by Huma Munshi
Facing Mirrors (2011) is a Farsi film which tells the story of young trans man, Eddie, as he struggles to escape a family who are forcing him into marriage so that they may maintain their family ‘honour’. One of the most poignant films that I’ve seen on honour-based oppression, Facing Mirrors juxtaposes an oppressive culture with a legal framework that not only allows gender reassignment surgery, but also boasts some of the highest rates in the world. Shown at the Iranian Film Festival, the story makes a powerful statement, demonstrating that laws are seemingly pointless in the face of bigotry and intolerance.
The movie follows Eddie, played by Shayesteh Irani, a cis woman actor, tracing his attempt to leave behind a forced marriage instigated by his father, in order to get to Norway, where he can access gender reassignment surgery. During his journey, he is picked up by Rana, a taxi driver played by Qazal Shakeri, who faces her own troubles as she tries desperately hard to make ends meet whilst her husband is in prison. The two lead actors are outstanding in their roles.
There is a parallel struggle for survival for the two leads in the face of oppression and prejudice. For Rana, it is having to conceal her job as a taxi driver from her in-laws (respectable women do not drive taxis); and for Eddie, it is the struggle to have his identity as a trans man accepted. The journey of their relationship, metaphorically represented by Rana taking Eddie to her home for safety when he is being street harassed, mirrors a wider journey of understanding between the two characters.
Eddie is keen to stay in Iran but faces multiple instances of prejudice and oppressive practices which violate his identity. For example, due to strict religious laws, he must wear a headscarf (as women in Iran must) or be arrested because he is read as a woman. Eddie’s pain is evident when Rana tells him that she maintains her safety as a taxi driver and upholds legal restrictions by only picking up women. This instance is illustrative of how the character is repeatedly misgendered, compounding his feelings of alienation. The incongruence between what Eddie is and feels, and what others perceive him to be, is painful to view.
There is a pivotal moment in the film when Rana goes to Eddie’s family home to plead with Eddie’s father to stop the forced marriage. The dialogue between the father and this very traditional and religiously observant woman, lays bare the two sides of a coin. The father speaks from a place of prejudice cloaked in the language of ‘honour’ and maintaining family status, whilst Rana, who has learnt through human interaction, speaks of unconditional love and acceptance of your children. That it comes from a woman who had physically recoiled at the concept of a trans* person (she had slapped Eddie when he had first come out to her) made the change that much more powerful.
Iran is second only to Thailand in its rates of gender reassignment surgery, but this has much to do with homophobia. Same-sex relationships are not tolerated so allowing gender reassignment surgery to uphold the façade of a heterosexual relationship is preferred. The case of a cis woman marrying her trans man partner highlights this. A cis woman was given permission by her father to marry her trans man partner, but only after gender reassignment surgery. This was on the condition that the partner undergo a medical examination intended to prove that the union was a “proper male-female relationship”.
It is worth noting that as powerful as Facing Mirrors is, the opportunity to play a trans* character is not given to a trans man. As in many other films, Dallas Buyers Club comes to mind with Jared Leto’s highly problematic portrayal of a trans woman, it is cis people who are afforded the opportunity to play trans* characters. It is important to note the cis privilege that affords cis actors the opportunity to play trans* characters but never vice- versa, adding to the invisibility of trans* people.
Facing Mirrors is a powerful and beautifully shot film. The mountainous landscape during the taxi ride provides a fitting backdrop to a much more painful and important journey. The story does much to shed light on the multiple forms of discrimination that trans* people face, as well as the micro-aggressions that are just as painful, such as being forced to wear the headscarf as a result of being misgendered. In this instance, maintaining ‘honour’ was used as a reason to subjugate Eddie, but this is just another side to institutional and cultural transphobia.
Huma Munshi started the #fuckhonour hashtag to express her anger at the oppression women have experienced. She is a writer, poet, blogger and trade unionist. She is a regular contributor to Media Diversified, F-Word and Time to Change.
She has written widely on honour based violence, mental health, film and intersectionality. Her weekly column will reflect her passion for activism, a feminism that reflects her own experiences as an Asian Muslim woman, film reviews and current affairs. Read more of her articles here
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