Being Gay In Iran: Coming Out in a Country Where That Can Get You Killed, and the TV Documentary That Outed Me to the World

Published: May 28, 2014

I’m 16.

"May I ask you something personal?"

I know what’s coming.

I look at my aunt as she takes her time to assemble the correct words. She is a tiny, sweet woman wearing a loosely draped head scarf, staring at me with shining dark-brown eyes. I love her more dearly than anything in the world. Of course I will tell her the truth. I can’t think of a reason to hide from her. It isn’t as if she might murder me or run around spreading my secret. She’s not one of those closed-minded, brainwashed people who would automatically judge me. She spent most of her life outside of Iran, living and working as an architect in Norway and Germany. If there is anyone out there who would understand me, it’s her.

"Are you gay, Feri Kitty?" she asks.

My name is Farhad, but since I was little, my aunt has affectionately called me Feri Kitty, referring to my soft spot for kittens.

"You call me Feri Kitty and expect me to be who? Robocop?" I snap. The bitch inside me has been growing day by day.

She just gazes at me. Eventually she smiles and wraps me in her arms. "It’s okay. There’s no need to be aggressive… everything is going to be okay."

I weep into her shoulder and can’t respond.

This is my first coming out.

I’m 17.

I’m lying on my bed, waiting for sleep to take me, when my brother stirs. He and I are sharing a room, and his bed is only a few meters away. He is four years older than I am, but I have always regarded myself as the more mature one.

It’s been six months since the conversation with my aunt.

I can’t make out my brother’s features, but I hear his voice, husky from sleep: "Farhad, who is this new guy you are hanging out with so much? He seems older than you! Is he from your school?"

I am silent for a beat. "You mean Darius?"

"Yes."

"Yep. He’s my friend. Nope. Not from school," I say, trying my best to indicate that I am on the verge of sleep and the conversation is over.

But he barges on: "Where do you know him from, then?"

"Why do you care, you dumbass? Go bug your girlfriend and leave my life to me," I say in my mind. But to my brother, I say: "I met him at a cafe."

Another pause, and then, without a trace of emotion, my brother says: "He is handsome. Is he your boyfriend?"

I am shocked. Is this really my brother? Has he been possessed by some kind of demon? I quickly assess that, although he is not the smartest or even the most open-minded person in the world, he is a good brother, and he has always been there when I’ve needed him. I can trust him with the truth.

I still can’t see his face in the dark, so I’m unable to catch his reaction when I reply, "Yes. He is."

Another heavy pause.

"So, does that mean that you are gay?"

Whoa. "Gay"? Really? I am shocked that he has used the English term. I thought that my brother, like most Iranians, would know only the slang term "sissy." Maybe he’s not as stupid as I thought.

"Yes?" I blurt, stunned.

I wait for him to respond, but nothing comes. I can’t believe it—he just rolls over and goes back to sleep. For fuck’s sake, you just found out that your younger brother is gay! You can’t just nod off and leave it like that! You should say something, you need to say something!

What a dumbass.

Five minutes later, I hear another rustle and see his silhouette shift as he turns back to me.

"Farhad, does that mean that I’m not going to be an uncle?"

Is he trying to act cool? Is that really his primary concern? "I… really don’t know. Maybe someday?"

"Okay," he says, and goes quiet again, leaving me with a head full of racing thoughts.

I’m 18.

I’m sitting in the car with my dad. We are driving to his factory, when he suddenly asks, "Have you decided what you are going to do about your military service?"

"I’m not going," I say, trying to avoid his searching look.

"But every single man must go into the military, unless they can prove some handicap…"

My father is in his 40s and has worked hard all his life. I see the deep lines of experience on his face. Maybe this evidence of wisdom is why I feel so ready to expose myself to him. I don’t know. But I have a feeling that he will accept me.

"I know the rules, Father. I’m not going. I can’t go because of the rule prohibiting homosexuals from serving in the military," I say. Despite my determination, I am unable to keep my voice completely stable.

