Be Like Others

Tanaz Eshaghian, 74 min, Canada, Iran, UK, USA.

More than 20 years ago, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa to make sex change permissible for "diagnosed transsexuals." Today, while Iran's arms program makes headlines around the world, a very private drama is unfolding behind the scenes. Attracted to members of the same sex, yet forced to live in the shadows for fear of retribution, some young Iranian men and women are taking the only course legally open to them. Desiring what one man calls "a decent life," they pursue the drastic measure of having gender reassignment surgery, obtaining the psychiatric note of permission a doctor needs to proceed. Shamed, silenced or socially conditioned into denying their sexuality, they have subscribed, seemingly willingly, to the ideology of the Islamic state, where homosexuality is considered a sin, but transsexuality is accepted, albeit reluctantly.

Be Like Others visits the Tehran medical facility of Dr. Bahram Mir-Jalali, the country's leading sex-change surgeon, who helps candidates for gender reassignment arrange government funding for their procedure while promising that life will be easier after surgery. Explaining the difference between transsexuals, who are accepted in Iran, and homosexuals, who are not, Dr. Mir-Jalali says that those who are truly transsexual will embrace surgery and not worry about the pain, while homosexuals will flee after learning how torturous the procedure and recuperation will be. 

Iranian-American Tanaz Eshaghian's personal feature-length documentary "Love Iranian-American Style" premiered in 2006 as part of the New York Jewish Film Festival. Her documentary "I Call Myself Persian" aired on PBS and also screened at the Museum of Modern Art's prestigious Documentary Fortnight. Eshaghian also directed and produced "From Babylon to Beverly Hills: The Exodus of Iran's Jews," which has screened at anthropological film festivals around the world. Be Like Others screened at the Sundance Film Festival and Berlin Film Festival.