chapter  5
13 Pages

Narrating Sex Change in Iran

Transsexuality and the Politics of Documentary Film
WithNajmeh Moradiyan-Rizi

In Western imagery of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Iran has been predominantly registered as an ancient and exotic Oriental country. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Western media representations have changed to a depiction of Iran as a conservative Islamic country. At the center of this approach reside issues concerning women’s, gay, lesbian, and transsexual rights. Many journalistic reports and documentary films in recent years have tackled the seemingly improbable visibility of transsexuality and sex reassignment surgery in Iran as an unlikely phenomenon that contradicts the banishment of homosexuality in the country based on Islamic laws. By focusing on a Western-produced documentary film, Be Like Others (2008), by Tanaz Eshaghian, this chapter challenges Western representational hierarchies through documentary film and highlights the complexity of transsexual identity in Iranian society. This complexity troubles both the Iranian state’s gender segregation and its heteronormative laws as well as the Western hegemony of the ethnic Other.