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Synopsis

Be Like Others is one of three documentaries about Iran debuting on consecutive Wednesdays on HBO2 in June. The others are: "Letters to the President," (which debuted June 10), showing how promises and propaganda kindle the sometimes desperate hopes of the nation's poor, and "The Queen and I" (June 17), chronicling the friendship between filmmaker Nahid Persson Sarvestani and the deposed Queen Farah, wife of the late Shah of Iran.

More than 20 years ago, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa to make sex change permissible for "diagnosed transsexuals." Today, while Iran's arms program makes headlines around the world, a very private drama is unfolding behind the scenes. Attracted to members of the same sex, yet forced to live in the shadows for fear of retribution, some young Iranian men and women are taking the only course legally open to them. Desiring what one man calls "a decent life," they pursue the drastic measure of having gender reassignment surgery, obtaining the psychiatric note of permission a doctor needs to proceed. Shamed, silenced or socially conditioned into denying their sexuality, they have subscribed, seemingly willingly, to the ideology of the Islamic state, where homosexuality is considered a sin, but transsexuality is accepted, albeit reluctantly.

Be Like Others visits the Tehran medical facility of Dr. Bahram Mir-Jalali, the country's leading sex-change surgeon, who helps candidates for gender reassignment arrange government funding for their procedure while promising that life will be easier after surgery. Explaining the difference between transsexuals, who are accepted in Iran, and homosexuals, who are not, Dr. Mir-Jalali says that those who are truly transsexual will embrace surgery and not worry about the pain, while homosexuals will flee after learning how torturous the procedure and recuperation will be.

Among those featured in Be Like Others are: Anoosh, a 20 year-old whose boyfriend anticipates that the operation will free them from societal shame and the harassment of Iran's morality police; Ali-Askar, a soft-spoken young man who comes from a rural village where his feminine ways made him a target of constant abuse; and Farhad, Ali-Askar's friend, who supports Ali-Askar through surgery, but admits that Iran's Islamic laws drive men like him to make a choice they otherwise would never make. Serving as unofficial mentor and advocate for all three is 26-year-old Vida, who says she was "reborn" ten months earlier when she became a woman, and now counsels them on how to "fit in" before surgery, as well as warning of dangers that might surface afterwards.

Iranian-American Tanaz Eshaghian's personal feature-length documentary "Love Iranian-American Style" premiered in 2006 as part of the New York Jewish Film Festival. Her documentary "I Call Myself Persian" aired on PBS and also screened at the Museum of Modern Art's prestigious Documentary Fortnight. Eshaghian also directed and produced "From Babylon to Beverly Hills: The Exodus of Iran's Jews," which has screened at anthropological film festivals around the world. Be Like Others screened at the Sundance Film Festival and Berlin Film Festival.

Be Like Others is a film by Tanaz Eshaghian; produced by Christoph Jörg; cinematographer, Amir Hosseini; editor, Jay Freund; composer, Henning Lohner

Transsexual in head scarf

Be Like Others