Iran. How transgender people survive an ultra-conservative diet | Middle East | News and Analysis of Events in the Arab World | DW
Before undergoing sex confirmation surgery, Saman Arastoo had thought about all the consequences. By the age of 40, he had built an acting career in Iranian cinema and theater as a woman. He knew his decision would hurt his career, but he intended to replace it. Now, he spends most of his time making sure transgender boys and girls don’t rush into sex reassignment surgery – a rather easy option in Iran.
Despite Iran’s rigid attitudes towards sexuality, its capital, Tehran, has been dubbed one of the world’s centers for sex reassignment surgery. Transgender people live and work without legal barriers in the country. The government is even helping with the costs of hormonal medicine and sex reassignment surgery for those who want it.
The procedure became legal following a transgender woman’s campaign in the mid-1980s. Maryam Khatoon Molkara met Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iranian religious and political leader, and told him how she was placed in a mental institution. and forcibly injected with male hormones. Moved by her story, Khomeini issued a decree, authorizing the operation and approving the civil rights of transgender people.
Saman Arastoo has achieved some success as a theater director in Iran
When it comes to other forms of non-heterosexual identity, the state is not that lenient: in certain circumstances, gays and lesbians risk draconian penalties. The closest thing to the recognition gay men enjoy is an exemption from compulsory military service. Besides the fact that same-sex relationships are punishable by death, the government classifies men who want to have sex with other men as mentally ill and therefore unable to serve in the military and ineligible for a wide range. jobs in the public service.
It is forbidden to defend the rights of homosexuals in the media. At the same time, Iranian state media occasionally tell stories highlighting the grievances of transgender people, reports that often denounce transphobia and call for more substantial support from the government. This also applies to films and documentaries. As a trans man, Saman Arastoo makes a living writing plays about transgender people and directing them with trans actors.
Saman Arastoo runs theaters to showcase the experience of transgender people in Iran
Iranian ‘solution’ causes more problems
State authorization of sex reassignment surgery and intolerance of homosexuality are not unrelated. “They’d rather have people go under a surgeon’s knife than accept the non-binary nature of sex,” says Arastoo. “You must be a man or a woman on your identity papers, nothing in between is recognized.”
Zara Saiedzadeh, Senior Lecturer in Gender Studies at Orebro University in Sweden, with a focus on transgender life in Iran. “Just because the gender confirmation operation is possible does not mean that the government particularly accepts trans people,” she said. “And that certainly doesn’t mean their needs and rights are being met.”
Iran is one of the countries that still considers trans people to have a mental disorder – the World Health Organization stopped classifying them as such in 2019. This approach has too many unwanted by-products, including patients who are misdiagnosed and bullied by medical staff when discussing sex. identity.
Before surgery, patients should be counseled to make sure they have gender dysphoria and are prepared for the procedure. Arastoo believes that the process is often not properly observed. “A psychotherapist can be incompetent, even transphobic,” he says. “The counseling sessions echo the sense of shame and self-hatred that heteronormative society imposes on transgender people.”
After a series of counseling sessions, patients can change their IDs and undergo sex confirmation surgery
“Even after surgery, no one can expect a beautiful heavenly life,” Saeidzadeh says. “Until a trans person is recognized by the law, their family, friends and community, they have problems, and they face so many different challenges in managing their daily lives.
Iranian law does not protect trans people from stigma, hate crimes or domestic violence, and the government does not have a concrete plan to normalize and empower trans people. For teens who come out in conservative settings, being disowned by the family and struggling to find housing is a common experience.
Make life liveable
“It’s not that [trans people] are oppressed and miserable people who have no life, “Saeidzahde said.” Despite all the difficulties, due to their own abilities and initiatives, trans people have made their lives liveable in Iran. “Throughout her research, Saiedzadeh says she interviewed people who learned to quickly switch between identities and roles while creating and claiming their own social spaces.” They created communities to support and support each other. protect each other, “she says. Online activism, she notes, has played an important role in raising awareness and building communities, with countless websites and social media content proliferating across the Internet. authorities are monitoring and blocking them, but ways to get around the bans are still being found.
Before the transition, Saman Arastoo appeared in films and stars as a woman
Activism goes beyond the Internet. Using theater as a form of therapy and with the help of volunteer therapists, Saman Arastoo regularly organizes workshops to facilitate communication between trans people and their families. “Once they meet away from judgmental gazes, families learn there is nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of, and trans children learn to understand the pressure their families are under.
Arastoo’s runs workshops that help trans people and their parents communicate
Empowering dozens of trans men and women is another goal of her workshops. “Many of them, under the influence of unqualified psychologists, believe that until they have their real bodies, having a normal life is impossible.” Through the workshops, says Arastoo, trans participants learn to stop waiting for sex confirmation surgery to validate them and to put their education and personal development above surgery.
“Surgery can wait until the right time comes. Until then, you may have to wear clothes that you don’t like and pretend to be what you are not, ”says Arastoo. “I know it’s difficult, but that’s what most people in this country do anyway.”