In 1985, Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious leader behind the 1979 Iranian Revolution, issued a fatwa authorizing sex changes for people diagnosed as transsexuals. The self-proclaimed supreme Islamic ruler declared the edict after he met with a woman who complained she was trapped in a male body.
Since then, it has been commonplace in the oppressive Muslim country to pressure gay people intensively to submit to gender reassignment surgery, the BBC News reports.
Doctors routinely tell gay men and women that they need a sex change to cure their sickness.
“They show how easy it can be,” an unidentified psychologist told the BBC. “They promise to give you legal documents and, even before the surgery, permission to walk in the street wearing whatever you like. They promise to give you a loan to pay for the surgery.”
The same doctors also refer their gay patients to Muslim clerics who advise the patients to pray harder and say their prayers in correct, orthodox fashion.
While the de facto policy of pressure for sex changes is popular in Iran, there are critics as well. The critics contend that being gay isn’t the same thing as being transgender. Gay people and transgender are lopped together, they say. They also say that people pressured to undergo sex changes frequently have no inkling of any difference between gayness and transgender-ness.
Whatever the case, the sex change industry in Iran is burgeoning. Khabaronline, the Pravda of the Iranian government, reports that the number of sex changes rose from 170 in 2006 to 370 in 2010 — an increase of about 170 percent.
The real numbers could be much higher, though. An unnamed doctor told the BBC that he performs over 200 such operations each year by himself.
The BBC claims to have found several Iranians who either underwent sex-change surgery or barely escaped the knife.
“My father came to visit me in Tehran with two relatives,” Soheil, a gay Iranian 21-year-old, told the British broadcaster. “They told me: ‘You need to either have your gender changed or we will kill you.'”
Soheil managed to escape the day before his operation was scheduled, he said. He traveled by plane to Turkey, a country which Iranians don’t need visas to enter.
Another escapee, Arsham Parsi, ended up in Canada after also fleeing first to Turkey. He has since set up a support group, the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees.
Parsi said he gets many, many calls from distressed Iranians each week. Many are confused. For example, he claims, one woman couldn’t say if she was a lesbian or not because she had never heard the term.
Another Iranian, Marie, who grew up male but underwent a sex change said the operation wasn’t helpful.
“After the operation whenever I wanted to feel like a woman, or behave like a woman, everybody would say, ‘She looks like a man, she’s manly.’ It did not help reduce my problems. On the contrary, it increased my problems,” Marie told the BBC. (RELATED: Californian Becomes First College Basketball Player To Start With And Without Penis)
In 2007, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told an audience at Columbia University: “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” The audience laughed, according to the Daily Mail.