Interview by Arsham Parsi
Edited by Max Mosher
This article is courtesy of Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees Inc. (IRQR) and can be found at http://www.irqr.net/English/275.htm.
When my father died, I went only to the first day of the funeral. It was not that I didn’t grieve. No matter how difficult our relationship had been, no matter how many times he yelled at or slapped me, no matter how much I disappointed him because I would never be the son he wanted, he was still my father. I wanted to be there to show my respect, but I could only stomach the dirty looks of my relatives for so long. They didn’t want me to be there. I had known this since the day my father died, discovered laying face down on our living room floor. The day passed by like a blur and I can only remember bits and pieces; my mother trying to wake him; my sister and I calming her down enough to drive to the hospital; the doctor’s cold, direct diagnosis of heart-attack. And I remember when my uncle arrived at our house. “You killed your father,” he muttered to me. “Murderer.”
In school, my classmates and teachers knew I was different before I knew myself. They made fun of my haircut, my fingernails, the way I walked. The names they called me stung like bee stings. When I went to the headmaster he said “Just look at yourself. If you don’t want to be bullied, you better change the way you are.” He was nothing compared to my religion teacher. He had a cane which he called the ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ which he used to punish students for no reason, particularly me. He would ignore other students talking in class and joking around, but when I did it he would humiliate me in front of everyone. One day when he was especially angry he left the ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ at his desk and slapped me across the face. Furious, I screamed, “I am a human and I have rights!” After that, he began punishing me every day. “Yes, you have rights,” he would taunt. “And it is right you are punished.”
My father had thought that if I looked and acted like a normal boy I would become one, as though not plucking my eyebrows would make me into a real man. When I was younger, I would hide my secret personality from my father, but you can only deny who you are for so long. One day, I got my hair dyed blonde and my ears pierced. I wanted to tell my family everything about myself. I knew my father’s reaction would be bad, but I was just as worried about my mother. My mother is kind, but has had a difficult life. She started working very young and it’s no wonder her walk is slow and her grey eyes always seem about to overflow with tears. She never treated me like I might not be normal, but I think that she just wanted to believe that everything would be fine because she couldn’t cope with any more difficulties. One time she told me, “I would rather not think of many bad things because they eventually break you down.”
The first thing my father did when I walked in the door was slap me on the face, yelling “What have you done to yourself?” Instantly, I forgot the entire speech I had been planning for the last two hours. I wanted to say that I liked men, that I wanted to be with someone like myself and that I deserved happiness just like everybody else. Instead, I stammered: “I have signed up for a theatre class and I had to do this for a role.”
“Don’t even think about it!” my father screamed. “You are going to cut your hair immediately, as short as possible.” And I did, of course.
When I was 15 I met Sam. He was eight years older than me, confident and comfortable with himself, a definite grown-up man. Not particularly handsome, he was tall but heavy-set and hairy everywhere except for his head. Without an older brother and almost no friends at school, I was happy to have the attention of this prince-like man. He encouraged me to come out of my shell and would listen attentively to my stories, a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye.
One night he invited me to a party at a friend’s apartment. I didn’t know what to expect. When I was let in I discovered that it was not a regular kind of party. The few guests were all young men, huddled in little groups. They seemed to know each other already and all turned to stare at me. I was used to being looked at in school, but this felt different. Sam came forward, kissed me on the cheek and gave me a big hug, protecting me from the other men with his giant arms. We found a quiet spot away from the other guests.
“When did you know you were gay, Sasan?” he asked abruptly.
“What?!” Not knowing why Sam asked this, I panicked and my mouth went bone dry, but luckily he continued speaking.
“I knew I was gay when I was about your age. I had fooled around with a visiting cousin when I was a child, of course, but that is when I got my first boyfriend. Do you have a boyfriend?”
I was still in shock from Sam’s admission and could only manage to answer, “No.”
“I don’t either. I am currently sleeping with a friend of mine, who is at this party…somewhere.” He looked around. “He’s quite handsome, actually.” Then his voice became more quiet. “Listen, Sasan. I kind of like you and we would like to have sex with you tonight. But there is no pressure and if you want to leave, I understand.” He looked me directly in the eye as he said this.
