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKELEY PRESENTS
Speaker: Afsaneh Najmabadi
Professor of History and Women's Studies, Harvard University
TRANSING AND TRANSPASSING ACROSS SEX-GENDER WALLS IN IRAN
This talk focuses on current contours of transexuality in Iran and considers the particular mapping of trans-identities and lives in a context where transexuality is legal and homosexuality is not. How does legality of transexuality and illegality of homosexuality shape sexual subjectivities in Iran? How do state-codified notions of proper public manhood and womanhood affect sexualities? The talk will look at how the confluence of classical Islamic discourse on the "true sex" of every human body with the psychomedicalized notion of "truth of sex" — that a natural biological sex determines one's gender behavior and sexual desire — has given a powerful impetus to the acceptability of "curing" transexuality through sex-change medical interventions, while sustaining homosexuality as an unacceptable criminalized deviation.
Department of Gender and Women's Studies
Townsend Center Working Group on Muslim Identities and Cultures
Center for Middle East Studies
Center for the Study of Sexual Culture