Transgender rights in Iran

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Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the issue of transgender identity in Iran had never been officially addressed by the government. Beginning in the mid-1980s, however, transgender individuals were officially recognized by the government and allowed to undergo sex reassignment surgery. As of 2008, Iran carries out more sex change operations than any other nation in the world except Thailand. The government provides up to half the cost for those needing financial assistance, and a sex change is recognized on the birth certificate.[1]

Since 2017, the government has provided transgender persons financial assistance in the form of grants of up to 5 million tomans ($400~ USD).[2][failed verification] However, Iran is not a country tolerant of nonbinary genders or non-heterosexuality[citation needed]. They sanction funds for sex reassignment surgery in order to fit all of their citizens into the category of either male or female. Those who get these surgeries performed are subject to social stigma from their families and communities[citation needed].



Surgery for intersex conditions have been practiced in Iran since the 1930s.[3]:252[4]:25[5] In 1963, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini wrote a book in which he stated that there was no religious restriction on corrective surgery for intersex individuals, though this did not apply to those without physical ambiguity in sex organs. At the time Khomeini was a radical, anti-Shah revolutionary and his fatwas did not carry any weight with the Imperial government, which did not have any specific policies regarding transgender individuals.[1]

After the Revolution[edit]

The new religious government that came to be established after the 1979 Iranian Revolution classed transgender people and crossdressers with gays and lesbians, who were condemned in shah's era and faced the punishment of lashing or even death under Iran's penal code.

One early campaigner for transgender rights was Maryam Hatoon Molkara, a transgender woman. Before the revolution, she had longed to become physically female but could not afford surgery and wanted religious authorization. In 1975, she began to write letters to Khomeini, who was to become the leader of the revolution and was in exile. After the revolution, she was fired, forcibly injected with male hormones, and institutionalized. She was later released with help from her connections and continued to lobby many other leaders. Later she went to see Khomeini, who had returned to Iran. During this visit, she was subjected to beatings from his guards because she was wearing a binder and they suspected she could be armed. Khomeini, however, did give her a letter to authorize her sex reassignment operation, which she later did in 1997.[6] Due to this fatwa, issued in 1987, transgender women in Iran have been able to live as women until they can afford surgery, have surgical reassignment, have their birth certificates and all official documents issued to them in their new gender, and marry men.[7]

Present day[edit]

Khomeini's original fatwa has since been reconfirmed by the current leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, and is also supported by many other Iranian clerics.[1] However, there is still a great deal of stigma attached to the idea of transgender and gender reassignment in ordinary Iranian society, and most transgender people, after completing their transition, are advised to maintain discretion about their past.[1] Trans people are subject to employment discrimination, rejection by their families and communities, police abuse, and depression.[5] Because they are typically rejected by their families and social networks, where Iranians usually look to for financial support and employment opportunities, they are often forced into sex work and sometimes commit suicide. [8][9] People who would like to engage in sexual relationships with people of the same gender may feel pressured to undergo operations to have their relationship legitimized by the state through marriage because marriage is a very important institution in Iran.[4]

The process of undergoing sex reassignment surgery is extensive and rather arduous. People who so much as question their sexuality are encouraged to see a psychologist, and they are usually recommended to undergo sex reassignment surgery in order to fit in with the strict gender binary that is present in Iran. The individual goes through four to six months of therapy, hormone tests, and chromosomal tests to undergo a process known as "filtering". Filtering is the separation of homosexuals, who are deemed "deviant", from transsexuals, who are deemed "curable" by undergoing surgery.[5] Once a transgender individual has undergone sex reassignment, that person legally becomes the new sex. All legal documents, such as birth certificates and passports, are also changed accordingly.[1]

Hojatoleslam Kariminia, a mid-level cleric who is in favor of transgender rights, has stated that he wishes "to suggest that the right of transsexuals to change their gender is a human right" and that he is attempting to "introduce transsexuals to the people through my work and in fact remove the stigma or the insults that sometimes attach to these people."[2]

Transsexual surgery is not actually legal under Iranian civil law, although the operations are carried out. Iranian law has both secular and religious components, and secular jurisprudence says nothing about transgender issues. In this case, Sharia and fatwas take up the slack until it does, and it is under the religious law and Khomeini’s fatwa during the interlude that surgery can be carried out.[3]:250, 258

UNHCR's 2001 report says that sex reassignment surgery is performed frequently and openly in Iran, and that homosexual and cross-dressing men, although unrelated to trans identity, would be safe as long as they keep a low profile.[3] However, the Safra Project's 2004 report considers UNHCR's report over-optimistic. The Safra Project's report suggests that UNHCR underestimated legal pressure over transgender and LGBT matters.[citation needed] The Safra Project report further states that currently, it is not possible for presumed transgender individuals to choose not to undergo surgery - if they are approved for sex reassignment, they are expected to undergo treatment immediately. Those who wish to remain "non-operative" (as well as those who cross-dress and/or identify as genderqueer) are considered their gender assigned at birth, and as such they are likely to face harassment as being homosexuals and subject to the same laws barring homosexual acts.[4]

