(Persia Digest) – Saman Arastou, theater director, has talked to Persia Digest about transgender life in Iran, his plays, and the power of the theater in raising awareness to censored situations.
Arastou had a sex change a number of years ago. Over the past few days, he staged a play entitled “The idle self-employed” with a transgender cast. Earlier, he had staged the plays “Everyone knows me” and “Be the one you are not”, all in all a trilogy on transgender life in Iran.
What is the transgender situation today as compared to previous years?
It’s much improved. People are more aware of their situation and there are fewer odd looks. Although, the transgender people themselves don’t really try to become more aware of their situation. Their unacceptance of themselves is now creating issues for them. We have transgender translators, solicitors, and doctors in Iran who are too afraid of revealing their true selves. If they do so, society will also accept them.
What is your view of the transgender situation?
Men and women can be placed on a spectrum and we are born transgender on this spectrum. We can move up and down this range with surgical procedures, if they are carried out properly, towards being a man or a woman. I say properly because there are surgeons in Iran who cut nerves that shouldn’t be cut, and this becomes problematic. We don’t have enough surgeons for this precise procedure in Iran. It is also very expensive.
To what extent can the theater raise awareness on social issues which can at times also be its red line? Is this not a virtue of the arts?
In my 42 years of life, I have heard people say a transgender is a disaster of nature time and again. This is a common view. A few years back, my group and I staged a play on the transgender subject. Although there was no backdrop there and the feedback was diverse, we still did what we had to do. These days, a transgender player is invited to act in a play or movie for the production to make money.
In our plays on the transgender situation, we invited their families to the playhouse. In the play “You all know me”, we asked them on-stage in part of the act to complete the chain.
We have no media here to raise awareness on the physical and mental issues faced in such a situation but the theater. If there is no culture-making, the transgender in Iran have the life that they have. Instead of taking their children to a psychologist, most families throw them out and let them lose in society. And people also face them with ignorance. We don’t know what happens to this group in Iranian society. We seem to dwarf it rather than raise awareness.