One of the many astonishing paradoxes about life in the Islamic republic is that transsexuality has been legal since a fatwa was issued in 1987 by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Indeed, Iran permits more sex-change operations than any other country, except Thailand, and has long subsidised such surgeries. But, though transsexuals may have the support of the government, they remains highly controversial figures among the public.
The religious ruling was issued thanks to the activities in the 1980s of Maryam Khatoon Molkara, a campaigner for the rights of transsexuals in Iran, who wrote to Khomeini asking him to determine their fate. Molkara had herself previously been a man, and worked for the state TV before the Islamic revolution in 1979. In the mid-70s, she started to write to Khomeini, who was in exile, asking for religious authorisation for a sex-change operation. In 1987, after a decade of campaigning, she went in person to the home of Khomeini, by then the country’s supreme leader, and came back with a fatwa in hand that allowed transsexuals to choose their sex.
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