Elaheh is an Iranian trans woman who works as a teacher for deaf students. She was born with a male body and was known to everyone as a boy, except to herself.
She recalls her childhood from age four onward: "I never considered myself male, but I was always afraid to say it. I wanted to be Elaheh – and that was a secret between me and myself. From the age of four I felt that I didn’t look like a boy, but resembled the girls around me. At six I was enrolled in a school for the deaf to learn sign language and speech, and I think the first thing I learned to say was that I wasn’t a boy and was born a girl. I still don’t know how, at the age of six, I had already come to understand my gender and express it like that."
Punished by Her Parents
Elaheh had a tormented childhood. "When I wore girls' clothes at home, my mother punished me,” she says, “and from then on I did it secretly and out of their sight. I was beaten many times by my father: horrible, corporal punishment that served to remind me that I was not his favorite son. I was only 11 years old.”
In middle school, Elaleh says, she experienced adolescent love for the first time. "I wondered why I’d fallen in love with a boy. I cried to myself alone, wondering why I hadn’t been born a girl. But I never found the answers to my questions. I was confused about myself and my identity, and this confusion drove me to the brink of insanity. I asked myself, Why me? Why am I different from others? Who am I? I didn’t know anything about sex and gender issues, and being deaf afforded me even less access to information and resources."
In adulthood, all these pressures brought Elaheh to a point where she agreed to get married on the suggestion of a friend. She imagined that if she married a woman, she could rid herself of these feelings and "cure" her misconceptions about herself. Now, she blames her father and uncle for forcing her to marry.
"The engagement was very scary for me," she says. "I had no sexual or emotional desire for the woman I was engaged to. I was even more stressed and anxious than before, and I was pushing myself to change: to be the man that others expected me to be, but I wasn't. Nothing changed in me. A year passed. I couldn’t say anything to my family."
Finally Elaheh met someone at the Deaf Association and learned about gender and sexuality issues from him. “I gained a lot of information, and the more I learned, the more I felt like a trans person," she says.
Treated as Mentally Ill
Elaheh went to the head of the Deaf Association and was referred by him to the Welfare Organization. She got acquainted with knowledgeable physicians and psychiatrists and started going for psychoanalysis in Tehran. Finally, she decided to end her marriage because she did not want to sacrifice another person to the ignorance of herself and her family.
"The psychologist I was referred to confirmed that I was trans,” she says. “In the many counselling sessions we had, he tried to explain this to my parents, but they still insisted on their opinions and weren’t willing to understand or accept me. I was severely harassed and even beaten. Sometimes I felt that they hated me. Both my parents and my younger siblings were worried about their reputation; they considered me a disgrace to our family."
After a meeting at Rouzbeh Hospital Elaheh went to court to get the permits for gender reassignment surgery. “Because I was deaf, they thought I wasn’t mentally healthy and didn’t have the authority to make my own decisions,” she says. “I don’t know why they think a deaf person would have a lower intellect or be illiterate."
The family of Elaheh’s former fiancé then lodged a civil case against her, asking for the dowry. "They pursued their own interests to gain something from this,” she says. “I was able to get a lawyer with the help of the Deaf Association. The lawyer proved that I was trans and a divorce was granted, but the court ordered me to pay half of the dowry, which I had to pay monthly. My parents' not giving consent in court became very problematic. The judge in the case required their consent because I was deaf.”
Elaheh says Iranian society lacks the necessary infrastructure for people like her and the training to deal properly with people with different abilities. Sign language is not recognized, and a culture to promote it in public life has not developed. In addition, Iranian society suffers from a lack of accurate information on sexual and gender issues, and public opinion of the LGBT community is very negative.
These factors make life very difficult for people like Elaheh and expose them to multi-layered violence and discrimination for being both transgender and deaf. With the right education in place, and awareness-raising to end the stigma around both, their situation might be different.
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