February 20, 2024

Iran: ‘a paradise for trans people’?

At the moment, on the world stage, Iran is best known for making mischief in the Middle East. However there is another side to the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is one of the leading countries in the world for transgender surgery. Iran carries out more sex reassignment surgeries than any country in the world besides Thailand.

This might sound odd, as homosexual acts are punishable by death. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has described homosexuality as an “ugly and despicable practice”  and part of a “propaganda campaign by the West” in Muslim countries. Under the mullahs, many homosexuals have been hanged.

However, there is a loophole. In 1982 the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa legalising sex-reassignment surgery, on the grounds that a man’s soul could exist in a woman’s body. So one solution for homosexuals is to live as women after undergoing transgender surgery. Two Iranians put it succinctly in the Iranian Journal of Public Health: “Iran can be called the hell of homosexuals and the paradise of Trans seeking SRS”.

As a result, there are between 15,000 and 20,000 transsexuals in Iran, according to official statistics, although it might be as many as 150,000. The authors of the journal article explained:

According to the [Shia] jurists, since it is not possible to change the soul, but at the same time medical advances have made it possible to change the body, the act of gender reassignment is permissible. Furthermore, according to Iranian civil law, each person receives a share of inheritance based on gender. For example, a Trans woman receives as much inheritance as a woman.

Even a fatwa has not eliminated the stigma of being trans, but at least people who have undergone the surgery are not in legal hot water:

SRS, despite aspects of threatening and responding to social demands, has been able to promote transgender health. Becoming a new version of yourself that is loved by the person and is considered a rebirth, liberation from the physical prison that does not belong to him, access to basic rights, the possibility of changing the name, obtaining a birth certificate and a driving license certificate based on the new gender, choosing clothes and finally eliminating the charge of homosexuality and the risk of execution (punishment for sodomy) is only part of the benefits of accompanying religious rule for transgender people. In Iran, the Imam Committee provides interest-free loans to some people eligible for gender reassignment surgery, which is in line with the recommendations of the WHO.