Scenes of Self-Conduct: Transnational Subjectivities from Tehran to Laplanche
This paper was previously published in TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, Volume 4, no. 3-4, pp. 654-661.
Copyright, 2017, Duke University Press. All rights reserved. Republished by permission of the copyright holder, Duke University Press. www.dukepress.edu
Afsaneh Najmabadi’s Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran (2014) narrates a fantasy reported by several candidates for sex reassignment surgery (SRS), whose transitions happen in serial operations over an extended period for several reasons, among them the fact that the government only pays a small portion toward surgical reassigment, an expensive and arduous proposition. “Imagining death” Najmabadi writes becomes the condition of a wish that expresses an ideal. “When my body is … washed for burial, I want the washer (wo)man to see a completely (fe)male body” (2014: 245). Although legally able to live as and to enjoy the rights of their reassigned gender, including marriage and adoption, many transitioners persist on the SRS path even after having earned their new certification. State recognition of gender reassignment is insufficient to appease a yearning that is again and again expressed in these terms of finitude, one that paradoxically promises new life.
Knitting the New Self
With the publication of this study of the history of transsexuality in law, medicine, popular culture and transactivisim in Iran from the 1930s, scholars of Middle East, West Asia and North Africa are newly able to test our speculative theories of contemporary subjectivity and its entanglement with modern state power. Arguing that Iran’s Islamicized modernity paradoxically elaborated new subjectivities through the regulation of sexual and gendered morality, habitus, and identity, in law, medicine and civil status, Professing Selves locates a crucial techne of state power multiplied in the proliferation of interview, questionnaire, affidavit, testimony, and case study that sediments official state discourse on trans habitus. Najmabadi’s historical approach locates attitudes in popular media, psychiatry and law in the pre-revolutionary period the better to track the medicalization of transsexuality as co-eval with that of Europe and North America at that time.