I Am Gay. I am Lonely
It Was Not Always Like This
On the turn of the 20st century Western culture found its way into Iran. Huge households shrunk to fit smaller group of family-members. That too, later on, gave way to the nuclear family; husband and a wife and their children would be considered “family” and lived under one roof. Thus, gay men, invisible in huge households among the extended families living together, and singled out in the setting of nuclear family, shied away into a secluded lifestyle and remained so until 1979 when a witch-hunt begun to spot, expose, and execute them; large number of homosexual men fled to the West and became refugees.
The last Shah of Iran was relaxed about homosexuality. Homosexuals lived peacefully and fully, as artist, writer, film-director, show-host, and pup-singer; first public appearance of a Gay Rights activist, Saviz Shafaee, took place in Shiraz University when he presented a paper discussing Homosexuals’ Civil Rights in a seminar. The talk wasn’t picked up again until two decades later, by gay bloggers who pioneered on-line activism in order to escape silenced lives, under shadows of Shari’a law[MP1] .
Gay community lived in disguise, hiding their true selves from everyone, parents, siblings, friends, the law and its enforces, at all times, day and night all through their lives. It was easier to confess to one’s parents and friends having been diagnosed with plague then coming out with homosexuality; and it was not safe, too, to confess. That would leave only one solution, to go one-line and have an on-line presence. That could serve in many ways. It was a refuge. And it was a possible tool for civil activism. It was an stage, and it was a rehearsal. And it gave plenty of time to escape, if one’s IP was exposed.
Speaking up on Cyberstage
Homosexual men reacted some 20 years later. Gay men took to dressing up against norms; teased masculinity with their plucked eyebrows; allowed body-language speak of their sexual orientation, and at the same time, denied links between appearance and sexual orientation; some took refuge in chat-rooms, home-pages, and on-line presence.
Blogger Hamjensgera mentions in a post dated 2008, “long before weblogs were introduced to Iranian society, gay community appeared on-line via html homepages called yahoo clubs, or yahoo groups”. He mentions later the date goes back to 1995. Other bloggers confirm that they’ve seen the first gay-blog around 2001, belonged to man identified himself as Behrooz, who wrote on his first post: I Am Gay; updated a little while later: I Am Lonely.
Still many bloggers remember Epsilon Gay as the first gay-blogger, an inspiration to many who looked for ways to connect and express themselves. Epsilon Gay was interviewed sometimeduring 2005 by Dead Poets Society[i]. In that interview, Epsilon answered questions via email, talked about his feelings, and commented on his own blog.
Thus, 2001 was the beginning of a decade of hard work during which Iran’s lGBT community was formed and grew into a movement with tireless individuals orchestrating the challenge for decriminalization of homosexuality, initiating social justice for the queer community.
Blogs were considered real beings. Their birth and life span, untimely death, and suicide was closely followed and responded to by other gay bloggers.
Forming virtual families on-line
Weblogs of the LGBT community doesn’t serve only as alternative media to for civil activism; it is also used as virtual family-seeing on-line. Clusters of blogs and like-minded bloggers read each other daily and observed the mood in each weblog. If a blogger in their circle post about sorrow, or a recent attack, or shows suicidal hints/self-inflected wounds, they all gather in his comment-box, give advice, tips, and provide support. If a blogger doesn’t up-date for more than two weeks, everyone enquires of his whereabouts; According to the urgency of situation, reaction to the issues takes to the outside of the blogs to follow up. These bloggers presume the role of each other’s family members, each taking a role and acting upon it in their circle. They fill the gap that lack of actual parents/families brings upon the gay community. The strategy has worked fine and effectively, so long.
Home of all LGBT Blogs
During 2005 a Link Honar initiated to gather best of LGBT blog links. Right after, another weblog, called Khane Honar (House of Art) launched to all links without exception, in blogfa[ii]. It moved to blogspot when it became unsafe to remain with a server within Iran and face removal.[iii] This weblog served as reference, mentor, and touchstone for events and issues in the LGBT community from 2005 to 2008 until the original team decided to keep a neutral stance. During the course of the last two years, this weblog has recorded over 200 LGBT blog’s removed from the net by direct order of official authorities. Still, over 300 weblogs are actively writing today, more and more responding to general issues of the Iranian society, as a natural path to be involved and included in the main society with their true identity as homosexuals.
