Kelly Sans Culotte

Gay Mundo

The Iranian Closet
When your family would rather see you dead than gay.
By Dr. Ali Zarrabi

Dr. Ali Zarrabi

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NOVEMBER 20, 2003. In 1989, after years of living in the closet both in Iran and Germany, I finally reached the point where I saw only two options: either I had to kill myself and end my depressed, closeted existence, or accept myself and deal with the consequences. I came out that year in June, when I went to my first Gay Pride in Berlin holding hands with another man.

My feelings of fear and shame have changed to anger: at my parents, my society, and the culture they forced on me. I'm angry at my parents for making my childhood such a constant hell. For not being there when I had to hide and cry because somebody, again, made a derogatory remark about me.

I'm angry at the entire Iranian society for their homophobia: there are other options. In early Native American societies, if a young boy showed no interest for so-called masculine activities, he wouldn't be sent hunting or horse-back riding with his father: he would be allowed to stay home to help with the chores around the house. These boys were never forced to marry when they grew up. Instead, they could become something more compatible with their nature, often healers.

A Gay Child
Being born a gay child in an Iranian family means being ignored or ridiculed for the first twenty or thirty years of your life.

By the time I was 5 years old, every kid on my street, the neighbors' sons and all my cousins knew that I was different. They would make fun of me for not wanting to play soccer, and preferring more creative and artistic games. My father used to get angry any time I wanted to dance.

To force you to do what they want, Iranian families use the constant refrain, "after all that we have done for you," holding over your head the food and shelter they provide, something you could have gotten in any orphanage. They also use the guilt about their financing your education, something they mostly do to make up for their own failures in life.

The worst is the pressure to get married. They use every tactic, including their health: "Your father will die if you don't marry soon." They talk constantly about some neighbors' son whose newly-wedded wife is pregnant: "They are such a lovely couple."

The pressure to marry is so unbearable that many gay men and lesbians succumb to it and surrender. Forcing a gay adult male to marry a woman equals psychological mutilation. After ruining your childhood and forcing you to pursue a career you don't want, they then have to make sure that every single moment of the rest of your life is lived in misery and agony.

I am not heterophobic, but I would rather die than live the rest of my life with a Persian woman, lay down with her in the same bed and every night come up with some excuse for not wanting to have sex with her.

The Neighbors
You have to understand that the average Iranian family lives for the mardom, their neighbors and relatives. They don't have an individual life: everything is done to satisfy the opinion of the mardom. The clothes you wear, the car you drive, the parties you have, your life and soul, everything is for the mardom. The typical Iranian family would rather see their son dead than gay.

The parents of one of my friends pressured him to attempt suicide. They openly asked him to either become "normal" or to kill himself. That didn't work, but they managed to send him somewhere very far away, so none of the mardom would recognize him. They are willing to lose their son, just for the mardom.

When I was in the closet, and suffering through medical school, I became obsessed about my sister's welfare. I thought, "If I come out no decent Iranian man will ever marry her. Maybe I should wait until she gets married, then come out. But what if she never gets married? What if her future husband forbids her to see me if I come out?"

I didn't see myself as my sister's equal. She had the right to have a happy family with a husband. But did she recognize my right to have a loving and caring man in my life? Would she wait until I found my lover, then get married? I am the older one after all. Why would I want a homophobic Iranian man as my brother-in-law, anyway? Homophobia is not a single disorder. It is usually associated with sexism and machismo. Why would I want my sister to marry such a guy?

Arranged Marriages
Besides homophobia, there's also custom to contend with. The average Iranian family is the result of a forced marriage. I am talking about our parents' generation. I don't know how things are these days. As a result, husbands and wives rarely share romantic feelings, let alone love. They often covertly dislike or openly hate each other.

It's not easy to tell them that you want to be with somebody because you love or like him. I'm sure young Iranian heterosexuals have the same problems with the older generation. How can you make your old-fashioned parents understand that?

This is a very difficult task, but not impossible. It requires lots of learning on their side. If they really loved their gay son, they would try to understand him. Fearing rejection, and worse, many gay Iranian men instead decide to hide their true selves from their parents, cutting them out of their lives.

Solitary Confinement
The many years of my life when I was stuck in the closet were a kind of solitary confinement. The word "closet" matches very well the condition I was in. A closet is a small, dark place where you can hardly move or breath. You sit there and hope that nobody finds you. I used to ask myself what would happen if I came out of the closet, and maybe worse, what would happen to me if I stayed in. I wondered what my parents would do if they found out. I used to feel sorry for them for having a gay son.

It was like being trapped in a swamp. I couldn't move forward or backward. Every day brought a new depth of depression. I used to ask myself and God thousands of times a day, "Why me?" At some point, when I was living in Germany, I was so isolated that I wouldn't speak to anybody for days even though I was living in a big city.

I dreamed of having an Iranian boyfriend, hoping that some day he would come and help me come out of the closet. He would replace the family that I had left in Iran, take care of my loneliness, help me accept and find myself, and solve all the other small or big problems that I had. I was waiting for my savior. Of course, he never came along.

Tipping the Balance
The turning point came as I was finishing medical school in Germany. As the stress let up from exams and lectures, and I became less financially dependent on my parents, my choice became, literally, do or die. That's when I went to my first Gay Pride.

Shortly after that I moved to New York, started a job and took my first steps towards real freedom. I soon had an American boyfriend that I used to even take to official parties at my job. Being gay was the most normal thing in the world. I had little contact with other Iranians in New York. That was something that I missed tremendously.

In 1998, like many other Iranians before me, I moved to Los Angeles. After being away from the Iranian culture for twenty years, I was back in the middle of it again, dealing with their homophobia and prejudice. I kept a low profile until I fell in love with an Iranian, the one I thought would be the man of my dreams.

After a very short romance, reality caught up with us. He was extremely closeted, and under a lot of pressure from his family to marry an Iranian girl. Our relationship fell apart under the pressure. I was left heart-broken and devastated, hating my culture and people even more than before.

At that time, there was nothing to help Iranians in Los Angeles to come out, or to show them it is possible to be gay and have a life. That was when I came up with the idea of starting the Iranian Gay and Lesbian Healthcare Workers Association, an organization that fights homophobia in Iranian society, analyzes gay relationships, and tries to make it easy for people to come out, accept themselves, and encourage their families to respect them.

I believe, there has been a change in the last few years. There are more openly gay Iranians who are proud of who they are. But the one I loved, and still love, remains in his lonely closet, caught in the web of family and tradition.

From the Web

Iranian Gay/Lesbian Healthcare Workers Association
Khanaye Doost: For Iranian lesbian, bisexual and transgendered women
The LGBT Iranian group Homan: LA Chapter
HURIYAT, A magazine for GLBT muslims
Al-Fatiha Foundation

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