Be Like Others: Transgender Life in Iran
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, homosexuality is criminalized and punishable, in some cases by death. However, sex reassignment surgery is legal with government permission, and Iran performs the second most sex reassignment surgeries of any country in the world. On August 22, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), and the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA) joined together to discuss this important topic. About 30 people gathered in the United Nations Church Center for a screening of the award-winning documentary Be Like Others by director Tanaz Eshaghian, which tells the story of Iranians seeking sex reassignment surgery. Following the screening, attendees engaged in a discussion about the film and an examination of broader themes of LGBT rights in Iran and Western representations of Iran. The featured panelists were Hossein Alizadeh from IGLHRC and Mitra Rastegar from New York University.The documentary Be Like Others premiered on January 19, 2008, at the Sundance Film Festival, but its information is still highly relevant today. The film highlights the experiences of patients at Dr. Bahram Mir-Jalali's Mirdamad Surgical Centre, a sex reassignment surgery clinic in Tehran. It focuses on two patients—Ali Askar and Anoosh—who want to have male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. Ali Askar faces harassment from men because his appearance and behavior is perceived as feminine, and his father tries to poison him when he learns that Ali is planning to have sex reassignment surgery. Anoosh has also experienced exclusion due to his perceived femininity but, unlike Ali, his mother and boyfriend are supportive of his plan to have sex reassignment surgery. Be Like Others documents Ali’s and Anoosh’s lives before and after having sex reassignment surgery, and also showcases some other patients, including Vida, a woman who has had sex reassignment surgery and now supports others going through the same process.
The event opened with a welcome by Bruce Knotts, UU-UNO Director, who gave a brief history of Unitarian Universalism and the UU-UNO. Following the film screening, the two panelists answered a few questions from Kelsey Weymouth-Little, UU-UNO intern and event organizer, and then responded to audience questions. Hossein Alizadeh spoke about his research on the experiences of LGBT Iranians in Iran and other countries, while Mitra Rastegar highlighted how Western conceptualizations of Iran affect our understandings of sex reassignment surgery and homosexuality there. The attendees posed many insightful and interesting questions, and discussion topics ranged from Iranian activism to understandings of gender to experiences of Iranian refugees. The event was concluded with remarks by Bruce Knotts, who spoke eloquently about the complexities of gender, as well as homosexuality in the Bible and the Koran.
After the event, many audience members approached the panelists to thank them and ask further questions, and many also expressed how compelling and fascinating they found the film. The screening and panel discussion were a great success, and sparked thought-provoking discussions that will continue well beyond this event. To learn more about LGBT programming at the UU-UNO, visit our webpage.