A part of me wanted to leave, never see Sam again and forget this cramped, shadowy underworld. But then my life would continue as it always had, and I didn’t like it much. Sam had opened the door to a new life and, if I was brave enough, I could step into it.
“Would it be alright,” I finally said, my heart pounding, “if it was just the two of us?”
We went to a bedroom which was illuminated by a single red lamp. Sam locked the door and held out the key. “Would you like to hold onto this until we are done?” he asked.
“It’s okay. I trust you.” And as he began kissing my neck and taking off my clothes, I whispered again and again “I trust you.” It was my first time with a man and I will never forget how he smelled or the sensation of his hairy chest against my skin. We were in the bedroom for about an hour and a half. It was too hot and I had no idea what I was doing, but I wouldn’t give up the memory of that night for the world.
We met up a couple times after that, but when I found out that Sam wanted more from me I stopped sleeping with him, then stopped seeing him altogether. Maybe if I had been more comfortable with myself we could have been real lovers, but who knows.
I met Nima in high school. He was skinny and very pretty, with giant, dark, bewitching eyes. Like myself, he stuck out in class, but whereas I was shy, he talked a lot with the girls (he talked LIKE a girl), waving his hands around and grabbing all the attention. His parents must not have had a problem with his trendy haircut and stylish clothes. It was this, rather than anything he ever said, which made me think he might be like myself.
There was an abandoned building at the bottom of our schoolyard which I never remember being used. Students would often go there during lunch breaks because there was a secret trap door you could hide under. Nima and I were friends, but not good ones, and had never hung out just the two of us. One glaringly-sunny spring day I worked up all of my courage and asked him if he would like to go to the secret hiding place under the trap door with me. As he said yes he smiled and I saw a different Nima than I had known before. Gone was the bravado, the flamboyance of his chattering talk. Instead, he looked gentle and insecure.
We walked to the abandoned building in uncomfortable silence. Once we lifted up the trap door and snuck down into the damp darkness, Nima immediately hugged me. I began to kiss him and smiled in the dark because he tasted like the chewing gum he always had on him. The way he clung to me I realized that Nima was less confident than he always seemed. I enjoyed the feeling that I was making another person feel safe just by holding them in my arms. All good feelings have to end at some point, and this one ended when the trap door suddenly swung open. When our eyes adjusted to the light we saw in terror our headmaster standing over us.
We begged him not to call our parents but to no avail. Trapped in the headmaster’s office, my only hope was that it would be my mother who came to the school. It was with a sinking heart that I spied my father walking down the corridor. After he spoke at length with the headmaster, he collected me outside the office and we walked in silence to the car. Finally I asked what happened. “You are expelled,” he said coldly. “We’re going home.”
As much as I hated the silence, what happened when we got inside our house was even worse. “You are not my son!” my father screamed, a vein in his neck becoming prominent in anger. He didn’t walk over and slap me, so I stood my ground.
“I wanted to tell you but I knew you wouldn’t accept it.” I stated calmly. Then added, absurdly, “I did dye my hair…”
My father paced back and forth and ran his hands through his hair. I could see how sweaty he had become. Eventually, he said down on the sofa and lit a cigarette. I suddenly wanted to comfort him for what he was going through. I took two steps towards him but he snapped, “Don’t sit beside me! Go to your room.” Furious, I ran upstairs and didn’t come down till morning. That was the day we found him on the floor.
The hardest one to deal with was my sister. My beautiful big sister, who had let me go shopping with her and pick out sparkly things for her to try on, who had passively accepted who I was by never asking me about it, now looking at me with the same accusing eyes of my uncle.
Years later, I think my family still think I killed my father.
The only bright spot in my life after that was Rahim. He loved the outdoors, running, swimming, hiking. He had a very athletic body, but the face of an innocent boy. He was the kindest man I had been with and in some ways he was too good for me. We worked at a tour agency together doing camping trips in the forests outside Semnan. Whenever we could manage it, we arranged our days off together so we could go on romantic walks. I remember one day when we were sitting under a big tree and he was resting his head on my knee. He told me that I was his first boyfriend and that he was scared of being hurt. “Either you will turn out to be a good man or an asshole,” he said laughing. “I hope you are the first one.”
