"As a child, my father was my life’s nightmare: traditional, bigoted, bad-tempered and paranoid. For this reason, I had a very difficult childhood; I couldn’t identify properly with myself, or express my gender identity.
“Even though I was still a student, my father warned me every year that this was the last year I would go to school. And as soon as I finished school, I was forced to get married. I had no choice: I had to choose one of the few suitors I had, otherwise he would be chosen for me. I was 19 then, and now I have a five-year-old daughter."
Amin is a trans man who lives in the northernmost part of Iran, in a small and deeply religious town. In such an atmosphere, it is very difficult to present oneself as such.
Transgender people are individuals who identify as belonging to a different gender to the one assigned to them at birth. They may identify as either male or female, or as non-binary, neither considering themselves women or men.
Social and cultural norms, and taboos around sexual and gender issues, often cause people in different societies to misrecognize their sexual orientation and gender identity, or else to feel forced to bow to pressure in a way that they later come to regret. By then it’s sometimes too late, and these decisions have affected and indeed ruined their lives and the lives of others.
Amin talks at length about his fruitless efforts to change. "For years I tried to suppress my own identity and to ignore the fact I was a man. I tried to be the woman everyone expected me to be, but I couldn't. Each time, all that I had swallowed came out somewhere else. Married life is hell for me: when they call me by a girl's name; when I have to play the role of housewife; when I have to give in to unwanted sex, which for me is rape."
In this difficult situation, if the person’s family and others play a positive role, they can be the first supporters of their loved one. But unfortunately, particularly in conservative societies, the opposite usually ends up happening.
"I feel,” says Amin, “that the older I get, the harder this situation is for me to bear. I raised the issue with my mother and tried to explain it to her in any way that I could, but she didn’t understand much of what I was saying.
“She discussed the matter with my father, but what was the use of that? They’re perpetually worried about their reputation and what other people might say. She told me to pray, and to rely on God to ‘forget’ these ‘evil’ thoughts! We are Sunni Muslims, and being trans and having surgery is considered an evil act.
“They think I'm sick. They think I will get well. They say I have to fight my sick thoughts and force it out of my mind. They say, 'You can try to get your feminine feelings back.' But I have no feminine feelings. I never considered myself to be a female. Divorce would also be a disgrace for my family: they won’t even let me separate from my husband so I can at least make the right decisions about my own life."
In Iran, the 2012 Family Protection Law, which is based on the fatwa of Ruhollah Khomeini in the book Tahrir al-Wasilah, allows transgender people to go through the process of transition and surgery – known as gender reassignment – if they obtain approval from the legal authorities and the necessary permits for surgery.
Those who undergo surgery will then receive new legal documents that match their gender. Trans people who do not intend to have surgery, on the other hand, do not have the same legal rights and cannot receive a new legal identity based on their gender.
A pathological view of transgender people in Iran’s legal, medical, and psychiatric systems puts them in a situation where they experience countless acts of violence and discrimination from both family and society. Either they are forced to undergo sterilization and surgery, placing themselves squarely in the male/female dichotomy, or they are excluded from their families and wider society – and in many cases feel compelled to leave the country outright.
These days, Amin says, "I have no reason to stay here other than the love that I feel for my daughter. Maybe it’s love that has kept me here to this day. Although I never considered myself a woman, I was a good mother to her. I don’t think anyone else could take my place for her.
“Sometimes I do think of giving up everything and leaving so that I could live for myself, and study, work, exercise, and fall in love and experience love freely. To have someone love me for who I am, not for what they want me to be and the role I might play. I feel that to be stranded among a group of strangers would be better than to endure this strange feeling of no-one in the family understanding me."
Amin felt different from girls of his age from his early years of school onward. But ignorance made him shy away from examining the situation. He says he did experience adolescent love in that time, falling for his classmates but not understanding the feeling: one of transient love that everyone experiences at that age, but that was slightly different for him.
"I met a girl in cyberspace four years ago,” he says. “Well, I didn’t know her and I had never seen her, but our relationship slowly deepened nonetheless, so much so that she wanted to see me.
“I felt scared. It was impossible. She didn’t know my situation. She saw me only virtually, and I was afraid to tell the truth. Days and months went by in this virtual relationship even as I hated myself for the lies that I told her.
“I felt that I was in love. I confessed it to her, and told her that I was a trans man – and she accepted me, to my disbelief. The situation then became all the more difficult for me, as if I was not only living a life that was not my choice, but that I had a choice that was unattainable for me. I recalled Forough Farrokhzad's poem: ‘When I'm far away, I want to be close, and as I get close, I see that I have no talent at all.’
“Our story came to an end. She pursued her life and I remained in the darkness of mine. After that, I became more aware of my situation and started to think about what I wanted and what I had to do: to fight for what I wanted. It might be difficult, it might be impossible, but I will try. Now here I stand at this point of life, at the starting point. I know I have a long way to go.”