Sara, a bright young woman studying for a masters at Tehran University, is a lesbian – but if the Iranian authorities had their way, she would change her sex and become a man.

Homosexuality is considered sinful in predominantly Muslim Iran, and homosexual acts are illegal. Sex changes, however, are legal and appear to be positively encouraged by doctors and psychologists as “treatment” for people who prefer their own sex.

When Sara came out to her family nine years ago at the age of 20, she was sent to a psychologist who declared after one 40-minute consultation that she should have a sex change.

“She said I was really a man in a woman’s body and I had to change my body to suit my personality. My sister had brought a photo along, (taken when) I was maybe 5 years old. I was wearing boy’s clothes and had a toy gun in my hand and the psychologist emphasised that this photo showed that I was a man,” Sara told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I was shocked because I had never wanted to be a man and I really liked my body. I had never had problems with my female body. I had emotions towards girls, rather than boys, but I could only imagine myself as a girl loving another girl, not as a man.”