Early Transgender Case In Iran
The Story of ‘Iran’s Christine’, Farhad Najafi (1953)

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | June 29, 2021                               


On February 12, 1953, a lady stepped off a plane at Idyllwild Airport in New York, swarmed by press men there to cover her return home from Europe. The 26 year-old blonde had became virtually overnight an object of fascination, an internationally known figure who seemed mystified, if flattered, by all the publicity.

Christine Jorgensen (1926-1989) As the first American to go public about her gender transformation, Christine Jorgensen was certainly unique. The New York Daily News was the first to break the story of George Jorgensen, the former photographer and WWII Army GI turned entertainer who in 1952, after two years of hormone treatment, underwent sex change surgery in Denmark.

Jorgensen’s courageous journey partially inspired the sympathetic/exploitative movie Glen or Glenda? (1953). The semi-autobiographical film was directed by and starring low budget auteur Ed Wood, himself a heterosexual cross dresser.

Amazingly, Jorgensen had eluded the “Lavender Scare”, a sub-genre of the McCarthyite “Red Scare” era. In April 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, purging thousands of gays and lesbians from the U.S. military and federal government on the grounds that they threatened national security. Apparently unbeknownst to Eisenhower, his own National Security Adviser, Robert Cutler, who helped implement his anti-gay policy, was in fact a closeted homosexual.

On June 24th, Jorgensen met privately “in the interests of science”, with Dr. Alfred Kinsey in Indiana. The second Kinsey Report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was finally released on August 20th, further pushing the boundaries of open discourse on human sexuality and its myriad forms.

The Kinsey book and its cultural shockwaves coincided with reports of a violent, royalist military coup in Iran, which was actually a covert operation staged by the Eisenhower administration and Britain. By Autumn, ‘Iran’s Christine’ was making news, too.

Farideh Najafi Farideh Najafi was an androgynous 16 year-old girl from Shabestar, Azerbaijan whose lifelong ambition was to join the Iranian army. “My voice changed two months ago and as a result mother became doubtful whether I was a boy or girl”, she told reporters.

In September, clad in a chador, she arrived at Pahlavi Hospital in Tehran to begin the first of three operations to become fully male.

Najafi’s story was written up by The Associated Press’ Don Schwind, who delivered a cursory account of the young tomboy “awaiting the surgeon’s scalpel that will make her a soldier of the Shah.”

Though Schwind made no mention of Jorgensen, media comparisons were inevitable. The Daily News’ Sept 16th headline was “Iran Chris In Reverse Can’t Wait to Be a Man”. Other U.S. headlines included “Iranian Girl To Reverse Performance Of Christine” and “Iran’s Reverse ‘Christine’ Eyes Life as Soldier”.

To prepare for the transition, Najafi got a short haircut and chose a new masculine name—Farhad.

Transformed: Farhad Najafi post-surgery in the hospital room with medical staff.

Decades later, Jorgensen came to a realization that she felt helped explain all the hoopla surrounding her: that whole period was just the beginning stage of what would become the sexual revolution. Well-spoken and good humored, she remained a public figure throughout her life, and died in Southern California in 1989 at age 62.

As for whatever happened to Farhad Najafi (فرهاد نجفی), that seems to be a mystery. The media never followed up on his story. But almost surely he, like his much better known U.S. counterpart, made history as the first high profile transgender case in his country.

Farideh Najafi > Farhad Najafi

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Related links:

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on Persian Women and Their Role in Iran (1967)

Is Dr. Mossadegh a parrot, a sheep, a man or a woman? (1951)

Tehran, Iran Labeled "The Craziest City in the World" (1951)



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