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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Be Like Others

What would you do in order to be with the one you love? To be able to walk down the street without facing constant discrimination? That was the question that many of the young gay Iranian men faced in the documentary Be Like Others. While homosexuality is deemed as a sin in Iran, feeling as though your gender and biological sex do not match is viewed as a mistake made by God. Therefore, Ayatollah Khomeini offered a "path" towards correcting this mistake 20 years ago by not only permitting sexual reassignment surgery but allowing it to be financially covered by the government. As an Iranian-American and sexuality researcher I became incredibly fascinated when I first heard about this, I knew homosexuality was very much unacceptable but was completely unaware of this ruling. This is especially poignant during a time where there is a war between western states and the Middle East, where war against Iran and its ideologies seems depressingly imminent.

The film follows a group of young pre-op Male-to-Female transgender women who are going through the preliminary stages and bureaucracy of obtaining the right to have this surgery. We meet Vida, a 26 year-old queen of all "diagnosed transsexuals." At times I became teary-eyed watching Vida console and support the young women and convince the parents to accept their child, and other times I wanted to strangle Vida for her blatant homophobia stating that gay men are committing sins and are completely unacceptable. However Vida brought up an interesting point when asked why she transitioned, she stated that when she dressed as a man she was harassed and abused for being effeminate, but now that she is a woman she has the right to
defend herself from discrimination. Anoosh, who later goes by Anihita, is a young 20 year old pre-op MTF who has a very attractive, young hair stylist boyfriend with whom she wants to marry. We also meet Ali Asghar who traveled to Tehran from a small village in order to have the surgery and become accepted and find love. In an exceptionally heart breaking scene while Ali is moments away from the surgery he is asked if he would go through the procedure if he did not live in Iran, he simply replied, "no." Seeking acceptance from his family and peers, Ali, now Neskar is disowned by his family and friends. In another fascinating portrayal in the documentary there was the backwards acceptance of these individuals from the very doctors who advocate for their right to undergo this procedure. One doctor stated, "These people are abnormal, something is wrong, but thats the way they are and we have to accept them and give them the surgery." Another doctor told a parent, "This is torture for you, no parent should have to go through this, but there is still time to rescue him."

While the movie was incredibly moving and sad at times there were also very amusing moments. For example when the doctor was being interviewed by a conservative female journalist for a state-run newspaper he tells her "these women will be more of a woman than you ever will be, because they know how to attract males and keep them happy more than you ever can." During the only moment when a Female-to-Male transgender individual was touched upon, the young woman who sought surgery told the doctor, "I already attract so many women, can you imagine how many I will attract when I have a beard."

Watching this movie I was incredibly touched by the footage of daily life on the streets of Tehran, making me yearn to visit, to see my family, but upon hearing the stories and listening to some of the parents talk in such a harsh and sometimes violent tone towards their children I simply did not want to believe that this mentality still occurs. While there is a move towards acceptance, whether silent or explicit, there is a lot of work to be done. Despite the fact that I have just written this review, I can still say that I am speechless, and so will you. Whether
you are interested in Iran or the Middle East, sexuality or cross-cultural studies, or simply interested in human rights, you must view Be Like Others.

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