25 September 2007

Point of clarification on sex and sexuality in Iran

Much hullabaloo has been raised over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's absurd claim yesterday that there are no homosexuals in Iran (full transcript of the insanity here). Yes, this was one incredibly dumb statement among many that President Ahmadinejad let fly yesterday. I haven't see details of his speech today at the UN to see whether or not he one-upped himself. But that's neither here nor there.

What disturbed me was reading Passport today, where the writers attempted to refute Ahmadinejad's claim by pointing to the number of transsexuals in Iran, following an article published in the Guardian. Yes, it is true that Iran provides health coverage for sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) and other procedures required by transgender persons. And, according to one activist the Guardian spoke to, some gay men go through these procedures in order to avoid persecution for homosexuality. This seemingly contradictory policy exists because Iran sees transsexuality as a treatable health condition (which isn't necessarily far from the mark), whereas homosexual behavior is seen as a violation of Islamic law and (for men anyway), punishable by death for the first offense. The underlying (and incorrect) assumption here is that transsexuals seek heterosexual relationships, and the government helps them facilitate the process necessary for that to transpire.

Yet, the existence of transsexuality itself does nothing to refute Ahmadinejad's claim that there is no homosexuality in Iran. They're two entirely different things. The activist's statement about gay men who seek SRS in order to avoid persecution does act to refute the claim in a way, but that's all in the Guardian story that does.

In short, it's as though Ahmadinejad said there are no apples in his country, and journalists and bloggers have pointed to an Iranian orange tree and said "see, you're totally wrong." This kind of error is yet another reason why I often feel the frustrations mentioned in my previous post. It's also just plain unhelpful reporting. Ahmadinejad said a stupid thing, and most educated people know it's stupid. Why not just leave it at that? Conflating human sexuality and issues of gender identity and presentation in order to make a point (that doesn't need to be made) doesn't really accomplish much. A much more beneficial story would have been to examine Iran's egregious track record of prosecuting people for homosexuality (which the Guardian did to an extent) and bringing these issues into greater public consciousness.

1 comment:

Scott said...

So - the apples/orange thing brings two things to mind. First, a very unrefined person will mention that either way - they're both fruits. And I think that's the point to most people in arms about this - Ahmadinejad still has "moral" issues to deal with because even trans is seen as an immoral thing to many people.

It also makes me wonder if a different metaphor could be apples and applesauce - in that, well, in his odd view there AREN'T apples - they've changed to something somewhat different but with the same essence. Maybe it's all a bunch of talk that doesn't matter, but it reminds me of the claim that HIV does not lead to AIDS that some health ministers have clung to.

I get really frustrated when people conflate GLB and Trans. Really really frustrated. Especially with well-meaning liberals. If I say something (in class or elsewhere) and I limit it to GLB, it's because I'm being specific in my comment and not exclusive. Argh.

Oh yeah. Very good entry, per usual.