Iranian society legalized sex-change operations for “diagnosed” transsexuals 20 years ago under Ayatollah Khomeini. Today that fatwa (religious edict) still stands, though homosexuality is punishable by death. The seemingly diametric views stand at the heart of HBO’s Be Like Others— a documentary following the journeys of young Iranian men determined to procure permission to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. “What drew me to [the idea] was the existence of a world within Iran that I’d never heard about and couldn’t even imagine existing,” says director Tanaz Eshaghian, who was born in Iran. “I wanted to see how Iranian culture is dealing with people who don’t fit into its traditional narrative.”
The men’s stories, as they try desperately to overcome shame and convince families, partners and friends of their desire to become who they know they are, are brave and heart-wrenching. The red tape is dense, the societal danger acute. And the characters—Vida, a 24-year-old woman who underwent the surgery and advices those considering it; the country’s foremost surgeon, who deals with dozens of men seeking the procedure; an isolated post-op woman who regrets going through the transformation and another who revels in the change—put a very real face on an issue seemingly untouched-upon until now. “If you want to be a part of a culture that’s communal, that’s connected, where people take care of each other, where you never feel alone…the price you pay is that you can’t go against the grain,” says Eshaghian. “You have to be like others.” Check HBO.com for air dates of Be Like Others.
Books Looking for a good beach read but not so into the beach? Here are our picks for what—and where—to read alfresco:
ON A TERRACE: Gigi Levangie Grazer’s Queen Takes King (Simon & Schuster). Society doyenne Cynthia Hunsaker Power and her husband of 25 years, developer Jackson Xavier Power (they’re a real “power” couple, get it?) celebrated their anniversary at the Waldorf in the company of 500 of their closest friends. And the next morning? The Post runs photographs of the charmed couple’s party as well as one of Jackson smooching his mistress. Oops. An epic divorce is inevitable, and all the gory details of the Powers’ power split are not to be missed.
ON A STOOP: Frank Bruni’s Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater (Penguin). Bruni’s memoir is less about his charmed life as the Times’ most influential dining critic and more about his complicated relationship with food, although he does dish on both subjects. Of his job, which required him to eat out every day of the week, he says he was unsure how long he’d be able to do it (he lasted five years). Of his bottomless appetite, he writes that the urgency of it sometimes pounded in his head like a drum.
IN A PARK: Lucinda Rosenfeld’s I’m So Happy for You (Back Bay Books). Friendships between females can be a complex affair. You want to be happy for your friend when she succeeds in life, but sometimes—for reasons good, bad and just plain silly—the kind words don’t come easy. Best friends Daphne and Wendy could probably benefit from couples counseling. The petty jealousies between them (whose apartment is bigger, whose boyfriend is cuter, whose life is better) are familiar territory and Rosenfeld writes about them both knowingly and winningly.