inTroduCTion
Something happened in 2003–4: Transsexuals and transsexuality in Iran be-
came a hot media topic, both in Iran and internationally.
The biomedical practice of sex change by means of surgery and hormonal
treatment in Iran dates at least to the early 1970s; for nearly four decades the
topic received occasional coverage in the Iranian press. But Iranian press cover-
age of the “trans” phenomenon increased sharply in early 2003, and it con-
tinued to be intense over the next five years. Concurrently, articles began to
appear in the world press; television and video documentary productions fol-
lowed.1 My no-
doubt- incomplete tabulation generates the following summary
chart (table intro.1):
Based as I was in the United States, my first entry into this topic was as a
reader of English- language reports and a viewer of early documentaries. The
celebratory tone of some of these reports—welcoming the recognition of trans-
sexuality and the permissibility of sex- change operations—was sometimes
mixed with an element of surprise: How could this be happening in an Islamic
state? In other, and especially later, accounts, the sanctioning of sex change
became tightly linked with the illegality of same- sex practices (often equated
with sodomy, an offense that carries a capital punishment), thus echoing some
of the official thinking in Iran. For legal and medical authorities in Iran, sex
change is framed explicitly as the cure for a diseased abnormality (gender iden-
tity disorder), and on occasion it is proposed as a religio- legally sanctioned
option for heteronormalizing people with same- sex desires and practices.
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