Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Be Like Others

In many ways, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a mass of contradictions. On the one hand, transsexuals are openly accepted — as a matter of official government and religious policy, if not in everyday society. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa more than 20 years ago, decreeing that it is not un-Islamic to have a sex change if you are a "diagnosed transsexual" — provided, of course, that you fully embrace the social role of the gender to which you reassign yourself, including consorting solely with the "opposite" gender. On the other hand, homosexuality is vilified, with death by hanging sometimes a reprieve from more barbaric methods of execution. Be Like Others features interviews with several Iranians who have had or are preparing to have gender reassignment surgery (G.R.S.). At least some of them, whether or not they admit it, are not true transsexuals, but just gay men confronted by the choice of surgery or a life of persecution probably ending in horrific execution. It saddens me deeply to see their knee-jerk rejection, if they even mention it all, of the third option: fleeing the country. Some of them are rejected by their families, leaving them no alternative to support themselves post-surgery but to become "temporary wives": with a fully religiously valid wedding ceremony, a transwoman can get married and divorced within an hour, several times a day. The official policy sounds supportive, until you actually need any help after your surgery. Most of the world outside "The West" is far less accommodating to genuinely transgendered people than Iran, although that's a bit like saying that you beat your spouse less often than half the couples on your street. Iran's persecution of homosexuals, though, stands in abject mockery of any conception of human rights, leaving most of the governments of the world in silent complicity because they or their people are too squeamish to stand up publicly to proclaim that fags are still human.

Sorry for the rant, but I'm also a political blogger, so I couldn't resist the soapbox. Back to the movie review, this film is a powerfully moving and masterfully illuminative documentary on a subject that has gotten scarcely any attention at all. Here are a few pull quotes, paraphrased from the subtitles:
God, please don't create any more people like me. — MTF who wants to be "gorgeous!"

[A transwoman, or MTF] is more of a woman than a biological female. She can attract men more easily. — Dr. Bahram Mir-Jalali, gender reassignment surgeon in Iran

It is my duty to know if a person is man or woman. — female Iranian TV reporter, filming a different documentary about transsexuals and G.R.S.

If I weren't in Iran, I would not operate. I would not touch God's work. — man awaiting G.R.S.

If I am laughing, it is a laughter sadder than tears. I have no more tears left. That is why I laugh. — man helping a friend through the transition and considering G.R.S. himself

No other country changes birth certificates to reflect a sex change operation. — the Iranian TV reporter. [By the way, it's not even remotely true: Canada, most EU countries, and several US states, just for starters.]
It's a MUST SEE — just don't expect that you'll leave, feeling cheerful.

Be Like Others, dir. Tanaz Eshaghian, USA/Canada/Iran 2008, 74 min. video

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