“Though I keep hidden and do not speak, in the presence of Love I am manifest. I am like a seed under the soil, I am waiting upon the signal of spring.” — Rumi
In my dad’s words: “Don’t worry, I’ll find you a nice Iranian boy”.
There were always unspoken rules in my house, though I’ve never been particularly gutsy. I rarely partied as a teenager, never smoked weed, and made a point of excelling in school. Without realizing it, I was collecting blameless daughter brownie points in hopes of softening the blow of my inevitable coming out.
“The Iranian queer’s fight for survival, liberty, and dignity begins first and foremost as a struggle for acknowledgement and existence.” (Arsham Parsi 49)
I held my breath, walked on eggshells for months, recoiled into myself; I didn’t want to upset my father more than necessary. When my first relationship ended, the one that propelled my coming out, we were at a stalemate. The truth I was forced to confide in him was suddenly forgotten. Ignored. There were no more angry phone calls, no palpable disappointment—just silence. A tacit “we don’t speak about that”. In his eyes, I became a kind of sexless blob.
“Gaining access to cyberspace within the changing societal contexts, young Iranians are expanding their social horizons through virtual spaces. For LGBTs, the virtual reality is both empowering and agonizing.” (Reza Afshari 818)
The first person I remember coming out to was my internet friend, Christy. We were both obsessed with the 2014 Broadway revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. She gave sound advice that felt like a pat on the head from a wise older sister. She told me she had a Masters in Creative Writing. I deduced that she was in her early 40s. We still follow each other on Instagram.
“[Given the probation on homosexuality] some homosexual individuals in Iran have been pressured to undergo sex reassignment surgery in order to avoid legal and social persecution. Iran carries out more sex reassignment surgeries than any other country in the world after Thailand.” (Wikipedia)
In the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hansel, a gay youth from East Berlin, is forced to undergo gender reassignment surgery in order to marry an American solider and move to the U.S. After a year of living in a Kansas trailer park, Hansel (now Hedwig)’s husband ditches her—for a man—leaving Hedwig divorced, broke, and a woman in a foreign country.
“In Iran, the Penal Code proscribes same-sex sexual expression and imposes harsh sentences. A man found guilty of kissing another man ‘with lascivious intent’ is punishable ‘by up to 60 lashes of the whip’ (Article 124). Likewise, Tafkhiz—non-penetrative sex—and other sexual behavior between two men are punishable by 100 lashes to each partner. Four convictions of Tafkhiz may lead to the death penalty (as does sexual ‘penetration’).” (Parsi 50)
I think I’ve been in love. Once. We met in the ninth grade and never dated. We had a falling out a few years ago, but if she contacted me tomorrow saying she needed a kidney, and I was a match, I’d probably give her one of mine.
“Queer Iranians live in an atmosphere of uncertainty, peril, and pressure.” (Parsi 50)
I feel that my lifestyle is unsustainable. Many in this situation would opt for an act of self-destruction or escape, but some of us just don’t act; when presented with an emotionally crippling situation we wait for a time and place in which we can exhale, though it may never come.
My father is a product of his upbringing and, despite everything, is a genuinely peaceful person. I can’t vilify him. I just wonder how much of our lives we’re meant to sacrifice in order to appease someone else. (Are we expected to wait until our loved ones are gone before we truly start living?)
In my dad’s words: “People change, I know they do.”
I hope so.
- Afshari, Reza. “LGBTs in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 38, no. 3, Aug. 2016, pp. 814–834.
- Parsi, Arsham. “Iranian Queers and Laws Fighting for Freedom of Expression.” Harvard International Review, vol. 36, no. 2, Fall 2014/Winter 2015, pp. 49–53.
- “LGBT rights in Iran.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 5 November 2019. Web. 7 November 2019, en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=LGBT_rights_in_Iran&oldid=924661794