Sunday, October 03, 2004

Changing sex the Sharia way 

Taking a break from work, I've been reading about Iran's somewhat surprising approach towards transsexuality. While there's still huge stigma attached to it, and most get branded homosexual - sometimes leading to the death penalty - the gender reassignment procedure is becoming more accepted and receiving religious approval from, among others, Ayatollah Khomeini. There are clerics trying to show how it's consistent with Sharia law, state subsidies are sometime available for the expensive operations, and once successful the subjects will gain new birth certificates and national identity cards. (As a comparison, the birth certificate change is only coming in in Britain with the passage of the Gender Recognition Bill 2004 - a very important bill, which isn't receiving enough attention).

It's still not a great situation, though, with medical discrimination such that some male to female transsexuals have been cutting off their penises in order to receive as an emergency the surgery they can't get any other way. Also, the male dominance of Iranian society has produced the strange result that female-to-male transsexuals are much more easily accepted once operations have taken place. I certainly admire, and wonder at, anyone who would choose to become recognised as a woman in Iranian society, no matter how true it is to their real gender identity.

The main problem as I see it, though, is the illegality of homosexuality, which will almost certainly mean that some go through a very painful and lengthy procedure simply in order to avoid the death penalty for their sexuality. This in turn will make the general public more suspicious of genuine transsexuals, who will think that they are simply gay and avoiding punishment.

More needs to be done.

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