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

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How did you learn about the culture of sex-change operations in Iran? I read an article in The New York Times and thought, Oh my God, this is so crazy! And I kept thinking about it. It's an operation that could only come out of a Western cultural framework, really. The thought that you're an individual and that science can help you -- these things are incredibly modern, very Western. So to have something like that occurring in a more traditional society -- this doesn't fit into their construct of gender. I thought it'd be interesting to [observe] people are who are banging up against that cultural logic, and in some ways threatening it. All sorts of issues come up.

Perhaps the strongest tension in the film is between the persecution that one faces as a gay man in Iran versus the subjugation that one faces as a heterosexual woman there. There's no winning.

Exactly: You have to fit into the social order one way or another. Right. I mean, you definitely don't walk around Iran thinking women are not empowered. Not at all. Quite frankly, I didn't feel like it was that different here in terms of what women were doing. They're right there next to guys. It's more subtle.

But the men you follow certainly believe in traditional gender roles. They're from rural backgrounds -- lower-middle-class, traditional, religious backgrounds. One of the things I think is really important [in the film] is what people do when they feel even a mild amount of hope. Ali-Askar, who becomes [a woman named] Negar, says, "I thought once I had the operation, there'd be a place for me, I'd fit in" -- even though, if he looks around and sees people who've had it, it's hell. But there's such a desire to fit in, they're almost blinded.

Tags: film

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