A list of 5 Iranian FILMS
that center trans identities, gender non-conformity and queerness, with a focus on trans masculinity’.
by Katayoun Jalilipour November 10, 2022
For this list, I wanted to focus on Iranian films, that centre trans identities, gender nonconformity and queerness. Some have been made with these strong narratives in obvious ways, but some can be interpreted in this way through a queer lens
I have been thinking for a long time about trans masculinity specifically, in Iranian media and culture. Because I identify as such, and representations of it have been just crumbs, which weighs heavy on my heart.
Recently, an Iranian actor based in Iran now known by his chosen name Maziar Lorestani, came out as a trans man. I was gobsmacked and just wanted to cry, as no one around me understood how big of a deal this was. I grew up watching Lorestani in many films, like Under the Peach Tree, a romantic comedy I often watched with my family growing up. This is a huge deal as Lorestani is the first popular actor to publicly come out as trans. His public coming out, which has mostly been well perceived, will change the missing narrative of the trans masc representation in Iranian media.
During this current Iranian revolution and the #WomanLifeFreedom movement, with Kurdish origins, it’s extremely important to not forget those on the margins, who are often queer and trans. This list of films will hopefully help non-Iranians to gain a better understanding of intersectional issues affecting people in Iran today. A queer angle is extremely important as it is not often an angle used to discuss issues in Iran. Queer people in Iran have coined the alternative term Trans Life Freedom. A movement centring the most marginalised of LGBTQ Iranians.
For further context into Iranian queer issues; in Iran being a gay is illegal, and punishable by lashings or execution. However, transitioning is legal and even free. This is not due to a particular care for trans lives, but instead, surgeries are used to make gender non-conforming people conform to heterosexual standards. Although these laws may benefit some binary trans people’s lives, (which are still affected by other systems of oppression in place) still many homosexual people are at times manipulated by psychologists and medical doctors, to undergo sex change surgery, which in this case cannot be called gender affirming surgery. Trans people in Iran face many similar issues of unemployment, imprisonment, poverty due to oppressive laws and cultural and societal acceptance, as the rest of the world. However, the fact that even cisgender people do not have basic human rights, means that the situation for trans people is even worse.
Lastly, I must add, this is a very personal list of films. These are films that have made me, as a queer and trans Iranian feel a rollercoaster of positive and negative emotions. But mostly they have made me feel like there’s a place for me in my culture, knowing there are more people like myself out there. There are unfortunately not many Iranian LGBTQ films, however these movies explore very complex issues, through an intersectional lens; often including a variety of societal oppressions, with a big focus on class. Class has often been very well represented in Iranian cinema, as opposed to many Western LGBTQ films, which often gloss over intersectionality.
Here’s a list of 5 feature films, and documentaries, with a focus on trans masculinity and ‘otherness’.
Facing Mirrors, Negar Azarbayejani, 2011, Iran/Germany
Starring Shayesteh Irani, this film follows the story of a trans man named Edi, who is escaping an arranged marriage to a man. He starts an unlikely friendship with a female taxi driver Rana, who is hard at work to pay off her husband’s debts and free him from prison. At first, Rana is afraid of Edi upon finding out he identifies as a trans man, but as she learns more about what being transgender means, she becomes his biggest ally.
This is one of the only films made inside Iran which mainly centres the complexity of being a trans man in Iran, and dangers that may follow due to unsupportive families and laws such as the compulsory hijab laws that also affect trans men as well as women.
Facing Mirrors is available on Iranian streaming website IMVbox, where you can access English subtitles for a fee.
Offside, Jafar Panahi, 2006, Iran
Offside is a film about a group of girls who make an attempt to enter the football stadium in order to watch a World Cup qualifying match in Tehran. Since women are not allowed in the stadium, they dress up as boys to pass through security. However many of them are unsuccessful and detained. This film is a heartwarming comedy, which does not make light of the issue of gender segregation. It is not specifically an LGBTQ film, however to me personally, it can be claimed as one. I remember the first time I watched this film, as a 10/11 year old, seeing Iranian girls dressing and acting like boys, was completely shocking to me, and perhaps a ‘keychain’ moment as Alison Bechdel would call it. Seeing some representation of non-conformity, and public cross dressing, which is extremely forbidden, was a defiant moment for a pre-teen queer child such as myself, and I’m sure for many others too. Two of the actors in particular, including Shayesteh Irani from Facing Mirrors, have a stone butch quality, which was extremely exciting and terrifying to me as a child.
Where to watch: you can rent Offside on Amazon Prime or purchase on DVD.
My Sex Life aka Khastegi, Bahman Motamedian, 2008, Iran
Khastegi is an independent film following the story of several trans people navigating life in Iran, featuring non professional actors, a casting technique often used in Iranian cinema. This ‘docufiction’ follows trans actors as they deal with complex issues including family, relationships, faith, marriage, gender affirming surgeries, migration and financial issues. Although this is a low budget film, it does a good job of showcasing a somewhat in-depth representation of these lives. Especially as it showcases the complexity of the trans masc character’s decision to live as a man without undergoing surgery, and navigating struggles with toxic masculinity. What is a very big deal for me, is that unlike Facing Mirrors, the trans man in this film is shown to have more bodily autonomy in how he dresses and expresses himself.
Trigger warnings: abusive language, suicide
Khastegi has been available on Mubi previously.
This is Not Me, Saeed Gholipour, 2022, Iran
This documentary follows two young trans men in Iran, showcasing the legal and social labyrinth they have to navigate. This is a very raw and real documentation of what it’s like to be a young trans man in Iran, under the oppressive laws that control bodies they consider as ‘female’ and therefore dangerous. Although they have supportive families, they still have to live in a country that does not allow them to show their hair, dress how they please or even freely swim in the sea like their cisgender counterparts. The latter being a common experience for many trans people around the world.
Currently available on shashamovies.com as part of their Let’s Talk About Sex programme, until 30th of Nov.
Be Like Others, Tanaz Eshaghian, 2008, Iran
This documentary mainly focuses on access to gender affirming surgeries in Iran. It follows several trans people, as they discuss very intimate details of their transition, having to defend themselves to family members and strangers, as well as talking about trans issues with Muslim religious scholars.
The director, being a cis woman, unfortunately does not use the best language to talk about trans people and has misgendered them in the documentary description.
This was the first time I had ever seen Iranian trans people, in general, but also in a documentary.
One very mesmerising person, and the only trans man in this documentary, who is unnamed, talks about how much women fancy him already, and that he cannot wait for his transition. Although he only appears for less than 3 minutes, the way he was unapologetic about his desires has stayed with me since the first time I watched this documentary as a teenager.
Although it might have been made through a difficult cis gaze, It is an important and raw documentation of the everyday lives of trans people in Iran.
Be Like Others has previously been available on Amazon.
I hope you enjoyed this list. If you have any more films that are within the themes of this list, please do get in touch via ‘email’ firstname.lastname@example.org