In Iran, sex change can shield gays from death penalty

Scene from "Be Like Others" documentary about sex-change surgery in Iran
Scene from “Be Like Others” documentary about sex-change surgery in Iran

Numbers of gay men and lesbians in Iran have adopted a desperate method of shielding themselves from the country’s harsh laws against homosexual activities: sex-change surgery.

In a country where same-sex relationships are punishable by execution, sex-change surgeries can mean the difference between life and death, says Sasha von Oldershausen in a Huffington Post article on the subject.

The BBC says that more sex-change operations are performed in Iran than in any other country except Thailand, and Iran has just made such operations easier to afford. A new ruling requires health insurers to pay the full cost of sex-change surgeries.

The Guardian says that official statistics put the number of transgender Iranians at 15,000 to 20,000, but unofficial estimates range up to 150,000.

Sex-change surgeries can be acceptable to Muslims who view homosexuality as a disease and think of sex-change surgery as a cure for that disease.

Von Oldershausen cites filmmaker Tanaz Eshaghian, an Iranian native whose award-winning 2008 documentary “Be Like Others” focused on “a generation of young Iranian men choosing to undergo sex-change surgery.”

Eshaghian showed “the pressure felt by gay men and women in Iran to have sexual reassignment surgeries as a means of legitimizing their sexual orientation. As gay individuals, they are committing a crime. As transsexuals, they can exist under Iranian law,” in the words of von Oldershausen.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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