Everything about Amir appears masculine: his broad chest, muscled arms, dark full beard and deep voice.
But, in fact, Amir was a woman until four years ago, when, at the age of 25, he underwent the first of a series of operations that would change his life.
Since then he has had 20 operations and expects four more. And Amir, who as a woman was married twice to men his second husband helped with the transition and remains a good friend is now engaged to marry a woman."
I love my life and I'm happy, as long as no one knows about my past identity," said Amir, who asked that his full name not be published. "No one has been more helpful than the judge, who was a cleric and issued the permit for my operation."
After decades of repression, Iran's Islamic government is recognizing people with sexual-identity disorders and allowing them to have sex-change operations and obtain new birth certificates.
Before the 1979 Islamic revolution, there was no particular policy regarding transsexuals. Iranians with the inclination, means and connections could obtain the necessary medical treatment and new identity documents.
The new religious government, however, classed transsexuals and transvestites with gays and lesbians, who were condemned by Islam and faced the punishment of lashing under Iran's penal code.
But these days, Iran's Muslim clerics, who dominate the judiciary, are considerably better informed about transsexuality. Some clerics now even recommend sex-change operations to those who are troubled about their sex.
The issue was discussed at a conference in Tehran in June that drew officials from other Gulf countries. One cleric, Muhammad Mehdi Kariminia, is writing his thesis at the religious seminary of Qom on transsexuality."
All the clerics and researchers at the seminary encouraged me to work on the subject," he said in an interview.
"They said that my research can help change the social stigma attached to these people and clarify religious decrees on the matter."
One early campaigner for transsexual rights is Maryam Hatoon Molkara, who formerly was a man known as Fereydoon.
Before the revolution, under the shah, he had longed to become a woman but could not afford surgery. Furthermore, he was a devout Muslim and wanted religious guidance.
In 1978, he wrote to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was to become the leader of the revolution but was still in exile, explaining his situation.
The ayatollah replied that his case was different from that of a homosexual and therefore Fereydoon had Khomenei's blessing.
However, the revolution intervened and men like Fereydoon or those who had already changed their sex were harassed, even jailed and tortured.
"They made me stop wearing women's clothes, which I had worn for many years and was used to," Molkara said. "It was like torture for me. They even made me take hormones to look like a man."
It took him until 1986 to get government permission to proceed with surgery. But he could not afford the operation and did not have it until 1997, when he underwent a sex-change operation in Bangkok. The Iranian government covered the expenses.
Four years ago, Molkara established an organization to help those with sexual-identity problems. Co-founders include Ali Razini, head of the of the Special Court of Clergy, a branch of the judiciary that deals only with clerics, and Zahra Shojai, Iran's vice president for women's affairs.
An Islamic philanthropic group known as the Imam Khomeini Charity Foundation has agreed to provide loans of $1,200 to help pay for sex-change surgery.
To obtain legal permission for sex-change operations and new birth certificates, applicants must provide medical proof of sexual-identity disorder.
The process can take years. It also involves considerable expense. In Tehran, the initial male-to-female surgery runs about $4,000. So far, Amir has spent $12,000 on medical procedures.
The people who pursue this route come from many different backgrounds. Dr. Bahram Mir-djalali, one of Tehran's few sex-change surgeons, said one of his patients had been a member of the Revolutionary Guards who served five years in the war with Iraq.
His operation was paid for by a Muslim cleric he had worked for as a secretary.
After the operation, the man-turned-woman divorced, and then married the cleric."
When she came to see me years later, she was wearing a chador," the doctor recalled, referring to the black head-to-toe garb worn by religious women. "She took off the chador, and there was no sign of the bearded man I had operated on."
Many who cannot deal with the legal and financial obstacles to a surgical solution have to deal with humiliation in their daily lives.
One 27-year-old man said he had run away from home at the age of 14 because he did not dare tell his family of his urge to become a woman.
He wants to be known as Susan and wears women's clothes at home but emerges dressed this way only at night.
He says that the constant need for secrecy has left him severely depressed."
I have suffered all my life," he said, constantly adjusting his long curly hair to cover his sideburns.
In a society where men enjoy a higher status than women, the stigma against any man who wants to be a woman is especially strong."
They compliment a girl who behaves and dresses like a man as a strong person, but they look down at us and despise us," said Assal, who was disowned by her father for having surgery to become a woman.
Mir-djalali said he had to fight on many fronts to help more than 200 patients who had consulted him in the 12 years he performed sex-change operations.
Even if Iran's Muslim clerics are more understanding now of transsexuals' needs, others are not."
We have a problem even deciding at which hospital to do the surgery because society considers these people deviant," he said.
He said one patient's father had pulled a knife on him in his office, and threatened to kill him if he touched the man's son.
"What we really need to help these people," Mir-djalali said, "is a serious cultural campaign."