"Sometimes It Happens"
Iranian Transsexual Movie!
Boy-girl movie bends more than gender in Islamic Iran
TEHRAN (AFP) - In Islamic Iran where practising male homosexuals risk the death penalty, a new documentary about the plight of transvestites and transsexuals has bent more than gender.
The conservative authorities allowed just a single screening of the 40-minute exploration of Iranian attitudes to sex change operations before an invited audience of some 100 people in the capital's Artists' House.
A video grab taken from the Iranian documentary "Sometimes It Happens" shows Iranian transsexual "Shahin" known by his feminine name "Shermineh" putting makeup on in Tehran. Transexuality is perceived in Iran as a type of homosexuality which is considered a crime.(AFP/HO/PRODUCTION/File)
Even that was largely thanks to a little known religious edict by the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ruling that such operations were an acceptable last resort for patients whose self-image was irreconcilably at odds with their birth sex.
A video grab from the Iranian documentary "Sometimes It Happens" shows Iranian transsexual "Amir" known by his feminine name "Rima" performing his daily prayers in Tehran. Transexuality is perceived in Iran as a type of homosexuality which is considered a crime.(AFP/HO/PRODUCTION/File)
Up-and-coming woman director Sharareh Attari, 32, says she was not surprised she was denied a wider release for her documentary "It Happens Sometimes".
It shows that "society moves slowly" in accepting difference, she told AFP, adding that she hoped her film would nonetheless inspire more established film-makers to tackle sensitive subjects.
Renowned director Khosro Sinayee, 65, who was among the select audience at the premiere, praised the "young film-maker's courage and determination" in tackling such a delicate issue.
He said the jury was still out on "whether there has been a real shift in what is acceptable in Iran but it's in the nature of young people to push the boundaries."
Iran's young "were born into this system and they laugh at the threat of harsh treatment that held so much fear for my generation," he said. "They just don't see the boundaries as being in the same places."
The documentary tells the story of Amir, a 21-year-old who feels like a woman trapped in a man's body and undergoes a sex operation to become Rima.
"Nothing has changed except my sex," the youngster insists after the surgery.
But as the movie's opening sequences reveal, few of Rima's fellow Iranians see things that way.
A Muslim cleric interviewed on a bus insists that "transsexuals have no respect for God and therefore can have none for themselves."
A mother says simply that "they're not like us."
It is left to surgeon Barham Mirjalali to explain that sometimes people are born with an irreconcilable conflict between their birth sex and their self-image.
Ali, a transvestite friend of Amir, who prefers to be called Hilda, tells how he is forced to change his clothes and put on his make-up in a car park because of the incomprehension and disapproval of his family.
The father of another friend offers to pay for his son's sex change operation on one condition -- that the family never see or hear from him again.
Amir's own mother Nasrin says that as a nurse she has "often heard of such things" but "cannot get used to the situation" as she has no idea what to tell the neighbours.
After the operation, even the newly female Rima has doubts about what she has done and travels to Iran's Shiite clerical capital of Qom to seek reassurance.
There, a theologian tells her that "changing sex is not the same as changing soul" and that even Khomeini sanctioned such operations as a last resort.
Such happy endings remain a rarity in the Islamic republic though, the surgeon featured in the documentary says after the screening.
Mirjalali said he had "large numbers of patients who have only just begun to accept their fate or overcome the misgivings of those around them."
Among those who felt unable to go ahead with a sex change because of the opposition of their friends or family, he said he had recorded "numerous suicide attempts."