- Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran by Afsaneh Najmabadi
Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran is one of those rare books with a title enough to whet both one’s intellectual appetite and one’s desire to conquer new areas of knowledge and, in this book, Professor Najmabadi deals with the most sensitive issues not open to discussion in the cultural and religious atmosphere that dominates Iran today.
The eight chapters in the book deal with three major themes: the known history of homosexuality and transsexuality in Iran, largely ignored both culturally and religiously; the Arabic etymology and terminology used to describe this phenomenon and the medical and religious perspectives influenced by the outlook of the Iranian Republic; and finally, personal accounts and ethnographies.
According to the author some parts of the chapters are updated versions of her previous research yet this current publication presents these parts within a wider spectrum and locates the issues within the dark labyrinth of transgender existence in Iran from both a chronological and thematic perspective. She does this in order to tell the story, in a wider context and more coherently, of a sensate phenomenon which is still a mystery in Iran. She clearly and richly discusses issues that cannot, under any circumstances, be discussed in the present day Republic of Iran.
I would have liked to see some discussion on the cultural and religious atmosphere in Iran from a sociological point of view, which would deal with the cultural environment that ignites the phenomenon of transgender/transsexuality and enables the private person to live safely according to his/her sexual identity. Another connected issue worthy of discussion would be an overview of what a transgender/transsexual person struggles through in a cross-section of societies, be they tyrannical, religious, or neither.
Najmabadi cites Khomeini’s fatwa from 1985 (p. 340, n4), which provides the cultural background that will allow an individual of different sexual identity to take part in the community without apologizing for it. Khomeini’s fatwa, which suggests the possibility of wider interpretation, begins with total acceptance but moves toward clearly adopting the identity of either a man or a woman, which does put pressure on individuals in the transgender community.
These issues all form part of the background for this wonderful book whether they are specifically discussed or not, and the “cartography of desire” that the book presents goes far beyond the research issues asked [End Page 633] in the introduction. The new map offered by the author is dazzling and sheds a pure and pioneering light on this fascinating theme.
Najmabadi has laid both a foundation stone and provided the key to future studies of this little known territory.