September 30, 2007

In Iran, LGB, No; T, Yes

by PG

Yes, Ahmadeinjad, there is an Iranian homosexual. Now if anyone can point me to a fuller explanation of the phenomenon briefly mentioned in a New York Times article, I'd really appreciate it:

But Iran has also taken the unusual step of encouraging sex change operations for those with homosexual tendencies. While religious authorities here view homosexuality a clear sin, transsexuals are considered ill and in need of the help that such an operation can provide.
Muhammad Mehdi Kariminia, a midranking cleric and university professor at Mam Khomeini University in Qum, who wrote his doctoral thesis on transsexuals in Iran, said Muslim clerics could not show leniency or forgiveness for homosexuals because the Koran explicitly labels sodomy sinful.
"There is a thick wall between homosexuals and transsexuals," Mr. Kariminia said. "Transsexuals are sick because they are not happy with their sexuality, and so they should be treated. But homosexuality is considered a deviant act."
But the gays interviewed said that they did not believe the wall was that thick.
Reza said he knew of gay men who had changed their sex so that they could be recognized by the government as transsexual and mingle with men more easily.

Either Mr. Kariminia doesn't understand what "transsexual" means, or he was mistranslated (more likely the latter). Transsexuals may be quite happy with their sexuality in the sense of their sexual orientation, i.e. what they like to do sexually and with whom they want to do it. What they are unhappy about is the sex role assigned to them, hence the term "sex reassignment."

Americans are at the point where we're probably more comfortable with the idea that a woman can lust after another woman (actually, going by mainstream porn-inspired culture, we're really comfortable with this idea) than with the idea that a person we identify as female considers herself to be male. I would like to think I am accepting of transsexuality, but my puzzlement at the notion that Iranians find male-female sexual relations to be fixed while deeming sex to be highly mutable makes me think I'm among the U.S. majority in still "getting" non-straight sexual orientation more easily.

That said, congratulations to Denise and other campaigners at the University of Michigan for convincing the Regents to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. No matter where our kneejerk intuitions may be at the moment, Americans should not force one another to fit into a narrow conception of what "men" or "women" do, whether it is whom they find sexually attractive or how they dress and speak. I'm still convinced that this is all a form of sex discrimination because it punishes a person of one sex for what would be permissible in the other, but as the courts mostly don't agree, the next best thing is to get each form of sex discrimination specifically outlawed.

September 30, 2007 02:38 AM | TrackBack

Thank you, PG!

I'm not sure that Mr. Kariminia misunderstood "transsexuality", or that it was mistranslated. However, I *do* have that question with respect to the word "sexuality".

I do think you're correct that people in general "get" homosexuality more easily than they do "transgender". I'm not certain why that is -- perhaps our natural tendency to understand desire and less of a tendency to understand questions of identity. Or, perhaps it's because the L&G community have spent many more years working to educate people.

At the end of the day, I am heartened by people like you. People who do NOT understand transgenders and maybe even think that the only reason we exist is because of social pressures (i.e., if we were free to express who we are without fear of retribution (in any form) would we feel the need to transition, or especially, have surgery?) yet still stand with us to demand fair and equal treatment. Catharine MacKinnon is such a person. How will we ever have such a society if people don't stand for fair play?

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments and posts.

Posted by: Denise at September 30, 2007 08:58 AM

but my puzzlement at the notion that Iranians find male-female sexual relations to be fixed while deeming sex to be highly mutable

It appears to be a values issue. The Iranians find homosexual behaviour to be so contemptible that they will tolerate nearly anything else to avoid it. If someone "becomes" a woman and then finds a man, the couple will not engage in homosexual acts. (I'm not going to be any more explicit here.) It is the nature of the act, not the desire, that is problematic... correct?

It does not seem very strange to me to prefer that method over condoning homosexual acts. It's very practical - it allows them to maintain the man/woman requirement for sexual acts while silencing the gay/lesbian lobby.

Incidentally, many Christians do not have a problem wtih homosexuals, just with the idea of premarital or extramarital sex (which, by definition, gay/lesbian relations will always be).

Posted by: theobromophile at September 30, 2007 08:09 PM


Thanks for the interview you emailed! Have you seen this 2005 article from The Independent? It covers another way in which sex change surgery can free someone from oppression: by allowing someone born a woman to become a man, she can escape all the constraints that Iran puts on women. However, if a family has all girls and one of them becomes a man, he is entitled to twice as much inheritance as his sisters.

It's occurred to me for the first time that perhaps the reason that Heart and other rad-fems who are anti-transsexual take such a stance of suspicion and hostility toward M2Fs is that they cannot believe that a man would give up what they perceive as his gender privileges (even if they don't feel like privilege to someone who gender identifies as female). Setareh, whose husband insists on her wearing the chador and devoting herself to housework, probably is better off than when he was getting assaulted in the military, but perhaps that nuance -- the punishment given to men who fail to meet the social requirements of maleness -- escapes women who are so strongly focused on the difficulty of being a woman-born-woman in a patriarchal society.

I think what surprised me is Iran's apparently easy acceptance of the idea that gender identity is not closely tied to birth sex, particularly their characterization of someone whose gender identity is "mismatched" with birth sex as being sick and thus in need of the medical assistance provided by the state. This is very different from the more essentialist beliefs that tend to be espoused in the U.S. When someone here refers to a transgender person as sick, the recommended cure generally seems to be trying to convince the person that he ought to have a gender identity that matches his birth sex. (Much like the attempts to convince homosexuals that they don't *really* feel desire for people of the same sex.) Maybe we're just more psychologically oriented in the U.S.; we think people's brains are easier to "fix" than their bodies. In Iran, a great deal of psychology seems to be treated as Western and thus dubious, but medicine isn't.

Posted by: PG at October 1, 2007 01:16 AM

I don't object to anyone being transexual, homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual, whether from birth or by choice and change during his or her life. As long as that is their choice. But I do object to a governmental or religious or other social authority pressuring or requiring a sexual identity or role for any human being. In Iran, on pain of death, no less. Perhaps some women believe that getting a penis through a sex change operation will change their role in society and increase their personal and social power, as PG seems to say. But no lesbian woman should be forced to adopt a male role or body part, by reason of social pressure or religous edict, in Iran or anywhere else. The proper response to sex discrmination is to free the oppressed, not to convert them into oppressors of some stripe. Lincoln said that America could not survive half slave, half free. In this "war" against Islamofascism, somebody should dare to declare that this world cannot survive half slave (women), and half free (men). Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation gave moral purpose to the Civil War. The current "World War against Terrorism" needs a similar proclamation emancipating women around the world to give it a moral purpose worthy of the sacrifices in lives that have occurred and will occur around the world for many years to come. Sex discrimination of any kind, in any country (including the USA), violates human rights and offends human dignity, regardless of the sexuality or sexual orientation of the victims thereof.

Posted by: Ray Fuller at October 2, 2007 12:11 PM
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