Book review: Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran, by Afsaneh Najmabadi

professing selvesNajmabadi, Afsaneh. Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran. Duke University Press Books. 2014. $99.95. 418p. PB. 978-0-8223-5557-1.

Homosexuality is a capital offense in Iran; however, transsexuality is not. The government even provides the funding necessary for transmen and transwomen to obtain hormones or other medical procedures in order to be their true selves. At the same time, gay and lesbian people are executed by the Iranian government. When a country’s government is also its ruling religious body, as in Iran, religious laws and state laws quickly become intermingled. In Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran, Harvard University historian Afsaneh Najmabadi explores how the acceptance of transsexuality and the rejection of homosexuality has shaped the queer community in Iran. Drawing from legal, psychological, medical, historical, and religious texts, Najmabadi describes how the Iranian government became invested in determining who is a “true” transsexual and who is not.

With over sixty pages of endnotes and fifteen pages of citations, Professing Selves is thoroughly-researched and extremely scholarly. The initial chapters introduce the reader to the history of homosexuality and transsexuality in Iran, including descriptions of the Arabic words for each concept and their etymology. The central chapters look at the topic from medical, religious, and governmental perspectives. The final chapters detail many personal accounts and ethnographies, further supporting the author’s claims throughout the book. This book fills a void that has been tackled only tangentially by two young adult novels, If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan and Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis. Written in an academic style that may prove daunting to many readers, this book is an excellent addition to an academic or research library but may prove difficult to sell to the average reader at a public library.

Reviewer: Jenni Frencham, Librarian
Cesar Chavez Middle School, Hayward (CA)

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