What is like to be young, gay and a devout Muslim in Iran? It is a matter of choosing between love and religion, writes Amir Hossein
My name is Amir Hossein. I am 18 years old and live in Turkey as a refugee. Since I was an adolescent, I have considered myself a civil rights activist.
I did not grow up in a religious family, but my interest in arts led me to get to know religious groups. Through my school bus driver, I became interested in a theater company that wanted to stage a play about Shia imams. At the same time, I started studying Islamic books and gravitating towards Islam.
On a June day in 2009, with my face painted green, and while I was on the way from Mir Hossein Mousavi’s campaign headquarters to Danesh Swimming Pool, I met Iman. He was distributing tracts for Ahmadinejad’s headquarters. Being on opposing sides became an excuse to talk, which in turn led to our friendship. It lasted for seven or eight months and ended up in a thwarted love.
Our discussions and talks revolved around religion and the political and social future of Iran. I accompanied him everywhere, being happy to have found a Basiji seminary student who could answer my religious questions and talk to me about various topics. I was 13, and he was six or seven years older than me. I remember very well when he used to ask, “Have I got a leash on you so that you are following me everywhere?” Or he used to say, “People tell me that I must be a child molester because you follow me so much.” This was the worst thing that people could say about Iman and me. We were not sexually involved and I had no idea about sexual relations between two men. I was loathe to put a sexual label on my needs and my thoughts, and to subject myself to others’ moral judgement.
From childhood I knew I was different from others, so homosexuality was not a stranger to me, but I did not want to give it a name. I wanted to remain a “safety match”, a wry nickname given to me because I showed no interest in the opposite sex. I believed that I was committing no sin as a Muslim since my understanding was that only touching the sexual organ of another man constituted sexual relations and was considered a sin.
I had nothing in common with my classmates in secondary school. They watched porn and their sexual fantasies were filled with women. I did not watch porn because of my religious beliefs. And I could not talk to them about my sexual interests and thoughts.
Eventually, accusations of sexual relations between Iman and me and his marriage led me to cut all relations with him. In spite of my affection for him, I bid him farewell forever.
When Iman became engaged, I was so angry that for a while I sank into depression. He was my boyfriend and I could not let go of him so easily, especially since I had not had a sexual relationship with him.
Sexual Harassment as the Norm
All throughout my childhood and adolescence, my family and classmates humiliated me because of my “girlish” demeanor and appearance. They accused me of not having a “manly” behavior. For example, they asked why I was interested in artistic activities instead of picking up a screwdriver. I was beaten up many times at primary school for no reason at all. For somebody like me, sexual harassment in Iran becomes ordinary after a while, from the cabdriver who drove over my foot to somebody rubbing his body against mine in a crowded bus. But I was denied sexual relationships.
At that time, I had no idea of what a full sexual relationship between two men meant, and this made understanding the accusations against me even more difficult. All these factors made me seek shelter in a friendship with a man with whom I should not have become involved. Suddenly, I became aware that I was under the body of a religious man whom I had trusted. For the first time, I was in the arms of a man, and this aroused contradictory emotions in me, from an unconscious pleasure to a sense of fear and loathing of an unwanted embrace. I see that friendship and that unwanted sex as rape, even though there was no penetration. I still feel its bitterness and violence.
This incident made me leave the religion that I had chosen myself; I had respected its rituals and its customs. I no longer wanted to pray or to do what was required of me religiously. The irony of it all is that I experienced my first love with a religious man.
During those days, I spent my time in mosques and among people in the streets to find out their views about challenging social issues. And one of those days I met Hossein at one of the mosques.
“A Christian Raised in Europe”
Hossein was a seminary student and always eagerly asked me to accompany him to the mosque, but he would tell me to pretend that I was “a Christian raised in Europe,” so as to prevent any problems because of my appearance and my views. We kissed many times and touched each other. Our phone conversations were so lengthy that those around us noticed our special relationship. But after our first sexual act, Hossein distanced himself from me and kept that distance. I do not exaggerate when I say Hossein fell in love with me at first sight and that we were in love with each other. It was very hard for me to accept that a person I had found after such difficulty and whom I loved so much was distancing himself from me. After many months of going everywhere together, he was forced to choose between his beliefs and love. Unfortunately he chose his beliefs.
Hossein still lives in Iran. Because of this I cannot even talk about the love of my life, somebody with whom I had the most intimate relations out of my own free will. But even more difficult was the fact that our families found out about our relationship. For my family and friends, I changed from a quiet and studious boy to a slut, without honor and with no hope for living in my country. The pressure from family and friends got so bad that I had to leave Iran. But I wish Hossein was next to me so we could live together, far from the anxieties and pressures of a society that forces human beings to choose between their beliefs and love. I wish I could see him and read him this poem:
“From my heresy to your faith there is no path but doubt
Do not warm my heart with a lantern when there is a sun.”
I want to tell him that I am still in love with Hossein the cleric, the son of a cleric.
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Originally published on July 24 2015.