As Repression Lifts, More Iranians Change Their Sex
By NAZILA FATHI
Published: August 2, 2004
TEHRAN, Aug. 1 - Everything about Amir appears masculine: his broad chest, muscled arms, the dark full beard and deep voice. But, in fact, Amir was a woman until four years ago, when, at the age of 25, he underwent the first of a series of operations that would change his life.
Since then he has had 20 surgical procedures and expects another 4. And Amir, who as a woman was married twice to men - his second husband helped with the transition and remains a good friend - is now engaged to marry a woman.
"I love my life and I'm happy, as long as no one knows about my past identity," said Amir, who asked that his full name not be published. "No one has been more helpful than the judge, who was a cleric and issued the permit for my operation."
After decades of repression, the Islamic government is recognizing that some people want to change their sex, and allowing them to have operations and obtain new birth certificates.
Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there was no particular policy regarding transsexuals. Iranians with the inclination, means and connections could obtain the necessary medical treatment and new identity documents. The new religious government, however, classed transsexuals and transvestites with gays and lesbians, who were condemned by Islam and faced the punishment of lashing under Iran's penal code.
But these days, Iran's Muslim clerics, who dominate the judiciary, are considerably better informed about transsexuality. Some clerics now even recommend sex-change operations to those who are troubled about their gender. The issue was discussed at a conference in Tehran in June that drew officials from other Persian Gulf countries.
One cleric, Muhammad Mehdi Kariminia, is writing his thesis on transsexuality at the religious seminary of Qum.
"All the clerics and researchers at the seminary encouraged me to work on the subject," he said in an interview. "They said that my research can help change the social stigma attached to these people and clarify religious decrees on the matter."
One early campaigner for transsexual rights is Maryam Hatoon Molkara, who was formerly a man known as Fereydoon. Before the revolution, under the shah, he had longed to become a woman but could not afford surgery. Furthermore, he wanted religious guidance. In 1978, he wrote to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was to become the leader of the revolution but was still in exile, explaining his situation.
The ayatollah replied that his case was different from that of a homosexual and therefore he had his blessing.
However, the revolution intervened and men like himself or those who had already changed their sex were harassed, even jailed and tortured. "They made me stop wearing women's clothes, which I had worn for many years and was used to," Ms. Molkara recalled. "It was like torture for me. They even made me take hormones to look like a man.''
It took him eight years after the revolution, in 1986, to get government permission to proceed with surgery. But he could not afford the surgery and did not have it until 1997, when he underwent a sex-change operation in Bangkok. The Iranian government covered the expenses. Four years ago, Ms. Molkara established an organization to help those with gender-identity problems. Co-founders include Ali Razini, head of the Special Court of Clergy, a branch of the judiciary that only deals with clerics, and Zahra Shojai, Iran's vice president for women's affairs. An Islamic philanthropic group known as the Imam Khomeini Charity Foundation has agreed to provide loans equivalent to about $1,200 to help pay for sex-change surgery.
Maryam Hatoon Molkara, who was formerly a man known as Fereydoon, was an early campaigner for the rights of transsexuals in Iran.
Read on ...
Dr. Bahram Mir-djalali, one of Tehran's few sex-reassignment surgeons, said one of his patients had been a member of the Revolutionary Guards who served five years in the war with Iraq. His operation was paid for by a Muslim cleric he had worked for as a secretary. After the surgery, the man-turned-woman divorced, and then married the cleric.
ROCK icons Queen, fronted by outlandish gay icon Freddie Mercury, have become the first rock band to be given the official seal of approval in Iran.
A record company source said an album of their greatest hits has been released in the country.
Mercury, who died of AIDS in 1991, was proud of his Iranian ancestry and supposed Zoroastrian origins.
It made Queen one of the most popular bands in Iran, but western music is largely frowned upon in the Islamic republic, where homosexuality is considered a crime.
"Authorities approved of the tunes that had a social theme, leaving out the love songs," an executive in the company said.
The album contains smash hits such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Miracle and I Want to Break Free.
Western music is strictly censored in Iran and those selling foreign music need special permits, although millions of bootlegged banned CDs and cassettes are sold on the black market throughout the country.
