"I underwent electric shock treatment when I was 18 years old. For a person at that age, you can’t imagine how horrible it is. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and had six sessions of treatment – all because I'm transgender."
These are the words of Omid, a trans man living in Iran. "Hope is the most beautiful word for me in the world,” he says, “and that's why I named myself Omid.”
Omid realized at a relatively young age that he was living as the wrong gender. "I was alienated from myself,” he says, “and from my gender, as a child. For years I was engaged in finding out who I was. I was a student when it finally dawned on me, and because of the shock of it, I became very depressed and low.
“The nature of society, having a very religious family, and the other difficulties I would endure because I was transgender made me feel terrible. I had a thousand and one things to think about: How do I tell my family? How will society receive me? The long and difficult road ahead; legal issues; the high cost of surgery; employment... These were all problems I kept thinking about."
Instead of receiving the help he needed to transition, on opening up about his problems Omid was referred to a doctor at a psychiatric hospital. "My family was informed, and I was treated with their consent. They said electric shock treatment often had a beneficial effect on the patient. But I didn’t get better; I got worse.
“They anesthetized me with drugs, and then put [electrode] strips on my head to transmit electricity into me. I was in a terrible state when I woke up. It is impossible to describe. My sister had watched it happen, and later described it to me.
“I couldn’t continue my education because I had lost the ability to concentrate. I forgot everything for a few months due to the effects of the electric shocks. Going to that doctor and being admitted to hospital was the biggest mistake of my life. It was a mistake that ruined my life. Six years later, I still have no hope of return.”
Iran Lags Behind in Understanding Gender and Sexual Differences
The latest report by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Professor Javaid Rehman, expressed particular concern about the ongoing violation of LGBT people’s rights in the country. He noted: “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons are often advised that their gender non-conformity or same-sex attraction represents so-called gender identity disorder, which necessitates ‘reparative’ therapies” – up to and including the administration of hormones, electric shocks or strong psychoactive medication. “These practices,” Rehman said, “amount to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
In the same report, which will be presented at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 22, Rehman lamented the ongoing discrimination against sexual and gender minorities in Iran. “Senior officials describe the community in hateful terms,” he wrote, “including by labelling individuals as ‘subhuman’ and ‘diseased’.”
Consensual sex between two people of the same sex is criminalized in Iran and can result in the death penalty. This in turn aggravates the risk of violence, discrimination and aggression against LGBT Iranians in their own homes, in their communities and at the hands of law enforcement agents. By contrast, the American Psychiatric Association had removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses as early as 1974, followed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1992. The diversity of sexual orientations in humans is now recognized in most civilized countries.
In 2019, the WHO dropped gender incongruence or gender dysphoria from its list of recognized mental illnesses and disorders. Despite this, members of the trans community continue to experience torture at the hands of some physicians in Iran on the pretext of psychiatric treatment. The representative of the Islamic Republic to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has, for their part, denied any non-consensual treatment or the use of electric shocks to change people’s sexual orientation and gender identity in Iran.
Personal Testimonies Contradict the Official Line
Shayan is a gay man who, in his bitter telling, was forced to undergo treatment in Iran in a bid to change his sexual orientation. "I was a teenager when I was introduced to a strange place called 'Anonymous Sex Patients' in Shahr-Rey, Tehran,” he says.
“There, a person who introduced himself as a psychologist convinced me during various meetings that I was ill and a sexual pervert. He prescribed me with very strong psychiatric drugs that are usually used for patients with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. They took me out of my normal state and made me drowsy and lethargic. Gradually I gradually became more and more isolated. In addition, he put me on hormonal therapy, which I can easily say was one of the most horrendous events of my life."
Shayan's voice trembles as he describes those dark days. "An ampoule containing a strong dose of hormones would be injected into my body. After a few hours I would have severe heart palpitations, tremors, seizures, confusion, and paralysis.
“When I thought about sex and a relationship with a man, I would vomit and faint. I made several unsuccessful suicide attempts, and every time I woke up, I regretted that I was still alive.”
Shayan was also subjected to forms of torture including an ice bucket and being forced to masturbate to pictures of women, as well as electric shocks to his genital. He developed severe depression as a result.
"After that, I began stuttering. I want no other human being to be tortured, abused or persecuted for his or her sexual orientation, and for him or her to ever experience these awful events."