Trans and Sex Change in Contemporary Iran : A Socio-Legal Study of Gendered Policies and Practices

University dissertation from Örebro : Örebro University

Abstract: This thesis is a result of a qualitative study that investigates the socio-legal status of trans persons who undergo sex-change surgery in contemporary Iran. It examines how social practices of gender shape the lives of trans men and trans women in Iranian society. Further, it explores the ‘legality’ and ‘illegality’ of sex change under shi’a Islamic jurisprudence and examines how the interplay between the medical and the judicial systems affects the social and legal status of trans people in Iran.The thesis uses two sets of materials: interviews and documents. Fortytwo interviews with 39 people were conducted, including trans people, trans activists, lawyers, medical professionals and a jurist in Iran. The majority of the interviews were carried out face-to-face in Iran during two fieldtrips in 2014 and 2015. A set of ten telephone interviews were also completed with trans people living in Iran in 2017. Using the concept of (mis)recognition developed by Nancy Fraser, the thesis argues that the lack of legal legislation, along with the plurality of Islamic legal opinions (fatwas) on sex change and the status of trans people, have resulted in arbitrary decision-making by medical and legal professionals (e.g. surgeons and judges). It further shows that while the dominant view on medicalisation of trans people misrecognises their status within lawand society, it nevertheless helps them to negotiate a liveable life. Drawing on the work of Raewyn Connell, the thesis explains how trans people’s process of social embodiment involves individual, medical and legal transition in which the surgery is only a part.The thesis shows how trans activism in Iran is shaped around the discourse of needs rather than that of human rights. Furthermore, the thesis problematises the strong influence of homonormativity and some Second Wave feminist thinking among Iranian feminists who consider sex-change surgery a patriarchal force.

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