Transsexuals in Iran

If you are a Jewish Iranian, living in the U.S. from the age of 6, it is very likely you don’t like Ahmadinejad. So of course you would like to show how you hate him and how he is such a liar and how evil the entire government he represents is, in any way you can.

So you decide to attack one of the only positive angles Iran has been reported: Sex-change. And why not connect it to Ahmadinejad’s speech in your city’s university, Columbia, where he said in Iran homosexuality doesn’t exist the same way it does in the U.S. (We all know the united Republican/Democrat anti-Iran front translated that to a denial of homosexuals in Iran.)

Tannaz Eshaghian’s ‘Be Like Others’ (or ‘Transsexual in Iran,’ as BBC titled it) is a well-made documentary, but it is dishonest and unfair. (Watch it on iPlayer) It basically try to say being gay in Iran is so hard that forces gay men to go through the brutal process of sex-change. So even though the Islamic Republic look surprisingly cool with transsexuality on the surface, it is actually killing scores of gay men by separating them from their family, forcing them into a constant struggle of identity, inflicting physical and psychological pain on them — and turning them into prostitutes, in the end.

But this is not exactly what every viewer would see in the film. They might ask, for instance, if being gay is so hard, how come Ali (Anoush’s boyfriend) doesn’t feel marginalized, isolated, or even under any kind of pressure?

Ali likes Anoush even before Anoush does the sex-change operation and while he still has male sexual organs. So if Iran is so cruel to homosexuals and hangs them, how come Ali is still not only walking, but working as a hairdresser and even is so comfortable with his name, face and identity be revealed by the film?

Ali’s character, in my mind, is the most important one in the film and he is the one that undoes the main message of them film. He is a living evidence of how homosexuality exists in Iran and how and why it is tolerated, and Eshaghian fails to bring it into her core message of the film.

He shows how homosexuality, as a social phenomenon, doesn’t exist in Iran because the lines between being straight and gay has historically been blurred in the Iranian culture. Sexuality has never been forced into strict categories in Iran and this could be quite related to what Judith Butler argues in her work.

But the film is also dishonest in details. The most important part, which is also central to the core of the message, is when she shamelessly mistranslates the young cleric who defends sex-change operations. He says transsexuality has nothing to do with homosexuality which is “immoral and irreligious”. But guess how it is translated by Eshaghian to twist his logic: “something unnatural and against religion.” Wow!

I don’t want to get into the list of funders and producers of the film. But I can’t resist the temptation of raising two questions. Especially given the continuous anti-Iran propaganda the BBC Two has produced and showed in the past few years.

a) Why Alexandra Kerry’s name (Yes, John Kerry’s daughter), as a co-producer is missing from the BBC credits?

b) Why the name of another co-producer, Ilan Ziv, an Israeli film-maker and producers with such films as Human Weapon (on the history of suicide bombing traced back to Iran), People Power (on ‘non-violent revolutions around the world’ with insight from Gene Sharp, ‘a leading expert on non-violent struggles’) is also removed from the BBC credits?

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