“In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon.” President Ahmadinejad’s famous words spoken during his controversial speech at Columbia University is rooted in truth: although the Islamic Penal Code’s prescribed punishment for homosexuality is the severest form, the homophobic policies are not limited to the execution of the law. While researching the sexual torture and harassments happening in Iranian prisons, Justice for Iran (JFI) interviewed four lesbian women who had been arrested and detained for reasons such as dressing like a boy and not abiding by the Islamic dress code. During the course of the interview, the women spoke of the excessive pressure imposed upon homosexuals in Iran to perform a sex change operation.
The definition of “transsexual” provided by official governmental bodies such as the State Welfare Organization (Sazman-e Behzisti), Medical Examiner’s Office and the Prosecution Office, as well as a group of unofficial treatment facilities, psychologists and surgeons, is so broad that it encompasses anyone who sexually desires the same sex or tries to break through the preexisting gender barriers and, for example, dress as the opposite sex. The treatment prescribed for such individuals is always the same: sex change.
Many homosexual Iranians are pursued and harassed by the law enforcement bodies and their security is threatened. Often, when faced with the two options of continuous harassment and imprisonment and even execution or changing their gender, they choose the latter in order to escape the dangers of punishment, particularly since culturally and under the pressure of the family and the society, they consider their own sexual desires to be “sinful” or “deviant.” The cultural and religious taboos result in the lack or even absence of access to information about homosexuality and issues regarding it for homosexuals in Iran, particularly for lesbian girls who, because they are female, are given lesser opportunities and accesses as a whole. Some of the individuals interviewed by JFI stated that, until they left Iran, they were unaware that they could lead a regular life in the body that they were born with, without any alteration or change.
Documents acquired in the course of the interviews show that many young adult individuals in Iran discover their attraction to individuals of their same sex and yet are unaware that such attractions can be natural. They are then sent, by their therapists, into a system called the “GRS Clinic.” This treatment program, supported by governmental bodies such as the State Welfare Organization, is a two-three year process of psychological and hormonal therapies during which homosexuals are convinced that they are in fact individuals of the opposite sex born in the wrong body and so lesbian women undergo sex change operation to become men and gay men undergo sex change operation to become women. In this manner, the problem of homosexuality, a deviation and a sin deserving of punishments as severe as death, is solved. The newly changed individuals, now transsexuals, are placed under governmental protection. Each operation costs an average of 30 thousand dollars, five thousand of which is paid by the State Welfare Organization. One surgeon alone declared that 1600 surgeries were performed at his clinic. Recently, the German TV broadcast a report in which the number of sex change operations performed in Iran was estimated at 150,000 which may include those who have come from some Arab countries where the operation is illegal.
Most of the victims never experience a healthy and successful sexual life. The operations are carried out in inhumane conditions while the individuals are not mentally ready for what is to follow. Many of the individuals forced into having the operations suffer severe physical side effects; there is a high percentage of suicide amongst them. Effectively, the surgical knife is administered to end the problem of homosexuality, as would a noose, without any concern for the future or happiness of the individual. The process is comparable to the torture clinics for homosexuals in Ecuador.
Frequently, the western media outlets label Iran as the heaven of transsexuals, where the sex change operations are not only legal but also supported, financially and otherwise, by the government. In fact, Iran is the hell of homosexuals who do not want to label themselves as transsexual and undergo surgery. In essence, the governmental rhetoric of “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals” is achieved through physical elimination of homosexuals by changing them in the sex change clinics.
Based on these findings, JFI, in collaboration with the Iranian lesbian women’s network (www.6rang.org) proposes “No to Change!” in order to lessen the forced sex change operations inside Iran. JFI will achieve that through increasing awareness amongst the international community in particular bodies such as the World Health Organization, as well as alternative targeted awareness amongst the homosexual youth in Iran, particularly lesbians. During the first phase of this project, we intend to do the following activities and based on its findings we will design the second phase of the project:
1- Research and document the forced sex change operations in Iran relying on the experience of the lesbians.
1.1- Identifying homosexuals who introduce themselves as transsexual; interview them and conduct research on their experience through use of focus groups (both inside Iran and amongst the Iranian refugees who recently escaped to Turkey).
1.2- Studying the available literature regarding the documents and laws governing sex change operation in Iran, particularly in the Iranian Office of Justice, Ministry of Health and State Welfare Organization.
1.3- Researching official education offered at universities or relevant organizations about homosexuality and transsexuality.
1.4- interview with sex change counselors, psychologists, and surgeons.
1.5- Having at least two focus groups in Turkey.
2- Compiling, writing and publishing the research results as well as recommendations.
3- Edit and publish videos and voice (podcast) files of the interviews compiled during the research (podcast).
4- Strengthening the Iranian women lesbian network to design and execute the second phase of “No to Change!”