"But… are you gay?" he says, eyes fixed straight ahead—on the road.

"Yes," I reply. This time, with confidence.

The car fills with silence. After listening to my heart pound and the sounds of the road, I find the courage to say, "Well… aren’t you going to say anything?"

Still staring at the road, my father begins to speak. "We are not stupid, Farhad. We are your parents. I knew the moment I laid eyes on you. I didn’t want to believe it, but I knew."

Perhaps I have misjudged my father. I feel my mouth go dry and I begin to choke up.

"Farhad, I didn’t want to believe it, not because I’m ashamed, but because I know how hard it is for homosexuals in this country. I don’t want my baby boy to be killed by the government just because of his sexual preference. I want the best life for you. I want to send you away. To a safer country. To somewhere no one can hurt you because of the kind of person you love."

As afraid as I am, I understand him completely. I am overwhelmed by feelings of relief and love. I am so fortunate to have such a father, but feel so cursed to know that I will eventually be banished from my homeland. I’ll have to leave Iran eventually. No gay is safe in this country. I heard this from my aunt, years ago, and now I’ve heard it from my father. I know his intentions are good.

I don’t want to break down in front of my father, so I simply smile and try to keep it lighthearted. "Let’s just deal with the military duty first."

He returns my smile, and it lingers as he turns his attention back to the road.

"Thank you for loving me, Dad."

"Always, Son. Always."

I’m 20.

Of course, my father is the one to open the discussion with my mother. He knows exactly how to reason with her, and after three days of tears and talking, she manages to calm down.

In many ways, my mom is my best friend now. I can tell her anything. She loves my boyfriend, Darius, and she is constantly urging me to bring him home for dinner with the family. She is still squeamish about the topic of sex, but I think this is normal for mothers regardless of their son’s orientation.

I’m sitting in the living room with Darius, and the house is empty. I’m kissing him, as I do whenever we have the luxury of being alone together. We are in love, and in these moments, I feel absolute bliss and comfort.

I am thinking about the flavor of his mouth, when the ringing of the telephone pulls me out of the moment.

I reluctantly break away and answer. I recognize my cousin’s familiar voice, but I can tell immediately that something is very, very wrong.

"Farhad. I saw you on the TV," he declares. Coldly.

What? TV? My mind races, but I cannot imagine what he could be referring to. Before I can respond or even question him, he says, "I know what you are. I know what you are and I don’t want to see you anymore."

The line clicks dead.

I’m frozen. I am unable to speak, and Darius grows worried as my face turns pale. I fumble for the remote control, and the TV comes to life. I flip through the channels until I find something unusual. They are showing a documentary about gay people in Iran and letting people around the world know how hard and dangerous it is for gays in this country. The film was made by a Canadian television channel, and it sure seems like they care a lot about the well-being of gays in Iran.

Darius and I are shocked that a documentary on such a subject is being aired. Now some people are talking about their problems in front of the camera, but their faces are blurred. It is interesting, I suppose, but what does it have to do with me? In less than a minute, I have my answer. I begin to feel dread when the camera pans across a restaurant I know well. It is the spot where gay people in Tehran gather every Tuesday. Where I go most Tuesdays. Now the camera is inside the restaurant, and they are showing us. They are showing our faces. They are showing my face. It is obviously shot with a concealed camera. A long lens, zoomed in—my face filling the screen for several seconds. Casually chatting, completely unaware. They are even sure to identify the restaurant by name. And we don’t know we are being filmed. How nice of them: They want to let the world know how miserable gay people are in Iran and how the government kills them because of their orientation, and they come to our community and expose us to everyone? To the hateful government? To our neighbors, friends, and families?

I watch the film until the end. My face was clearly shown, yet I had no clue of the film’s existence until a few minutes ago. I’m shocked. I’m scared. I don’t know what to do. Darius and I sit speechless. According to the documentary, the producers got "group consent," but I never consented to this.

I pick the phone up and call my aunt in Norway. She answers, and I blurt out, "Auntie, I just came out to the world…"

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