She earned her acting credentials playing female characters in a host of hit films and television dramas. Now one of Iran’s best-known screen actors has ditched her previous persona to embark on a new career playing male roles.
However, Saman — formerly Farzaneh — Arastu’s gender transformation has little to do with dramatic talents. Instead she has turned into a he by becoming the first known Iranian actor to undergo a sex change operation.
Following a career as a female actor, Arastu, 42, has already played one role as a man after taking advantage of surprisingly liberal laws that make Iran second only to Thailand for carrying out the most sex change operations.
The cameo role in Anahita, a recent film about a group of students doing research into water molecules, came only a year after playing a woman in another cinema production, The Extorter. While homosexuality is outlawed as a sin under Iran’s Shariah legal code, sex changes are legal as the result of a fatwa issued by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Conservative attitudes mean there is greater social tolerance for women undergoing operations to become men than the other way around. Government aid is available for gender change surgery.
Arastu told an Iranian magazine the decision to change sex had been driven by the lifelong feeling of being a male trapped inside a female body. The courage to undergo surgery had been plucked up only after years of counseling.
“Now I feel totally well,” Arastu said. “Previously there was only fear and depression in my eyes. I was always hiding myself and justifying myself.”