“Me too,” I said and leaned down to kiss him.
One camping trip I was assigned a group of thirty and realizing that I would need help my bosses allowed Rahim to come along. We thought we were so lucky! After a fun, tiring day of hiking we set up our tents in a clearing in the forest. Around 8.30 that night the police showed up. This was not that surprising, as they often show up to make sure everyone is following Islamic rules, for instance making sure there are no co-ed tents. They checked all my licence and my ID and seemingly satisfied, left. Everyone was so tired we didn’t even wait for the embers of the bonfire to die down before returning to our tents. Rahim and I, being the team leaders, had our own tent and we set it up a bit away from the others.
“Oh, it’s getting chilly,” I said. “Do you mind if I climb into your sleeping bag?”
“Not at all,” Rahim said smiling and made room for me. He cuddled in each other’s arms and I felt like I had never been happier. That is when, without warning, the returning police officers opening up the tent flap and shined a flashlight on us.
Trying to stay calm, I got up and began getting dressed but before I knew what was happening the officer had pulled me outside the tent and was screaming. “If this is what the leaders are doing, what about the campers?!” The others began coming out from their tents and staring at us. The second office swung his flash light in their eyes as though they were all guilty. “Let me see your ID again!” the officer screamed.
“It’s inside the tent,” I said, freeing my arm from his grip and going back inside. Rahim has put his pants on and looked at me terrified. I was reminded of a child afraid of monsters in his closet and I wish I knew how to calm him down.
“What should we do?” he whispered. I slipped on my pants and thought for a moment.
“Run. Run as fast as you can!” And with that, we both bounded out of the tent. We ran past the startled officers, past the gap-mouthed campers and into the darkness. I could hear yelling behind me but I didn’t dare look back. In my mind, we were running like one, moving deftly like heroes in an action movie, dodging trees and animals and police officers on our way to freedom and each others’ arms. At some point I realized that Rahim was not running right behind me. That he was left, I had left him, way back there with the police.
I was exhausted, but the fear kept me running and running until I found myself at a road. I stood at that dark road for what seemed like an eternity until I saw the headlights of a car. With no money on me, all I could promise was that I could pay them at the front door of my house. Luckily, the driver agreed.
My house was all dark. My mother was asleep, but my sister was awake. She pestered me about what happened, but all I wanted to do was call my boyfriend’s cell phone. It rang with no answer. I could sleep, so I tried reaching him over and over again. Eventually, around dawn, I passed out with my cell phone still in my hand.
The call from the camping agency woke me up. “Where are you? What happened? The police were here this morning, asking after you! What’s going on?”
“Where’s Rahim?” I asked, unable to think of anything else.
“In jail!” my boss cried. “Which is where you will be soon if they track you down!” Then he started to say that my group of campers was threatening to sue the company and I hung up the phone.
I went downstairs and found my sister. I told her everything. For the first time, I was completely honest with a member of my family. I had opened the floodgates and now all my stories came gushing out. I told her everything, from the harassment at my school to running away from the camp site. She listened silently until I was done.
“Don’t tell Mom anything,” she finally said. “Just go. Somewhere, anywhere. We can’t take this. We already had enough problems.”
I stayed at a friend’s house for a couple days, but he thought I should run away as well. I would have gone to another city, but he said that if the police could find me in Tehran they could find me anywhere in Iran. After finding out about Arsham Parsi and his organization, I raised 700 dollars from my friends and boarded a flight to Turkey.
I know that the police visited my house and my mother said she didn’t know where I was. I don’t know what happened to Rahim. I loved him but I left him alone when he needed me most. I wonder every day if he thinks I became the asshole. It’s like a physical pain not knowing, but by running away I also got the one thing I always wanted: my freedom. I can’t blame myself any more. I don’t want anything special. I just want to live and be who I am and love who I love. I don’t think that is asking too much.