It undoubtedly would come as a surprise to most American audiences that sexual reassignment surgeries are not only legal in Iran but also provided free of charge to anyone who seeks them. This is the focus of Iranian-born, American filmmaker Tanaz Eshaghian’s documentary Be Like Others, an intimate examination of the intersection of state power, science and religion, gender and sexuality. In the film, at the vortex of these various forces are the bodies of two young men who opt for the surgery: Ali and Anoosh.
Early on in Eshaghian’s probing film, she interviews a doctor who performs these surgeries, as well as Vida, a postoperative male-to-female, and both speak highly of the procedure as the only option for Iranians who have homosexual desires. Vida, who works as a kind of counselor for those who are going through the surgery, emphatically reiterates the official government policy on gender and sexuality: Homosexuality is a disorder that can and should, in the eyes of the religious leaders who prescribe it, be addressed by “straightening out” one’s gender; desire between two men or two women is not permissible. Vida, who as the film goes on appears more and more like a government mouthpiece, insists that she finds homosexuality repugnant, that she is not a homosexual; rather she is someone who was truly born the wrong gender. Other interviews throughout Be Like Others, from another doctor who completes sex reassignment operations to a cleric who explains the significance of the religious decree condoning the surgeries to the families of those who hope to have it, reemphasize Vita’s point.