Transgender in Iran
The Story of Maryam Khatoon Molkara
It was 1979 after the Iranian Revolution. A new religious government had been established. It was a time when transgender citizens of Iran were subject to lashings and even death according to the Iranian penal code. Iran would soon be locked in a bloody conflict with Iraq in the 1980’s. This is when Maryam Khatoon Molkara, a volunteer nurse on the front lines of the war, would forever change the course of transgender rights in Iran.
“When I was very small I used to scream when they tried to dress me in boy’s clothes and when I was taken to toy shops I wanted dolls instead of boy’s toys”
Molkara was born Fereydoon Molkara in 1950. Her father was a land owner near the Caspian Sea. “When I was very small I used to scream when they tried to dress me in boy’s clothes and when I was taken to toy shops I wanted dolls instead of boy’s toys” she stated in a 2004 article for the Independent UK. She was confused about her identity and thought herself to be a gay man. She was able to get a job as a part time assistant at a local hospital where a doctor there would tell her she was not gay, but actually a woman. The doctor told her gender reassignment surgery would be possible. Her mother would be opposed to her identity and she decided to hold off on thinking about the surgery.
In 1970’s she would meet with Ayatollah Behbehani, a prominent religious figure in Iran at the time. He would perform a ceremony called an istikhareh, where he would let the Koran fall open to interpret her destiny. After determining her life would be a struggle as is was for Jesus’ mother Mary, he advised Molkara to write to Ayatollah Khomeini who would later become the leader of the revolution.
“He would determine it was her religious obligation to undergo gender reassignment surgery”
In 1987, Molkara would meet with Khomeini. Before being allowed to meet him she would be beaten by his guards before she could gain an audience with him.Khomeini would determine it was her religious obligation to undergo gender reassignment surgery. He felt that one needed a clear gender identity in order to fulfill their religious duties. He would grant her all rights specific to women and write a letter that would allow her to have the procedure..
Though her mother did not approve of her getting surgery, Molkara began to take hormones and present full time as female. It would not be until 1997 when she would have her surgery in Thailand. Molkara would go on to start an organization to help those who have gender identity issues. Iranian citizens are now able to get reassignment surgery “in county”.
Thanks to the work of Maryam Khatoon Molkara, Iranians have the law on their side if they are transgender. This is a country where gay and lesbian rights still do not exist. They are granted all rights associated with their identified gender and are allowed to change their birth certificates. Though transgender Iranians have these rights, they still face a lack of acceptance in their society and are often considered deviants. The struggle rages on.