Why Our Government Can't Take The Heat

The New Issue: Trans Politics

“Meltdown”. That’s one word a friend used when describing the trans-centric squabbling over the ENDA. Politicians, lobbyists and journalists have been debating over whether or not transgendered people should be included under ENDA, which could forbid discrimination based on perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity. A test vote showed that the majority of politicians objected to the trans-inclusion. Under such pressure, openly gay Representative Barney Frank, who co-sponsored the inclusive ENDA draft, slipped into acquiescence. To keep the bill above water, Frank effectively split ENDA in two: one version protecting gays and another for trans folk. They’re now floating alone in an ocean of inequality.

Our government – and much of our culture – deny transgenders their rights because, quite frankly, they can’t understand the trans’s existence. Our culture does not have mechanisms to deal with “gender deviants.” Trannies are a threat to our nation’s very foundations. The Alliance Defense Fund’s Doug Napier said the law will “strike at the very heart of our American liberties.” He must be using the word “liberties” liberally. Napier’s not alone, of course. Millions of people – gay and straight – simply cannot muster the imagination to consider trans folk equal. What’s more, we have no use for trans people. And, as contributor Dan Avery and editor Andrew Belonsky assert, the American stonewall against trans rights goes much further than 1974 – and even our borders. “Trans” populations exist all over the world and crop up in seemingly unlikely locales, like Iran.

While President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contends Iran’s gay-free, even he can’t deny the visible presence of transgender people in Iran. Mukhannathun, or “effeminate ones,” have been a part of Islamic culture since the days of Muhammad. And, unlike the gays – who are allegedly mentioned in the story of Job – there’s no religious law restricting Mukhannathun. Though not integrated into Iranian culture, Mukhannathun definitely lived a parallel existence in Iran.

When Khomeini and his revolutionaries took power in 1979, however, that all changed. Still accepted in Iranian culture – unlike “gays” – Mukhannathun became subjects of governmental intervention. One’s no longer given the choice of whether or not you undergo a sex-change. If the government deems it necessary, it’s done. A 26-year named Sayeh tells Bimarz that most of the surgeries are applied to men and not under the most sympathetic circumstances:

They would not give us (transsexuals) jobs in Iran. They would tell me to get a sex change and get a new identification card…only after I get the new ID I can go and get a job.

Left and right, on a daily bases, they perform sex change operations on people without even paying proper attention to each case and yet they are so proud that they are a country which allows people to have sex changes. They perform all these operations improperly and incomplete. Out of all the people they operate on, only a few remain healthy. How many of these patients do not become psychotic? How many do not commit suicide? How many can live a normal life after the operation? Most of them don’t even get the chance of finding a companion. They are transsexuals and their past will always haunt them.

Once the operation’s complete, the women aren’t only taunted for their “trans” status, but also must adopt the legal limitations placed on women. Their movement’s restricted and they’re ordered to wear the hijab. Muslim clerics have been known to encourage gay men and lesbians to have sex-change operations in order to assimilate into “normal” society. When examined against the broader patriarchy of Iranian society, plitical encouragement of Mukhannathun simply perpetuates preexisted gender norms. Yes, Mukhannathun are continually oppressed, but they are given a role in society. As one can imagine, female-to-male post-operatives enjoy more freedom than when they were women.

In a 2005 piece for the UK’s The Independent, Caroline Mangez interviewed a then-30 year old FTM, Milad, who told her:

I know because I’ve experienced both worlds: as a man in Iran I have more freedom and choice than as a woman. I never used to go to the mosque, either. I did not want to have to wear a chador. Now I can pray in boxer shorts if I feel like it, and I never miss prayers.

Newly minted women suffer under an oppressive regime. Men, meanwhile, thrive. The ancient Mukhannathun social group adjusted – or was assimilated – into a broader political culture. They were given meaning, albeit archaic. And sex-changes become the torturous “cure all” for same-sex desire.