LGBT Existence in Iran

Iran is strongly patriarchal and by its nature, extols masculinity. Gender binary is the classification of sex and gender into two distinct, opposite and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine.

In Iran there is no standardized measure of gender binaries.

Sexual desires are bound to intricate social definitions to such a significant extent that sometimes it is difficult for homosexuals themselves to distinguish, understand and accept their own orientations. In Iran, when enquiring about someone’s gender, one cannot find an appropriate response that yields a third possibility. Either one is a man or a woman. This fact is so categorically that it has left no room for doubt.

Graph 1 shows the population of LGB in Tehran, Mashhad and Isfahan. On this basis, Tehran with 4274 homosexuals has the biggest number followed by Mashhad, 2466 and Isfahan, 2171

Any departure from this system of sexual classification in Iran is categorized under the auspice of mental and behavioural disorders. In Iran, complementarity and unity of the two sexes, each associated with distinguishable gender roles is emphasised.

The societal control element has always prevailed. It is the method and approach in which Iran exposes these assumed abnormalities in order to maintain control over its sexual minorities. The current Iranian penal code upholds a zero-tolerance approach with respect to LGBT individuals, but often these rules and regulations exist only in law. Then there are moments when the laws roar in ferocious intimidating application. In cases of LGBT sanctions , paradoxically whilst there still is a great deal of pressure and oppression in Iranian society- including the fact that LGBT individuals are not immune from arbitrary arrests- the draconian and strict rules of sanctions are sometimes jettison in feigned tolerance and may not as heavy handed as they were in the past. But the fear of crack-down is always a hovering threat and omniscient. In April 2017, 30 gay individuals at a party in Bagh-e Bahadoran located in Isfahan were arrested. The Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR) reported that the men were charged with sodomy, drinking alcohol, and using psychedelic drugs. IRQR also reported that the men would be sent to Esfahan’s Medical Jurisprudence department for anal examination in order to provide evidence of homosexual acts to the court.”

By and large, LGBTs find it daunting to “come out” and declare their true sexual orientation. This is not only an Iranian issue, but commonplace in countries where heterosexual unions are the only recognized ones and non-heterosexual identity has been frowned upon.

In such societies, a man is expected to marry, and as long as he fulfils his procreative obligations, the community does not probe into his extracurricular activities.

Some Iranian gay men, who are in heterosexual marriages prefer prostitution as the preferred way to have same-sex affairs. For others, staying in the closet is the only viable option

Cringingly odd, the life of transgender individuals, albeit by no means perfect, is more comfortable than the life of homosexuals. For homosexuals in Iran it is quite daunting to openly declare their true sexual orientation. Iran is also the only Muslim country in that gives transgender citizens the right to have their gender identity recognized by the law.

Unlike homosexuals, Iran has liberal laws with regards to transgender individuals, with an encouraging government that is very supportive of financing sex changing surgeries. The 1980 Fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s late Supreme Leader, declared that sex assignment surgery is a “solution” to gender identity disorder. He allowed the government through this religious ruling to supervise such surgeries commonly referred to as Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS).

However, a deeper probe on the Iranian governments’ stance on allowing GCSs reveals that it is actually another tool to destroy and persecute gays and lesbians in Iran as they are still very much ostracise. Despite the surgery, transsexual Iranians do not enjoy a privileged status in society. There is a belief, played out by the religious clerics and supported by the government, that a person is trapped in a body of the wrong sex, as individuals with psychosexual problems. Iranian homosexuals are encouraged to undergo sexual reassignment surgery for their own benefit, thus discouraging LGBT to live their lives in an open and peaceful manner.

Although GCS is not an official government policy forcing gay men or women to undergo gender reassignment, the pressure can be intense. The end result is that these individuals are now compelled to live with the pain and emotional scars. There are cases of mistreatment where the patient needs hospitalization after the surgery. Such cases of mistreatment may be seen as culminating in a medical recommendation for sex reassignment surgery and the accompanying hormonal drug therapy. Between 2006 to 2010, over 1,360 gender reassignment operations were performed in Iran.

These operations almost invariably lead to serious physical complications, depression, and in some cases, suicide. Despite the high number of gender confirmation surgeries performed in Iran, the quality of the work is poor.

Naturally this begs the question: how many Lesbian Gays and Bisexual in Iran did not genuinely desire the surgery?

Further, many employers openly discriminate against people they deem as queer, rendering trans-identified individuals with little financial means and resulting in poor economic survival. As sex work can be conducted legally in Iran through the Shiite notion of a temporary marriage, participation in sex work is common and protected. For a trans-identified person who has undergone GCS, it is legal to have a temporary marriage conducted as often as one per hour because there is no chance of pregnancy and thus negating any future parental responsibilities on the part of the soliciting party The Iranian administrative system often plays a role in transgender victimization which repeatedly occurs at various familial, societal and state levels. This has been mentioned in many ethnographic studies such as the one undertaken by Najmabadi (2013).

The study illustrates how gender and sexual minorities in Iran have opted to approach the Iranian bureaucratic order through the discourse of “needs” and not “rights.” Transgender individuals use the fractious Iranian bureaucracy to their advantage in order to shape the various rules and regulations that will give them access not only to medical resources, but also a space of relative manoeuvre through which they can create liveable lives.

In 2010, the Office for the Socially Harmed at the Welfare Organization of Iran responded to the strategic lobbying and activism by trans-identified individuals by reclassifying their military exemption from the “mental disorders clause” (Section 33.8) to the “glandular disorders clause” (Section 30)46. As this “glandular disorders clause is now clearly displayed on their identification, this has, at least in theory, reduced the amount of discrimination trans-identified men receive when seeking employment. The glandular disorders clause is viewed as a more socially-permissible exemption. Najmabadi explains that “For legal and medical authorities, sex change surgeries are explicitly framed as the cure for a diseased abnormality, and on occasion they are proposed as a religion-legally sanctioned option for heteronormalizing people with same-sex desires or practices”.

Read more: Migration and Gender for Iranian LGBT

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