“It is curious that homosexuality is a crime [in Iran],” observes Dr. Bahram Mir-Jalali. “Why do they then give permission to transsexuals?” Certainly, gender and politics are complicated here, as revealed in Be Like Others, which begins airing on ITVS’ Global Voices 14 August. The rationale, says Cleric Kariminiaya, a theological expert on transsexuality, is found in Islamic law. For those who are transsexual, or “those that have two genders,” he says, “They need surgery. They are allowed via a sex change operation to become either a male or a female.” The problem with homosexuality is its violation of this one-or-the-other order. Homosexuals are evil; transsexuals merely need to adjust themselves to fit the established order, to “be like others.” The gender opposition that drives such efforts to conform is hardly unique to Iran or Islam. It is, after all, the ground for sex change in all cultures, that a “wrong body” can be fixed to match a soul or being trapped inside it. The premise allows no ambiguities, no mixing of male and female characteristics within one body. Tanaz Eshaghian’s excellent documentary explores the struggle such opposition poses for two young men as they “operate,” that is, prepare for and have the reassignment surgery. As they look forward to lives that seem more “natural,” they also accept the social restrictions on women: as long as they cover and submit (and carry their legal papers with them at all times), they can walk the streets in Tehran without fear of being picked up by the morality police.
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