25 February 2008

Changing your gender in Iran

In Iran, homosexual acts are a crime punishable by death. However, there is a way out for homosexuals who want to live with members of the same sex: getting a sex change operation. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued an edict allowing sex change operations after coming to power in 1979. Since then, Iran's Islamist government has recognised sex change as legal upon recommendation by a doctor. The government covers upto half the cost, and the change is marked on one's birth certificate. Iran now has the second-highest annual number of sex change operations in the world.

According to Hojjatol Islam Muhammad Mehdi Kariminia, the cleric in charge of sex change in Iran, the procedure is as permissible by Islam as "changing wheat to flour to bread". However, according to Kariminia,

The discussion is fundamentally separate from a discussion regarding homosexuals. Absolutely not related. Homosexuals are doing something unnatural and against religion. It is clearly stated in our Islamic law that such behaviour is not allowed because it disrupts the social order.

Nevertheless, it is often homosexuals who resort to sex change in Iran. They often do so after facing taunts from colleagues and passers-by, and also from a wish to have an open relationship with their same-sex partner, who is no longer same-sex after the surgery.

The Iranians who undergo sex change operations often face opposition from their parents; Iranian society is not nearly as accepting of the procedure as the government is. Negar, a 27-year-old woman who was once a man named Ali Askar, says that her father tried to kill her to keep her from going through with the surgery. She subsequently left home and had to work as a prostitute to make ends meet.

On the other hand, Shahin, the mother of 21-year-old Anahita (formerly a man named Anoosh) is happy with her decision to become female. According to Shahin,

A boy will always just get married and leave his mum, but a girl stays, a girl is always yours and will never leave, and now I will never experience the sadness that occurs when a boy leaves. I always wanted a daughter and I think it's a gift from God that I finally got one.

Anahita's brother Ali Reza is not so sure, though. "
I have had a brother for many years. I can't just suddenly accept him as my sister. If I refer to him as my brother he gets upset. But it's hard for me to believe this," he complains. Nevertheless, Anahita is engaged to her boyfriend, and has found that the sex change has enabled her to live in peace. "Now when someone is attracted to me, it is as a girl," she says (BBC).

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