Last week, President Ahmadinejad declared that there is no homosexuality in Iran. In reality, of course, it is a crime punishable by death, and there have been such executions very recently. However, there may well be fewer homosexuals in Iran than elsewhere, and not just because they’ve been killed. There’s also the interesting fact that transsexuality is considered a treatable disease rather than a crime. Many of those who find themselves attracted to the “wrong” sex in Iran wind up undergoing sex change surgery, which allows them to live on the right side of the law. Of course, this means many face a choice between being the sex/gender they want to be/are and loving the sex/gender they want to love. Scary. But also interesting to see that transsexuality is more accepted in Iran than homosexuality, when the reverse seems to be true in the West, as we can see from debates over the inclusion of transsexuals in ENDA in the US.
It’s interesting, also, as a way of calling attention to the way these issues are related. If ENDA passes without protection for transsexuals (likely) and doesn’t get vetoed (unlikely), it will be illegal to discriminate against gay people but legal to discriminate against transsexuals. (It will of course be vetoed, but set that aside– we’re philosophers, and we can imagine a possible world with a sane president. Ahhhhh.) Now consider consider an American trans-woman, who is attracted to men. This person, in our sane-president-world, would fare best (so far as anti-discrimination law goes) if she concealed her womanhood and instead presented herself as a gay man. In Iran, a man who identifies himself as a man but is also attracted to men would be better off having a sex change operation and presenting himself as a straight woman. (Well, except that he’d then have to live under the laws that apply to women!)
By the way, the issue of whether or not one should support a non-trans-inclusive ENDA is immensely complicated. To read more about this issue from both sides, I recommend John Aravosis’s article at Salon, and the comments discussing it there; and this excellent article from Susan Stryker suggested by reader Kathy. (Updated to include Stryker reference.)