A 2016 study analyzes European and American literature about the topic as characterizing legalized transgender surgery at least partly motivated by a desire to enforce a heteronormative binary conception of gender, including 'forced' surgery for some gay people, and critiques that view as an oversimplification.[3]:250 The belief that cisgender homosexuals have actually undergone sex change due to social pressure is not supported by evidence.[10] Increased international attention to the Iranian transgender community and their legal status may have been a result of 2002 award winning film Juste une femme (Just a Woman) by Mitra Farahani.[4]

Transgender community[edit]

Transgender people have formed non-governmental organizations and support groups in Iran. These groups provide information and skills to support transgender people, and work to combat social stigma. They often rely on the medical model and "treat" transgender identity as a disease. Although this contributes to the pathology of transgender experiences, it gives space for individuals to identify themselves without the judgement of moral deviancy and identify other internalized stigmas.[10]

Transgender director Saman Arastoo directs plays about trans people in Iran, casting transgender actors in the roles.[11][12]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (In accordance with Shiite version of Islamic law)
Equal age of consent[13] No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment No (None for all LGBT people)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No (None for all LGBT people)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No (None for all LGBT people)
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
LGBT allowed to serve in the military[14] No
Right to change legal gender Yes (Since 1980s)
Third gender recognised Yes (No; binary only)
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Barford, Vanessa (February 25, 2008). "BBC News: Iran's 'diagnosed transsexuals'". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  2. ^ "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017".
  3. ^ a b c Saeidzadeh, Zara (November 2016). "Transsexuality in Contemporary Iran: Legal and Social Misrecognition". Fem Leg Stud (thesis). 24 (3): 249–272. doi:10.1007/s10691-016-9332-x. ISSN 0966-3622.
  4. ^ a b c Najmabadi, Afsaneh (2008). "Transing and Transpassing across Sex-Gender Walls in Iran". Women's Studies Quarterly. 36 (3/4): 23–42. JSTOR 27649782. Surgeries to alter congenital intersex conditions were reported in the Iranian press as early as 1930. Ittila'at, October 27, 1930.
  5. ^ a b c Terman, Rochelle (2014-03-01). "Trans[ition] in Iran". World Policy Journal. 31 (1): 28–38. doi:10.1177/0740277514529714. ISSN 0740-2775.
  6. ^ The Ayatollah and the transsexual,That Maryam Khatoon Molkara can live a normal life is due to a compassionate decision by one man: the leader of the Islamic revolution himself. By Angus McDowall in Tehran and Stephen Khan, The Independent Thursday, 25 November 2004
  7. ^ "A fatwa for transsexuals,One woman's courage in appealing to the late Ayatollah Khomeini has made Tehran the unlikely sex change capital of the world. By Robert Tait". Archived from the original on 2011-06-07.
  8. ^ Najmabadi, Afsaneh (2008). Transing and Transpassing Across Sex-Gender Walls in Iran. Women's Studies Quarterly. pp. 23–42.
  9. ^ "Despite Fatwa, Transgender People in Iran Face Harassment".
  10. ^ a b Eftekhar Ardebili, Mehrdad. "Transgenderism in Iran" in Current Critical Debates in the Field of Transsexual Studies edited by Oren Gozlan. New York, NY : Routledge, 2018. ISBN 9781138481305
  11. ^ "Agonizing Odyssey of Iranian Transsexual: From Despair to Survival". IFP News. 2017-06-14. Retrieved 2018-03-09.
  12. ^ "Iran's transgender community: Legally recognised yet socially ostracised". euronews. 2018-01-12. Retrieved 2018-03-08.
  13. ^ "Iran Age of Consent & Statutory Rape Laws". Retrieved 2018-06-30.
  14. ^ "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017". Retrieved 2018-06-30.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hashemi, Kate C. "Divergent Identities in Iran and the Appropriation of Trans Bodies," Kohl Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2, Winter 2018.
  • Najmabadi, Afsaneh. 2014. Professing selves: transsexuality and same-sex desire in contemporary Iran. Durham ; London : Duke University Press, 2014. ISBN 9780822355434
  • Najmabadi, Afsaneh. "What Can We Learn From Transsexuality in Iran?". In: Schreiber, Gerhard. Transsexuality in Theology and Neuroscience: Findings, Controversies, and Perspectives. Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter 2016 (ISBN 978-3-11-044080-5), pp. 175-194.
  • Bluck, Sahar. "Transsexual in Iran: A Fatwa for Freedom?" (Chapter 3). In: Pullen, Christopher. LGBT Transnational Identity and the Media. Palgrave Macmillan. 29 February 2012. ISBN 0230353517, 9780230353510.
  • Iran's 'diagnosed transsexuals' (BBC News, 25 February 2008)

External links[edit]