"I was born into a religious family. My mother attended Quran and religious classes, and took me along with her when I was a child. During these lessons, so many thoughts were injected into my mind that I subconsciously embraced religion. I went on Hajj with my family at a young age and was insistent on performing the rites.
“At one of the gatherings we attended, I remember, they talked about homosexuality. [They said] that those people were sinners, that a person who is homosexual is committing a grave sin. I was a teenager and experiencing this in myself. On hearing these words, I couldn’t bear it. The pangs of self-awareness I felt in me were severe, and had a terrible impact on my life. I was alienated.
“My sense of being ‘different’ began at an early age. I didn’t know I’d be trans, but I realized something was out of place. The only thing I was sure of was an attraction toward people of my own sex."
Sasha is a trans man, born and raised in Iran, and now living in America. It wasn’t until long after his adolescence that he finally came to terms with who he was inside, despite all the long years of religious indoctrination.
Unlike most LGBT+ Iranians – and other members of the LGBT+ community across the globe – he has no unpleasant memories of his school years. “I attended a school for religious minorities, where children from different religions studied. It was interesting; we were together from elementary school to the pre-university years. Deep friendships were formed between us, and school taught me many things, the most important of which was respect for difference.
“I learned that diversity is not a bad thing, and people are not black or white. No religion is a justification for one human being to claim superiority over another. I learned all the colors could come together to create a more beautiful world. Perhaps it was this other perspective that made me better understand and accept myself later on.”
Years later, Sasha’s religious outlook changed. He found himself in greater and greater confrontation with the realities of the world, and appraising the issues he encountered with a more critical eye. Nonetheless, he says, it wasn’t easy to accept that he had grown apart from his former beliefs, and he was depressed for months.
A series of events shortly after graduation sparked this change of approach. " I met an interesting group of people – and then and there, I realized that what I was feeling existed out there, and I wasn’t alone. Of course, when my mother found out [about my sexuality], I was treated very badly. But I persevered, I studied and researched, all so that I could get to know myself better. I finally came to the conclusion that I was trans.
"My family wasn’t ready for the revelation. That made things a lot harder for me. My mother was deeply sensitive to the matter, and my life became so restricted that I couldn’t even go to university; I couldn’t work, I couldn’t do my favorite sports, I wasn’t even allowed to cut my hair. One day I asked my mother, 'What are your plans for me? I’m worried about my future'. The answer I heard shocked me: 'Sit at home like me, get married, and have children.’
"My whole world was racked by my mother's remarks. I was a teenager, and I felt that passion for the future had been killed in me. I was afraid of the picture my mother had painted for me. I decided to leave home. My father and brother were already in the United States, but my mother and I had been waiting for several years for a visa. The visas came at the time I was thinking about leaving. Life seemed to have different plans for us. Staying at home and doing housework wasn’t an option.”
Now resettled in the US, Sasha says he now sees a new future for himself. A few short weeks ago he underwent a mastectomy and surgery on his upper body, which he says made him feel “born again”.
"People often appear to be at point zero when they migrate and have to start again,” Sasha says. “I felt like I was below zero. In the new country, I had no education except the identity I’d defined for myself, and a family that did not support me. It wasn’t until about a year after I emigrated that I had the courage to reveal who I was to my family. One day after work, I went and cut my hair, and donated it to a charity for children with cancer. When I got home, my mother was silent for a while, then started crying. She had realized this was the first step toward my being myself.
"My parents are hardworking and loving people. They might not have been the best-suited parents to me, but they tried their best, and they changed, because people do change. They’ve gone from people who didn’t even let me cut my hair to a point where they now support trans people and try to help trans people in Iran. I’ve been through many difficult years, but now I’m happy to have the support of my family."