How the love of two women lasted
For more than 30 years now, since its inception in California in 1990, April 25 to March 1 has been designated Lesbian Visibility Week: an international celebration and much-needed spotlight on women who love women. Like other members of the LGBT+ community, queer women are often erased from public life and from conversations that should be shared, and this week is an opportunity for them to stand up again and highlight the issues that interest them.
More recently, there has been a dawning realization in both East and West that under this banner there might be trans women, who were born biologically male but consider themselves female, who are attracted to other people who are feminine or present themselves as women.
In Iran, being homosexual is a capital crime but it naturally continues to exist under the radar; a recent Iran Open Data survey found that 4% of women surveyed had secretly solicited sex and were more likely to seek a gay partner than men. Being trans in Iran is sometimes legally permitted, subject to a jumble of outdated obligations and restrictions.
In any case, biologically feminine and transgender lesbians in Iran see their lives ruined by patriarchy, discrimination and basic and widespread ignorance. This week belongs to all of them. To mark the occasion, we spoke to Elham, a gay trans woman who was born a boy named Mohammad, who has loved women all her life, but only in the past two years has she realized what was missing. To this day, his wife has remained by his side.
“I was 26 when I married a girl, my girlfriend. She was six years older than me. In our society, it’s not very common for a man to marry an older woman. The choices I do are often seen as a little unreasonable. We loved each other very much but nothing seemed to be going well. I felt terrible regrets, for which I did not know the reason.
Three years into their marriage, Elham – then Mohammad – and her partner decided they had to have children. “It was very difficult, almost intolerable for me. I didn’t know what to do. In the eyes of others, I was a boy who had married a girl, and I felt my own emotional and sexual attraction to girls. Everything seemed settled, but something inside me was falling apart.”
Before getting married, Elham said she had a relationship with a boy to “test herself”. It wasn’t successful and it wasn’t what she wanted either. In her young mind, she could be one of two things: homosexual or heterosexual. It would take years in a troubled marriage for the penny to fall.
“Gradually I had problems with sex. My wife figured it out very quickly, but we loved each other so much that we thought it didn’t matter. But it did. My mood was deteriorating day by day. both depressed. Corona and quarantine made it worse. Against my wife’s wishes, I postponed having children.
“One night when I was in a weird mood, we talked. I said to my wife, ‘I feel like I haven’t been honest with you, that I’ve been lying to you. I could leave you one day. I don’t know why, I just know it’s not my reality.'”
Time passed and Elham remained curious. Through online research and conversations with others, she – then still a him – slowly became familiar with the existence of trans people and gender dysphoria. Elham realized that, like thousands, if not millions, of others around the world, she was born in a male body but had always identified as female. The missing piece finally had a form.
“I said to my wife, ‘I have two news for you. The first is that I’ve realized that I’m not a gay man and I have no sexual orientation towards men. The second is that I think I’m trans and my real sex is female. My wife’s attitude was very good and pragmatic, and I felt that I had solved a huge puzzle. I considered myself a woman, but On the other hand, my emotional and sexual orientation was also towards other women. So… I could be a lesbian. Everything was in place now and I could understand what was going on inside me.
Despite the elation felt by the duo, Elham’s problems were just beginning. In Iran, trans people are viewed with suspicion, if not downright hostile, by large sections of the community. And unlike other countries, being recognized as a trans woman depends on undergoing court-ordered invasive surgery, which a trans person may or may not feel the need for. By revealing her true gender identity, Elham instantly exposed herself to this dual onslaught: societal and legal.
Her own immediate family reacted horribly, she says, so much so that she had to cut herself off from them. The only person left by his side was his wife; the woman she had married for love and still loved. “I wanted to experience [being female]; my wife’s clothes fit me and I felt good wearing them.
“Hormone therapy was a very important step in my journey. It was as if my body had always been deficient in these hormones. It was not an easy task. I did not have the necessary authorizations from the court. The doctor did not prescribe it for me, nor did the pharmacy. Eventually, they found a doctor willing to take the risk of prescribing Elham’s hormones off the books.
Although they were happy together, nothing about the journey was easy: from Elham’s first appearance in the community in new clothes, to the physical changes to his body brought on by medication, to the inevitable loss employment and to the exclusion of family and former groups of friends. .
But his biggest concern was and remains the life of a couple together. They love and understand each other, she says, but this life was not what they had planned. “I have changed, but those changes may not have been my wife’s choice in life,” she says. “She chose Mohammad for life, but now I am Elham. I give her the right not to want this life, and to want to go live with a man, or become a mother.”
No matter what happens to their relationship, Elham says: “My ultimate goal now is to get out of Iran. I think in a freer place we will have better opportunities and the space to make decisions, we test and see what we want out of life I could be a more successful person using my talents and expertise at work, without being judgmental about my sexual and gender identity.
The last obstacle for them now is the problem of Elham’s military service: an obligation that is still expected of her, despite everything, because she has not yet undergone a sex change operation. “I don’t want to have surgery in Iran,” she says. “The risks are too high and I’m too scared. I’m stuck in the mud, and again I don’t know what to do.”