Weblogs subject to removal don’t receive warnings. They only see announcements such as this on face of the weblog: This weblog has been closed for one of these reasons: 1- Violating server’s code of rights. 2- By direct order of official authorities. 3- Posting immoral content or content contrary to law of the land. Sometimes, though, bloggers receive letters warning them to stop writing, or stop addressing certain issues. Rarely do they receive emails explaining in detail that they are under scrutiny and must stop all immoral activity on their weblogs[iv]. These emails are sent from police110, or Gerdab, or similar institution, via gmail or yahoo. Although it is known fact that emails sent through any general domain doesn’t directly com from the institution but from factions related to the institution, and that these warnings will not immediately result in interrogation or detention, still bloggers stop writing in their weblogs to prevent eventual arrest. IP is traceable via Iran’s phone company. Users of phone and internet services are tractable via phone-line, through log-storages by order of intelligent service.
Gay Poetry in Weblogs
Up until 2009 leading bloggers were poets promoting gay rights disguised in fine and magnificent poetry. Their poetry was picked up with their permission – after they stopped up-dating their weblogs- and published by Gilgamishan and distributed as E-book on Iranian Queer Library. Today the majority of leading blogs belongs to those with social activism in mind. One of such blogs Pesar (Boy) that started with porn-pictures 2005 or earlier, and switched to the role of big brother of the younger bloggers, advising, commenting, analyzing, and slightly mentoring. In between these two type of blogs, there are those who aim at teaching matters of relationships, committed and long term relationship, and even sexual encounters to a generation that has no role model in, unlike the young of the main stream who confidently follow tradition and culture-based stages of social life. Gay couples specifically stress on promoting long term and committed relationships. Of course, their whereabouts is never known until they jump over the border into Turkey to seek asylum.
While Transsexuals have been nearly as active as Gay Bloggers, Where are lesbian bloggers? In a list of over 300 weblogs of gay and TS bloggers, only 5 or 6 belongs to lesbians, (do you have any thoughts about this? Where the lesbians and TS are? Would be interesting to develop) maybe mention Maha? What are the connections to the feminist movement? and that too, is only for matters of personal importance.
Transsexuals own and moderate a vast number of weblogs, mostly about their longing for their real body, their real selves, and their chance to sex-change assignment. As they’re not hunted, as the gay community is, they engage in dealings with law-makers, and medical matters, grants, laws and regulations on name & gender changes in birth-certificates, and they have had their huge victories, and huge disappointments. They have endured life-threatening side effects of unsuccessful sex-change operations, and had been victims of rape and assault by their own doctors/surgeons who treated them. And bound via their weblogs, have strong networks outside the net, and on the net. Their dilemma is not the penal code, which is the Word of God, and un-changeable, rather, it is improvements on the social and welfare system, which is possible, and have been, and has come a long way during the last 30 years.
And lesbians? I wonder whether the strong and prolific women’s movement has had a suffocating effect over the lesbians. Women’s movement in Iran stresses on such rights as the right to divorce, and the right to child custody, since arranged and enforced marriage is widespread since the 1979, and since marriage has turned, again, into the only social security for women that laws and regulations around it has become women’s most urgent concern. Lesbians, with their dismissal of the whole case, of the importance of such laws, their dislike of “women”ly concerns has alienated both women’s movement and lesbians from each other. Inside Iran, lesbian don’t approach the movement. Thus, being disconnected from the movement, and having misgivings about the women-members of the movement, didn’t allow lesbians a training in social activism. Mostly, lesbians keep to their own isolated circles, and their own “fun” gatherings. Weblogs belonged to lesbians mirror those gatherings, without a word about one aspect of marriage that hits lesbians directly, enforced marriages and honour-killings as a result. Though the younger generation is walking slowly out of the privet corners and into the public sphere, mostly in diaspora.
Although there are activists outside of Iran, who work towards the LGBT rights, like myself and my colleagues in IRQO, and young civil activists who are busy taking LGBT reports to Human Rights Commission sessions at this moment, or write vigorously in essays and translations, but we all depend on the LGBT community inside of Iran; they are the ones who are working with all their might and face unimaginable horror and come up with new ideas every day and take one more step forward every day. They are the activists, and we are their messengers.
As the recent Iranian LGBT campaign slogan said: We Are Everywhere; the on-line gay activism and TS networking and the lesbian’s room of one’s own on the net, the LGBT presence in the present social construct in Iran, and the-Iran-in-Diaspora, and our non-LGBT supporters among HRs is widespread enough that we can positively say, alas, Iran and our precious, unique Green Movement is going to earn democracy hand in hand with us, and soon.
[i] The weblog was dedicated to archiving all blogs belonged to gays. It was deactivated shortly after it opened, apparently because moderators received tips of tracing by government, but remained on web without update and was removed by order of official authorities on 2009 for violation of moral codes even though there were no posts besides list of weblogs and type of content.
[ii] Iranian Server
[iii] Non-Iranian server
[iv] Samples of these letters are kept in IRQO archive.