Gay? Get a Sex Change

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

BY Sean Kennedy

June 24 2009 12:00 AM ET

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And that's the tragedy: Negar's arguably in a worse predicament after the operation than she was in as a man. Her family disowns her, she becomes a prostitute, and she says her ability to love has been "killed." She saw a ray of light and went into it. But there's other things going on too. My theory is there's deep internalized shame, because these are individuals who find the fact that they're attracted to members of the same sex to be disgraceful. Unconsciously there's some desire to pay the price, to do what is expected of you.

The doctor says he can distinguish between men who are gay and men who legitimately want to be women because the former leave his office in fear after hearing what gender reassignment surgery entails. But how believable is that? Well, those are the questions the film raises. Is that lip service or is that really the case?

In one extended scene, an Iranian state radio reporter visits the clinic and betrays the very real cultural bias that trans women face even after having surgery. She was not cool. I felt that a very traditional way of thinking walked in via her. She was very clear: We have services for you, we take care of you. If you're a transsexual, there isn't any ambiguity -- we have the path set up for you. And if you're not one, then you're suspect. It's perfectly logical [to her]. She's expressing the truth.

Is Iran the only predominantly Muslim country that officially accepts sex changes? Yes, because of Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa [permitting them]. It's not coming out of any text. Iran is mostly Shia, and the Sunni clerics, from what I've read, consider it totally unacceptable.

Tags: film

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