18 September 2012
In a previous post, I mentioned that Argentina--which had one of the most repressive military regimes, supported by the Catholic Church, less than a generation ago--now has some of the most liberal laws about gender identity and expression in the world. In essence, it allows all people over the age of 18 to live in the gender of their choice. It also legalized same-sex marriage in 2005. The only American states to have done so before Argentina were Massachusetts and California, where the law was later repealed.
For decades, South Africa was ruled by apartheid, which rigidly enforced separation of the races in employment, habitation and other areas. Not only have those laws been repealed, but that nation also has same-sex marriage, which it legalized the year after Argentina did so.
And, interestingly, one of the European countries in which same-sex marriage is legal is Spain. Of course, there is still much opposition to it. That is not surprising when one considers that it was long one of the most conservative Catholic countries and bore the weight of Generalissimo Franco's dictatorship for more than four decades, until his death in 1975.
Perhaps the most seemingly incongruous situation--at first glance, anyway--is found in Iran. As in many other Muslim countries, same-sex relationships are punishable by death. And it's hardly considered a bellwether when it comes to equality of the sexes.
Yet more gender-reassignment surgeries are performed there than in any other country except Thailand. People come from other Middle Eastern countries, and even from Eastern Europe, for the procedures. Furthermore, Iranian law says that employers must pay for the cost of the surgery, which runs about $3000--a fraction of what it costs in the US.
According to at least one cleric, crimes are acts forbidden by the Qu'ran. Homosexuality, according to such authorities, is one of them. However, since there is no mention of transgenderism or gender-reassignment, they cannot be considered as transgressions, according to that line of reasoning.
But there is one downside of this situation: Gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians, undergo the procedure, often under pressure. As gay men and lesbians, they are considered criminals, but as transgenders, they are not.
Now, I don't have exact statistics, but I know that many male-to-female transgenders are attracted only to women. Some, including a few of my acquaintance, even remain married after their surgeries--which, of course, do not change their orientations. I wonder whether Iranian authorities have ever considered that, or how such hetero men who become, in essence, lesbians cope or are treated. Do they go into the same closet in which many lesbians live in that country, and others?
And I can't help but to wonder what will happen after Ahmoud Ahmadinejad's term as President ends in 2013. As he has already served two terms, he cannot run for re-election. Although he has backed religious conservatives, and even extremists, he has taken a more moderate tone (at least in terms of religion) in the past year or two. What will happen if a more hard-core fundamentalist is elected to office? Would such a person appoint a cleric to help him or her decree that gender-reassignment surgery is a crime? Would Iran lose one the few ways in which the nation can claim leadership in any area of human rights?