Sex Change Surgery in Iran: Socio-Legal Policies and Practices
The first sex change surgery in Iran dates back to the 1930s, and was permitted under Islamic law by Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic juristic legal opinion (fatwa) after the Iranian revolution in 1979. As a result, the legal change of name and gender in Iran occurs via a medico-judicial process. Despite its long practice, the flux of mainstream western (Anglophone) media coverage and literature on sex change surgery in Iran during post millennium period is heightened portraying sex change surgery as the product of Iranian state’s sexism and homophobia.
In this paper, I show that such commentaries and publications involve significant misconceptions of sex change surgery in Iran, besides being misrepresentations of trans persons’ bodily knowledge and experience. Based on the information I have collected through forty semi-structured interviews and other materials in Iran between 2014 and 2017, I argue that sex change surgery is not obligatory in Iran, contracting those who maintain that sex change surgery is forced on Iranian homosexuals. Moreover, I elucidate the divergent legal opinions on sex change among Islamic jurists in Iran and demonstrate how these have created space for different legal practices by judges and legal misrecognition of trans persons and non-recognition of transsexuality/sex change in most parts of the country. The lack of legislation has generated difficult and in some places impossible conditions for trans persons to undergo sex change surgery. Finally, I examine trans persons’ experience of going through the process of transition in interaction with law, medicine and family in terms of; self-recognition; passing; and rebirth. This shows that transition does not happen at once or suddenly; rather it takes a long time and continues until or after the sex change surgery itself.