The album is already selling very well. "It is the first rock album to hit the market legally and people are surprised and pleased to see it has the lyrics, not just the music," said Akbar Safari, a salesman at a Tehran book and record store.
The cassette, costing less than one US dollar, comes complete with explanatory leaflet, which tells rock fans that Bohemian Rhapsody is about a young man who has accidentally killed someone and, like Faust, sold his soul to the devil. On the night before his execution he calls God in Arabic, Bismillah, and so regains his soul from Satan.
Other western acts to have had albums of selected songs released on the official Iranian market are Elton John, Julio Iglesias and Gypsy Kings.
There are also books containing original and translated lyrics by many western singers such as Leonard Cohen, Celine Dion and even white rap artist Eminem, published to respond to the ever increasing demands of a nation where 70 per cent of the population is under 30.
This Iranian doc, by the way, was about a woman in a small village who had already defied tradition and religious dogma by casting aside the weird kind of half-mask women wear there and starting work as a nurse - and now (this was in 2000 or so) did the unimaginable and stood as a candidate for the village council. Unheard of, and we see a friendly elder sitting down with her and talking in pleading, lecturing, arguing circles to try to dissuade her. But she is a bubbling, no-nonsense fountain of ideas and ambitions: to set up a school for girls, foremost, and the village road should be paved, there should be sport facilities for the kids so they dont turn to drugs and also outside sport facilities for girls so they dont need to hide inside to play, and this, and that, and why hasnt the village council done anything in fifteen years?
She's a short, young, enthusiastic thing, a loving woman who as nurse runs around the surrounding villages non-stop to take care of the villagers, calls them her 600 children; she's visibly elated by the camera and all the attention, and bursting with excitement about it all, sending boys out to the voting station to find out more news, and more news. The coolest thing though is how she and her husband interact: because he is also standing for the same elections (!), yet never says a word to stop her. He's all smiling gentleness and endearment, and the edge of competitiveness between 'em that also visibly shows up is more cute than anything else.
The conversation with the elder is hilarious, he is using everything from flattery (but you have found your mission, and you are brilliant for it - be a nurse, you wont have time to travel here and there!) to pleading to loyalty (but why not trust your husband, he's on the list too, why not let him take this one on him?), to bizarre back-to-front folk wisdom (women have more sins than men! Why? Well, why are they buried three meter down, and me two meter? Because they have more sins!). But she matches him every step of the way (and what did you say when I first wanted to be a nurse? The same things, all the same things! And where does God say that..), and both woman and husband break into friendly laughter when the elder pleads with the nurse that, why do women have to cover up when they go out alone? Well, because women - every look at them or from them is like a shot at the man's heart!
Basically, they're just having this lively, eager debate like any of us, which all the while remains comradely and friendly. Is the glass half full or half empty? Some of the stuff the elder says are mindbogglingly superstitious stuff, yet there they are, the old man and the young woman, having this open, frank and good-natured fierce discussion in the first place - aint a thing he gets past her!
Plus, of course ... yes, she did get elected! ;-). She and some 500 other women in villages and districts around the country, apparently, back then. And according to the closing titles, within a year there was a paved road - and a school for girls.. who could have wondered, with her on the council?
Of course, God knows what's happened to her now, five years on, considering the changes in Iran since Khatami's heyday. But thats no longer WMYST.
Heard the one about the president?
Robert Tait in Tehran
Friday April 14, 2006
The misdirected email or text message is a hazard of our age. It can sour relationships and upset the closest of our friends. But now a stray electronic missive has been blamed for a spate of arrests, a national scandal and a very grumpy president of Iran.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Islamic nation's firebrand leader, has taken umbrage at an unwelcome text received on his mobile phone. According to whispered accounts in the Iranian capital, his ire was stirred when someone sent him a joke suggesting he didn't wash regularly enough.
Although officials claim he possesses a lively sense of humour that belies his rather hairshirt image, on this occasion it suffered a serious failure. Realising the joke was doing the rounds of Iranian mobile phones, the notoriously temperamental president lodged an official complaint with Iran's judiciary department.
That in turn has acted as a pretext for an official purge of the SMS system in the country. Mr Ahmadinejad has since told his staff to pay close attention to all jokes circulating about him by text.
