Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the issue of transsexuality in Iran had never been officially addressed by the government. Beginning in the mid-1980s, however, transgendered individuals have been officially recognized by the government and allowed to undergo sex reassignment surgery.
In 1963, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini wrote a book in which he stated that there is no religious restriction on corrective surgery. 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 transgendered individuals.
After the Revolution
The new religious government that came to be established after the 1979 Iranian Revolution classed transsexuals and transvestites with gays and lesbians, who were condemned by Islam and faced the punishment of lashing and death under Iran's penal code.
One early campaigner for transsexual rights is Maryam Hatoon Molkara, who was formerly a man known as Fereydoon. Before the revolution, she had longed to become a woman but could not afford surgery. Furthermore, she wanted religious authorization. Since 1975, she had been writing letters to Ayatollah Khomeini, who was to become the leader of the revolution and was in exile. After the revolution, she was fired, forcedly injected with male hormone, and institutionalized. She was later released with help from her connection, and she kept lobbying many other leaders. Later she went to see Khomeini, who had returned to Iran. At first she was stopped and beaten by his guards, but eventually Khomeini gave her a letter to authorize her gender reassignment operation. The letter is later known as the fatwa that authorizes such operations in Iran.
A small number of Iranian clerics have advised that homosexual men and women undergo gender reassignment in order for them to be able to live "normal lives".
Khomeini's original fatwa has since been reconfirmed by the current Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and is also supported by many other Iranian clerics. However, there is still a great deal of stigma attached to the idea of transsexuality and gender reassignment in ordinary Iranian society, and most transsexuals, after completing their transition, are advised to maintain discretion about their past. Once a transgender individual has undergone gender reassignment, that person legally becomes the proper gender - male, in the case of transgender men, and female, in the case of transgender women. All legal documents, such as birth certificates and passports, are also changed accordingly.
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."
UNHCR's 2001 report says that sex reassignment surgery is performed frequently and openly in Iran, and that homosexual and crossdressing people would be safe as long as they keep a low profile. 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 LGBT.
The report further states that currently, it is not possible for transgender individuals to choose not to undergo surgery - if they are approved for gender reassignment, they are expected to undergo treatment immediately. Those who wish to remain "non-operative" (as well as those who crossdress and/or identify as genderqueer) are considered their biological gender, and as such they are likely to face harassment as being homosexuals and subject to the same laws barring homosexual acts.
- List of transgender-related topics
- LGBT rights in Iran
- Be Like Others, a documentary film about transsexuality in Iran
- Template:Note Robert Tait, A fatwa for transsexuals, and a similar article on The Guardian. Gives details on Molkara's plea.
- Template:NoteFrances Harrison, Iran's sex-change operations, BBC.
- Template:NoteUNHCR, Iran Country Report, 7th European Country of Origin Information Seminar Berlin, 11-12 June 2001 - Final report. Transsexual part is on pp. 104.
- Template:NoteSafra Project Country Information Report Iran. 2004 report, and consider UNHCR report underestimate the pressure. Mentions gender diversity on pp, 15.
- Transsexuality in Iran (video report)
- Iran's 'diagnosed transexuals' (BBC News, 25 February 2008)