The ability to choose, while taken for granted by many in the West, is a luxury some lack in Iran. Since the legalisation of transsexuality in 1987, the country has been said to perpetuate the ideal that transsexuality can provide a solution to homosexuality. This has proved especially important for Iran’s image as stark opposers to homosexuality, former conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad having once declared that Iran did not have any gay people.
The pressure for homosexuals to identify as the opposite sex and often even have irreversible surgery stems from all corners of life
Iranian-born activist, Shadi Amin, commented that the Iranian regime views being gay as an “illness,” with the only solution being to change the person’s gender. She furthered this, claiming that, “the government believes that if you are a gay man your soul is that of a woman and you should change your body”. Often punishable by public hangings from cranes in the street, homosexuality is illegal in Iran, something that has been described as leading to psychological torture in daily life for homosexual men in particular. This illegality has prompted the Iranian government to use gender reassignment as a solution; Amin argues the government “would rather carry out mass surgeries than executions because they know the world is watching them”. Peter Thatchell, a prominent British human rights campaigner, condemned the regime’s desire to “eradicate homosexuality’ via reassignment surgeries, the Iranian government having been criticised by foreign governments for viewing excessive surgeries as anything more than an exacerbation of the issue.
The Iranian government, however, has this belief solidly reinforced within society — the pressure for homosexuals to identify as the opposite sex and often even have irreversible surgery stems from all corners of life including family, friends and medical professionals. Though it is not official government policy, the Iranian regime has done everything within its power to enforce the use of sex reassignment upon homosexuals. Many have attested to the government and medical professionals showing ‘how easy the process can be’, grants being provided for medical treatments as well as officials giving permission to, even before the surgery, being able to walk down the street dressing as the opposite gender, a great allowance for a Muslim country.
“Why are you like this? Go and change your gender”
Families have also been known to give ultimatums to their homosexual relatives, parents for example threatening death unless the surgery is agreed to. One gay man who managed to escape Iran before surgery talks of how his father told him: “You need to either have your gender changed or we will kill you and will not let you live in this family.” Thus, homosexuals in many cases do not have the support of even their family members, as the government’s message is engrained within the population.
This is evident in the large numbers of gender reassignment surgeries in Iran each year – the government reports 4,000 occur annually however an Iranian doctor told the BBC he alone carries out more than 200 of these operations a year, hence suggesting the real figures are much higher than stated. This could be due to the often-rushed counselling before medical procedures as well as the social pressures – Donya, a lesbian, talks of how she wore her hair short which led to police officers approaching her on the street and asking: “Why are you like this? Go and change your gender.”
These rushed and pressured procedures however often create more problems for homosexuals than they experienced before – even following the surgery, openly trans people are often shunned by their country and families which leads to lives of sex work and violence as they are unable to secure and maintain jobs. Iran’s policies clearly cannot be revered as progressive or problem-solving, their approach setting them back in the eyes of the world.
Image: GGAADD via Creative Commons