An anti-regime website called Rooz Online claims that under the crackdown the head of the country's mobile phone company has been sacked and four people arrested and accused of colluding with the Israeli foreign intelligence service, Mossad.
But poking fun at the president has becoming a national pastime in Iran. In a fusillade of seditious traffic, the regime's senior figures and its most sacred policies are all fair game - with Mr Ahmadinejad a particular target.
One joke tells of a man who has died and gone to hell, where he sees the famously strait-laced Mr Ahmadinejad dancing with the Hollywood star Jennifer Lopez. "Is this Ahmadinejad's punishment?" he asks.
"No," goes the reply. "It is Jennifer Lopez's punishment."
Another recent joke poked fun at Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, listing characteristics he supposedly inherited from five prophets: Muhammad, Moses, Jesus, Noah and Solomon. Insulting the supreme leader - or the prophets - is a jailing offence in devoutly religious Iran.
Others concentrate heavily on sex, another taboo with Iran's religious hierarchy. One purports to reveal official statistics of what men do after sex: "2% eat; 3% smoke; 4% take a shower; 5% go to sleep: 86% get up and go home to their wives."
The previous assumption was that this exchange of bawdy jibes and political satire could be made without detection. But now senior police officers have announced that they are acutely aware of it and say jokes intercepted could be treated as criminal behaviour.
Particular attention is being paid to jokes comparing Iran's nuclear programme with sex. Several people are widely believed to have received court summonses for sending nuclear-related jokes.
"While the outcome of the recent arrests in connection with SMS messaging is not clear yet, what is certain is that SMS jokes have already put some people into serious trouble," wrote the website Rooz Online.
The clampdown is in line with the authorities' uncompromising stance on the internet and bloggers. Wary of modern communications as a means of spreading political dissent, Iran is second only to China in the number of websites it filters - using technology made in America.
The Iranians applaud President Ahmadinezhad's intransigence
13 April 2006
Before the small kiosk Muhammad Amini, 25, scans the Iranian dailies, all of which, without exception, highlight Iran's entry into the club of countries having nuclear technology. "The dream is coming true," proclaims the cover of the journal Iran. The conservative daily Keyhan welcomes the "historic turning point" that it says propels the Islamic Republic into the rank of "the most powerful countries of the Middle East." A smile on his lips, the young Iranian civil servant has only one comment: "We had to wait until the election of Ahmadinezhad for Iran to stand up to the West!"
In June 2005 he did not vote for the ultraconservative president, but this latter plays skilfully on the nationalist feelings of the Iranians to unite the population around the nuclear question. According to a survey of university professors conducted in March 2006 by the National Information Centre, some 60 per cent of those questioned opposed Iran suspending its uranium enrichment activities. However, it is difficult to verify the independence of such a survey.
Generally speaking, the media propaganda plays in favour of Ahmadinezhad. In recent weeks state television and radio have been showing a growing number of special programmes on Iran's "indispensable" resort to nuclear technology. Yesterday [12 April] this propaganda made it into certain schools, where the children were summoned to gather on the playground to chant, in chorus: "Nuclear energy is our absolute right." In this context, woe to the brave Iranian critics and journalists who would dare to weaken this consensus. The Culture Ministry has circulated a letter ordering local reporters to no longer write about the Western threats of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic, to avoid frightening the population.
I think the Iranians indeed are playing to the home crowd, and I think the Iranian leadership does not recognize the danger in which they are further placing their regime thereby.
This strikes me very much like the energetic chihuahua yapping defiantly at the somewhat irritated, but as-yet-not-particularly-agitated rottweiler.
While it is possible the Iranians have come up with adaptations and modifications suiting these "new weapons" to their particular circumstance and application, they are by no means "new weapons" nor of indigenous Iranian concept and design; they are if not outright purchases, then licensed domesticly manufactured examples of existing Russian/ex-Soviet and Chinese technologies. The weapons systems the Iranians are touting long have been known to The West.
And, while it is possible a weapon of type might be able, under just the right circumstances, to achieve a kill, the launch entity for that weapon would cease to exist very soon after launch, possibly even before detonation of the weapon's payload. And that, of course, presupposes any appropriate launch entity might be able to enter the battlespace in the first place - itself far from a given.