In 1985 Faridun (later Maryam) Mulkara’s effective lobbying of the religious-political establishment in Iran culminated in a fatwa by none other than Ayatollah Khomeini sanctioning sex reassignment surgery. Transsexuality, which had been a topic of curiosity and fascination approached through notions of natural occurrences, insanity, or deviance, now entered the legal and medical discourse. Merging Islamic jurisprudence with sexology and psychiatry, Khomeini’s edict had important repercussions on the history and production of modern subjectivity in Iran, on the role of Islam as an epistemological discipline, and on the relation between the law and social perceptions. Equally important in this event was the activism of Mulkara, who brazenly met Khomeini to make her case.

What appears as a top-down ruling by Iran’s supreme leader was in fact the outcome of a network of forces with a long and intricate...

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