On Sexuality in Iran, Religion in India or the lack thereof

An oft repeated quote which a friend mentioned the other day -

"One in 40 American men like to wear Women's clothing"

Hmm. Thats a statistic all right. Especially when you think about the fact that the US has had more than 40 presidents, and going by the simplest laws of statistics, atleast ONE of them must've been sashaying down the oval office in a dress! Oh how easily one can make 2+2 equal 22 :) But the US has generally been liberal in its stance on transgender equality, and cross dressers - more so than India anyway. After all, the sheer number of gay/lesbian bars and drag queen outfits/parades - anyone heard of the San Francisco Rainbow parade? - can confirm this. In fact, an argument can be made about how its acceptance of this quirk in human nature is almost at the same level as it is in Iran.

Iran?! *gasp* Surely not that bastion of Islamic fundamentalists and religious intolerance?

Yes! Iran. Apparently, the country has a checkered history in the state of transgender affairs.

In the pre revolution era, the Ayatollah Khomeini wrote a book in which he argued how a gender/sex change operation was in fact NOT contrary to the teachings of the Koran. At that point however, he was nothing but a radical revolutionary and although this did gain traction amongst the masses, the government still did not have a policy regarding the entire issue. Post revolution though, Iran lived up to its image of irrational behavior by the ruling elite and declared gays, lesbians and transgender persons to be contrary to the tenets of Islam. They became subject to the harshest punishment, which could include Death by lashes under a newly enforced penal code. Oh, how convenient. Its almost reminds me of the witch hunts during the spanish inquisition where any person found acting against the rulers could be easily disposed off by citing him or her as a heretic and having them burned at the stake.

But I digress. An early campaigner for transsexual rights, Maryam Hatoon Molkara, who was formerly a man known as Fereydoon. (Doesn't that remind you of Prince and his nomenclatural escapades!) Anyway, (s)he was actually imprisoned, institutionalized and forcefully injected with hormones by the Iranian government, but kept at it - writing letters to the Ayatollah and using connections to support (his?)/her work. It all paid off when (s)he visited him at the palace - but not before being arrested and beaten by the guards - and was given a letter authorizing a sex change operation. An act in itself revolutionary because it became the fatwa which would open up the flood gates for other such operations in the country and finally give religious and legal status to people who underwent these. Of course, the social repercussions as in any other country are mercurial - some accept it, some don't - but thats humanity for you. All said and done, the level of acceptance of this in Iranian society today just goes to highlight that all is not dark in what is today considered one of the most authoritarian conservative societies in the world.

I am however guessing there won't be too many gay bars or parades in the streets of Teheran any time soon.

Oh, and I'm flabbergasted at the stance of the jewelers in Pune for refusing to allow Burqa clad women into their stores post New Years. The reason they cite is to increase security at their stores, since the latter can be posers with possibly big automatic machine guns under their robes. Which would of course not set off ANY sort of metal detectors or sophisticated door checks which they're sure to have. Duh. Right. What this highlights is not the paranoia of the jewelers at being robbed or worse, shot in such an event. Instead, it does so the dangerously increasing streak of religious intolerance in a country which prides itself at being secular. As some muslim clerics rightly argue, women under the purdah DO in fact show their faces for things like passport photographs. Would it be so much of a travesty to have them peer into a security camera manned by female security guards? Hmm, come to think of it - if you're covered head to toe in a black veil, how in the world do you show off any jewels you buy anyway?


Red said...

"f you're covered head to toe in a black veil, how in the world do you show off any jewels you buy anyway?"

But doesn't the veil make life easier for the transgendered Iranaian men. :-)

Something to Say said...

awesome post TAP. Didn't know "this" aspect of Iran.
What one knows not - one fears the most....I guess jewelers in Pune fall into that slot.
But keep the good stuff coming - really enjoyed reading this one.
And happy New year to you!

That Armchair Philosopher said...

@red - hehe, true that. but thats like asking a scot what he wears under a kilt. I for one, don't want to know! :)

@something - thanks :) glad you liked it. happy new year to you too!

that girl in pink said...

you're right. this act of the jewellers reeks of religious intolerance. really, there's plenty of places for anyone to hide a piece of jewellery on their person.

remember hindi movies and the quick-hide-stuff-in-your-saree-blouse manouver our heroines used to follow?

have a great new year and keep blogging!

Szerelem said...

Well....you know women like to show off their jewellary to other women. Ther burqa rool doesn't apply there no. Someone please tell silly jewelers.

Happy 2007 :D

That Armchair Philosopher said...

@girl in pink - hehe, i remember some incidents, but not specific movies. but yes, i know what you mean. Happy New Year to you too :) hope to see more of your blog!

@szerelem - haha, thats true. i wonder how people under the veil show off things like jimmy's shoes (bad pun, sorry) or jewelery.. guess there're ways to get past everything!

Happy 2007 to you too :)

iz said...

Considering Muslims are the biggest buyers of gold, I don't think a jeweller would have a problem with them walking into hi store. So maybe they deserve the benefit of the doubt. As a muslim myself, I am always hypersensitive about seeming discrimnination. Maybe we should let this one pass?


the wannabe indian punkster said...

Hallo, I am back and a happy new year to you!

Now I'll go back and read your post.


That Armchair Philosopher said...

@iz - hmm, i'm not sure what you mean here. that muslims deserve the benefit of doubt? or do the jewelers?

@punkster - hullo! welcome back :)

and happy new year to you both!!

Scritch said...

good post dude, you had me at hello.

If you need to show your face on a passport other things with regards to security ought to be the same.

And who knows why or how a woman in a hijab can show off her bling anyway. Maybe the adorn the outside of the hijab. maybe its just a weird bling thing

That Armchair Philosopher said...

@scritch - thanks! :)

now, whats a bling? is it sort of a heble? ;)

happy new year!

hedonistic hobo said...

you'd be surprised by the level of acceptance meted out to transgendered and gay individuals in india bebe. the biggest movements come from the rural hinterland, our urban fags, fag-hags, fag-enablers (ref: shirley phelps), drags, queens, faeries, butches, dykes and femmes are all a recent phenomenon. i.e. pride in being one. the unwashed masses have been fighting for rights and recognition for the past 40 years at least. insane isn't it? blew all my urban myths and hubris away. about time too. lesbians on the other hand are the subaltern amongst the subaltern. as always.

how did you learn this about iran incidentally?

That Armchair Philosopher said...

wow really? I had no idea - but how did _you_ know about the rural hinterland and its homo-philic tendencies anyway? It sounds extremely improbable to me, but I guess thats just a bias of some sort which I'm sorry to say is going to take time to totally fade away..

the iran thing is an interesting story :) one of my friends is from Iran, but a US resident. As a group of about 5 people, we once got talking about observations on campus .. which led from one thing to the other and finally shifted to tolerance of transgender and gay people in various countries!

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