In 1967, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa sanctioning sex changes. The fatwa didn’t have significant legal or political reach until after the revolution in 1979. It was re-issued in 1985, declaring sex changes legal for “diagnosed transsexuals. The government is only one variable including social, familial, religious and legal pressure to have sex change operations.
Shervin, a 19-year-old Iranian refugee living in Kayseri, Turkey, recalls his therapist advising him that he had two choices: get a sex change or leave the country. “He had been working in the field for 30 years and he said that he had come to the conclusion that the only option [for me] was to get a sex change — regardless of whether or not it was wanted — or to leave Iran.”
“It’s difficult to document direct involvement or policy on the part of the Iranian government to try to pressure individuals into sex reassignment surgery,” says Faraz Sanei, researcher for the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. “Assessing the number of coerced surgeries, executions or corporeal punishment for homosexuality in Iran is exceedingly difficult — and controversial. If you take all of that together, you see why there is a strong incentive actually for individuals to ‘become legal.’ There is a way out.”