UW lecture: Iran’s tolerance of gender- reassignment surgery challenges stereotypes
One of the keys to breaking down barriers between societies is getting over preconceptions and stereotypes held between nations, said Harvard University professor Afsaneh Najmabadi during a recent lecture at the University of Washington.
For example, although homosexuality is illegal in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the government has partially subsidized sex reassignment surgery since the 1980s, citing “discordance between the psyche or soul, and the body.”
Najmabadi spoke Jan. 15 at UW’s Smith Hall, where she began by introducing her research and upcoming book, “Possessing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran.” (Duke University Press, 2013)
While sex reassignment surgeries are legal in Iran, society has yet to fully accept them, Najmabadi said. Najmabadi shared stories of pre-surgery transsexuals who, because they wanted to be women, were beaten by their families. Learning a family member is transsexual could send a family fleeing their neighborhood in shame, she said.
“The critical thing is to change the minds of families in the terms of their conceptions,” Najmabadi said. “Remaining connected to family is critical for everyone, but especially for the vulnerable populations.”
Not all of the stories Najmabadi shared were so morose. With a smile, the professor spoke of a conservative Islamic woman who would joke with officials about how God grew tired of the creation of male, female, male, female, so he created transgender people.
Kelsey Hallahan, a 22-year-old senior focusing on Near Eastern studies and history who came to the lecture, noted the cultural differences between America and Iran.
“I feel like there is a lot of conservative sentiment in America against transsexuality, that one would expect that Iran would be more conservative than it is here, but it’s interesting that it’s classified differently, and there are different lobbyists there,” Hallahan said. “I think it really challenges American mainstream conceptions of Iran.”
The event was part of the Earl and Edna Stice Memorial Lectureship, a series that is aimed at inspiring dialogue in areas important to society and academy, hosted by the UW Department of History.
Jordana Bailkin, a UW professor of history, noted the different constituencies within the university that have been able to meet with Najmabadi, including attendees of a lecture about writing history in a digital age.
“It’s been wonderful to have her here this week. She’s been very generous with her time, giving public presentations … and individual meetings with a lot of students,” said Bailkin. “Her work is very well known here at the university, so there’s a lot of excitement about the new book.”
CommentsLet us be clear about this. Iran does allow sex reassignment for actual TRANSSEXUALS, not for trans-gender gay crossdressers, drag queens and the most predominant .... hetero transvestite fetishists.
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