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Inside Out

by Zohreh Shayesteh
First Run / Icarus Films, Brooklyn, NY, 2006
VHS, 39 min., col.
Sales, video-DVD: $298 USD; rental, video: $75 USD
Distributor’s website: http://www.frif.com

Reviewed by Rob Harle (Australia)


This is a very interesting film. It’s short, running for only 30 nine minutes, unremarkable in cinematographical sophistication but tells a remarkable and fascinating story. Inside Out shows the lives of three transsexuals living in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Transsexuals are those who are born with the physical sexual attributes of one sex and the inner characteristics (mind/soul) of the opposite sex. As the characters in the film point out, the psychological pain of being in the wrong body is virtually inconceivable to those of us who are not. This misalignment is no mere fanciful wish or cultural preference as in cross-dressing (transvestites) but a hard-wired from birth, psycho-physical anomaly. This difference is vitally important in Iran in that transsexualism is considered by the religious leaders to be a human rights issue whereas homosexuality is not under any circumstances and is illegal.

This film investigates the problems of the three individuals as human beings that are revealing and at times very poignant. However, it does not address in detail or depth the universal, philosophical issues involved in the whole question of sexuality and gender construction. A huge body of research has been undertaken over the past 30 years regarding cultural aspects of gender, including the role religion plays in this. This research shows that cultural pressures are, at least, as equally involved as biological inheritance in the shaping of gender. Compare this one example from Islam and Christianity. Transsexualism is considered a human rights issue by most Islamic religious leaders in Iran but is not in Christian countries. Homosexuality is illegal in Muslim countries but is now accepted or at least tolerated in liberal Christian communities.

The film is in colour, has quite large legible subtitles and, as mentioned, focuses on the lives of three transsexuals. Maria is 44 years of age and a father and former truck driver, now a female. Saman is a young, newly married man previously a female and Arash is an 18 year old high school dropout, attempting to change from female to male. The film discusses chemical, hormone treatment and gender reassignment surgery from not only the three individual’s points of view but also from the expertise of a surgeon and psychiatrist.

This film is interesting because it brings to the public’s attention this rather rare and little understood condition, though primarily, because of the counselling provided by a Muslim cleric and his frank discussion about the reasons for understanding transsexualism as a human rights issue. I must confess the film raises as many issues for me as it appears to solve in respect of the idiosyncratic interpretation of Islam’s religious scriptures. If transsexuals are born with the condition hard-wired, is this not a flaw in the creator’s creation? This is of course an impossibility by definition because Allah is absolutely perfect and cannot make mistakes. Perhaps this is why it is seen as a human rights issue? If transsexualism is hard-wired how can those homosexuals from birth not be hard-wired? Why do they not qualify for the same consideration?

The cultural-historical acceptance of gender difference is as changeable as the weather, and I find it rather sad that decent individuals are persecuted, ostracised and in some cases put to death for a psycho-biological anomaly they originally have no direct control over. Inside Out at least raises these issues for the general public to consider and consequently may demand our lawmakers change some of the draconian laws that encapsulate these inhumane prejudices.



Updated 1st February 2007

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