Gay? Get a Sex Change

A new documentary turns the camera on another source of controversy in Iran: transsexuality.

BY Sean Kennedy

June 23 2009 11:00 PM ET

Two years ago, Westerners rightly laughed when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a Columbia University audience that there were no homosexuals in his country. But the new documentary Be Like Others, premiering Wednesday night on HBO2, shows why he might believe that: Rather than be persecuted for being gay, some Iranian men decide to undergo gender reassignment-surgery and become women instead. Unlike homosexuality, which is forbidden by the Koran, transsexuality is considered a medical condition and is tolerated so long as people change gender. The surgeries are even regulated by the state.

For her debut feature, Iranian-American director Tanaz Eshaghian traveled to Tehran to follow three such men, the trans woman who mentors them (and says she hates gay people), and the jovial doctor who performs the surgeries. The resulting film, a 2008 Sundance selection, limns the Islamic republic's contradictory discourses on sexual orientation and gender -- and shows to devastating effect how some of the country's most vulnerable citizens fall prey to hard-line ideology. Eshaghian spoke to Advocate.com at a coffee shop near her apartment in downtown New York City, one week after Iran's disputed presidential election.

Advocate.com:What's your assessment of the current political situation in Iran? Tanaz Eshaghian: I personally don't think you're going to see much change. People are letting off some steam, which is nice. People need to do that.

The men you follow in Be Like Others don't discuss politics per se, but do you know what their take on recent events would be? No -- they're too involved in their own issues. Often being interested in current events, politics requires -- wherever you are in the world -- a certain lack of problems in your own private life. Also, being politically minded in Iran, it's very different. It's not like here.

Tags: film

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