"I was in the seventh grade. My appearance was girlish in the eyes of others. My soft straight hair came down over my face. I also behaved differently from the other boys which exacerbated my girlish appearance. I went to a non-profit school. My parents did not send me to public school because they felt I was different from my peers; they thought the public school environment was not suitable for someone with my moral character, but the situation at school was even worse for me."
Anya is a 19-year-old transgender woman living in a small border town in Iran’s Kurdistan province. She spoke to IranWire about her difficult experiences during her school days – bitter experiences that eventually forced her to drop out of school.
Trans people define their gender differently from the physical gender with which they are born. Transgender people can identify themselves as a man or a woman, or as a “binary” or “non-binary,” and not define themselves as either male or female.
“The school principal tried to have a strange intimate relationship with me. He touched my hair as he passed me. When we went camping he would put his hand around my neck and take pictures with me. I initially thought he did this out of love, or maybe he did the same for other children, but gradually his behavior became more and more strange.”
“When he used to put his hands around my shoulder and neck, pretending to be playful, I would get angry and felt uncomfortable. I knew his behavior was unusual. But I was afraid to say anything or to protest. I was only 13 years old and I was worried that I would have more problems at school – more than I already faced every day."
"My family trusted the principal too much. He had influenced my family so much that, when I got a low grade, he would call me and tell my parents: 'Send him back to school so I can help him with his homework,' and they would force me to go."
Anya said she did not dare to say anything to her family about the harassment and behavior of the school principal. No one would believe her, Anya knew, and she knew her family blamed her for the differences between her and the other pupil had problems with the difference between her and others and constantly blamed her.
Even if Anya’s family believed her they would still say it had been her fault, Anya told IranWire. "When I went to the principal, he would say, 'If you become what I want for an hour, I'll give you the exam questions to get a good grade in the exams.’ I did not know how to get rid of him. He even took my phone number from my father and kept sending me sexually explicit messages and pictures. I felt so distressed that I could no longer study. I was not feeling well and I thought I was sick. I felt lost in a void that robbed me of the joy of my childhood. I became an apathetic, indifferent and depressed person; a mood that still haunts me today."
But Anya’s bitter life experiences were not limited to school.
Her home was itself not a safe space. Anya’s family did not understand her and, she said, they tried to ruin her life.
"When I was a teenager, my mother and I went to the doctor because of a thyroid problem. I do not know why the doctor concentrated on my appearance, on why I did not look like other boys at my age and did not have a beard or moustache. My mother told me to wait a few minutes outside. That's when I found out what was going to happen. At my mother's request, the doctor prescribed me male hormone to change my appearance, to make me look more like a man. With the use of hormones, my tone of voice changed over time, my face and body became full of hair, and hormones affected my appearance; these effects have tormented me more than any others. Every day I cannot not forgive my family for the oppression they have done to me."
A lack of information and proper education about sexual and gender issues, and the taboo of talking about the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities, have made schools and educational institutions unsafe for many LGBTQI+ people in Iran. Gay and trans people often experience the worst insults, humiliations, discrimination and aggression, not only from their peers, but from teachers and teaching staff.
The negative results of these experiences can manifest themselves in later years by shaping a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing and social position. A loss of self-confidence, isolation, mental illness, and depression are only part of the possible effects. The situation can become so difficult and unbearable for a person that they may be unable to continue education.
“I am 19 years old now,” Anya says of the impact of these bitter experiences on her life. “All the incidents and harms I suffered from the children and school officials during these years made me decide to abandon my education. I dropped out of school at the end of the 12th grade and did not continue my education. I’m still afraid to go to university. I know the situation there could be worse.”
“I had many dreams for my life and it is difficult to give these up because of the abuse others and the ignorance that exists in our society. I have fallen victim to all these shortcomings, and I feel that I have missed the opportunities of my life, opportunities that could bring me closer to my dreams. School and school years are sweet memories for many people. I have heard people say that 'School was our second home,' but to me it was hell.”