When I lived in Iran, I had various experiences dealing with the police and authorities. I remember the day my friends and I were arrested on a street in Rasht and taken to the police station. They were boys, and I wore feminine clothing. I was more scared because I was trans: my legal identity did not match my female gender identity. My family did not know that sometimes I went out wearing clothes I want to wear. I knew that if the agents found out that I was a trans woman, they would bother me even more. This fear intensified at the police station when officers became suspicious and asked each other if I was a boy or a girl. I broke out in a cold sweat all over my body when I heard them say they were going to examine me.
I know my friends have experienced the same feeling many times when dealing with police or security agents. Taha is a trans man who told me about his experience: "I lived in Urmia. I had not yet begun the legal process to certify my trans identity and obtain a license for transition and surgery from the court, but I definitely knew myself and my identity. For some time, if the opportunity arose, I would appear in public in masculine clothing. I wanted to be closer to my true self.
"It was about seven o'clock at night. We were out with two of my girlfriends. We were walking and talking when two veiled women came up to us and objected to my friends' hijab. Fearing that they would find out I was trans, I did not stop and continued on my way. But they knew we were together. My friends were asked who the boy was and what his relationship to them was. My friends said out of fear: he is our friend and a trans man who has not had his surgery yet.
"One of the women followed me. I continued on my way, but she was still following me. I finally stopped to see what she wanted. Strangely enough, she stood at a far distance from me, looking me up from head to toe, as if I was a weird creature. She asked my name. I said: I am Taha. She asked with curiosity: a girl or a boy?"
Taha says he was not in a good state of mind in those days and was under a lot of pressure. For this reason, he was not able to explain his situation to those veiled women. He was silent and did not say anything, but an agent arrived in a police car and took him to the station.
"The driver of the car was a man and two women were sitting in the car," Taha explained. "I was constantly asked: why was I wearing these clothes? Why did I look the way I did? I took a deep breath and tried to explain. I said, I'm trans, do you know anything about trans? One of the women said it means bisexual. I felt helpless in front of people who do not understand anything about me and I tried in vain to explain to them. I also asked the officer who was driving, ‘do you know what trans means?’ He said no and I was silent."
Taha described the atmosphere at the police station, saying it very negative and the officers behaved in a very annoying way, asking lots of pointless questions. "It was as if I was a criminal. I explained to them what it meant to be trans and told them about my situation. I said I was seeing a psychoanalyst. They asked the name and details of the psychologist. I felt very bad when people gathered around me and asked me questions, questions that were none of their business. I was helpless in the situation. I felt defenceless and alone and did not know what to do to save myself. They checked my ID and I vowed not to go out again wearing men’s clothes. I felt like I had pledged not to be myself and not to live with my true identity."
The anxiety and pressure that Taha experienced during this incident meant he did not go out with his friends for a long time. "I could never forget the psychological harassment that night. I had no idea where I was and where I had been taken. They tried to humiliate me with words and questions, which they asked me sarcastically. Only God helped me to survive that night and get rid of them."
But Taha's experience was not unique. Thousands of trans people regularly have similar experiences when coming in contact with the police and security forces, and many witness much worse attitudes and behavior. Although transgender people are not criminally prosecuted in Iran, there are no laws to protect them, and they cannot take people to court when confronted with discrimination and violence. In many cases, law enforcement officers are responsible for such violations.
There is a profound lack of awareness about trans people and the trans community in Iran, and trans people are often treated very badly by the security forces and the police, facing discrimination and abuse from them, but also from society in general. The devastating effects of such discrimination and violence can be long lasting, and in some cases, last forever, having a huge impact on people’s well being and psychological stability.