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'If You Were Gay...' in Iran


10 Jan 2011 22:0010 Comments
08.jpgA difference of opinion concerning a difference of preference.

"If you were gay, I wouldn't feel comfortable talking with you," added the doctor, reclining as our host scurried about in the background preparing dinner. I wasn't entirely sure how we got on to the subject or whether we were being serious, but between the tossing around of ingredients our chef had tossed in the comment, "Yeah, my family are so homophobic." The doctor, an in-law of my friend the host and someone I'd seen a handful of times, continued, "I'd feel that you would be thinking about doing sexual things with me and I'd have a problem with that." I reflexively responded, still unsure if we were joking, "Doctor, you're a young, good-looking chap, but you're not my type."

His wife, herself a doctor, sat in a separate chair between us, and the straight-faced pause they shared helped clarify things for me: We were not, in fact, joking. I broke the silence and offered with obvious seriousness, "Yes, and of course it would be you who was the one with the problem and not me."

From what I knew about our doctor, he is totally at ease poking around men's penises. In fact, one of my first questions to him that evening was whether he'd had another opportunity to relieve a man of a metal washer that he'd put his bits into on bet -- the wager in the incident I recalled had been $30. To my surprise he had, and on this occasion he'd been forced to use a pneumatic cutter. "Like the ones used by firefighters," he clarified. I later learned that our doctor on rare occasions opts for a more delicate cutting device for gender reassignment operations, something I've heard he's reluctant to perform even though it has been approved by decree.

The assumption about gays that he had voiced troubled me, not that this was the first time I'd encountered such sentiments. Outside of Iran, in so called first-world nations, it's not uncommon to hear, "I don't care what they do, just so long as they do it indoors and away from me." As a man with a preference for women, I can't say I've felt the need for a public audience while having sex, so why am I to assume that being gay involves uncontrollable erotic urges amid everyday life? The doctor seemed to assume that if I were gay that I would be unable to converse with him for wanting to have sex. And just to think, how much more exciting could he make it with those penis-pokery stories?

I wanted to remind him that we were talking about human beings here. "Forgive me for making this next remark," I said, "but I would like to illustrate how you sound like a mullah." In Iran, I've learned the hard way that one should avoid bringing another's wife into such debates, but I trusted the doctor's tolerance on at least this matter and proceeded to turn things around. "Why are you comfortable with me sitting in the same room as your wife? Am I not capable of having sexual thoughts about her?" I bravely began. "So far tonight I've not made any advances on her, even though I'm capable and she fits with my sexual preference."

I saw that the doctor wasn't reaching for any cutting devices, so I continued, "As far as I can tell, she isn't showing any signs of discomfort."

I checked to see if any cutting devices were in reach of his wife, too. "A sexual act is between two consenting adults, or such an act would be considered rape. If I was to act on any impulse I might have, she would need to feel the same or I would be a classified as a criminal."

I checked to see if all my parts were still attached. "My thoughts and actions are distinctly separate -- why would a man with a preference for men not also be like this?" I brought in the mullah again. "How you sound like these guys is that you have no faith in man's ability to control himself and your wife must cover herself appropriately in public for this reason."

She seemed sympathetic, while the doctor himself appeared to be stuck on the mullah association. It also became clear that this wasn't the first time they'd spoken about the matter, as the doctor's wife explained, "You know, we feel that being gay is an illness, a psychological illness." There was the mention of physical abnormalities but they agreed to stick with "unnecessary psychological stress." She continued, "We believe that man chooses to be gay," and apparently he would do so as a reaction to problems at home: "Being gay is abnormal and it causes great distress."

"Exactly, so why would anyone make such a decision knowing that so many challenges face them with this choice," I responded, reminding that there is especially little tolerance for such a preference in Iran, least of all, where it is punishable by death.

"We believe that men also learn to be gay and we must do what we can to stop this," they stated in virtual unison. "We must prevent the promotion of it as is seen in the West." They looked toward me, as if for confirmation on all things Western, but I couldn't satisfy them on the point.

"From what I've seen, I wouldn't say it is promoted. Tolerance, however, that is promoted." I called upon my observations in Iran. Even if the relevant cultural difference is just one of tolerance, were being gay a choice, I asked, "Wouldn't we see a vast difference between the ratio of gay people in each culture?" And if we're to exclude Iran's prevalence of inter-male contact and generally effeminate ways, I can't say I see any great difference at all.

One thing I could confirm about Westerners is their insistence on a testable hypothesis and trusted sources, but neither the doctors or I were presenting any. We could agree that one is not born gay, but I wanted to present how my view differed from theirs in this respect. "I would like to propose a theory -- that being gay is innately potential in all of us and triggered at puberty."

A Gay Theory

Unknown Source Number One:

"I read an article regarding the metamorphosis of frogs from tadpoles: Tadpoles stagger their development so as to not exhaust the available resources upon maturing, for due to their great numbers they have the potential to mutually exterminate themselves. The early developers leave the water and return having either eaten or not. Those that do eat and return excrete a pheromone increasing further development among the remaining tadpoles. These 'fitter' of the frogs thus survived."

Slightly Reputable Source Number Two:

"I read an article on the BBC concerning a study in Canada, showing that, statistically, gay men are more often than not the younger among brothers. I would like to propose that, similar to frogs, at some point in the history of our genus it has been effective to our survival to have the ability to 'switch-off' the possibly deathly competition for resources, in this case, access to a mate. As brothers are very similar genetically, should the elder be sexually active, the genus would have 'ensured it's continuation,' so to speak, and thus survival was greater among those variations with the 'switch-off' pheromone, ensuring the genus would not mutually exterminate itself. We would call this being gay."

I thought of the mullah once more. "We didn't come to the world as humans, and as doctors you are aware of the development of parts of the human body, so you must also be aware that much of our DNA is likely dormant or even junk?" I stressed that at least during some point of our evolution the gene in question might have proved very effective, but they contested the theory by suggesting that other animals do not display homosexual behavior. But the opposite, in fact, is true and they were astonished when our chef also tossed that one in.

In reaching a conclusion, we did agree on one point: I agreed that being gay brings with it unnecessary stress. But contrary to the doctor's desire to help, I feared they were contributing to it through intolerance. I controversially suggested that they direct their efforts to help society in other directions, where the degree of potential unnecessary stress might be even higher, and that they consider other, more universal intolerances in Iran.

Photo above by Mehraneh Atashi.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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You were lucky and pretty darn bold to carry on such a conversation with them. Good job.
And I wonder what medical students learn in their med school in Iran about the causes of homosexuality.

PersianTraveler / January 11, 2011 4:41 AM

thanks for this. as a lesbian single american mom who grew up in ohio in the late fifties through mid seventies, i can tell you that the idea of tolerance is relatively new. now living in san francisco, of course i get to experience a most welcome sense of belonging!

Anonymous / January 11, 2011 6:40 AM

Wow, that was a bold conversation. They will likely find more reasons to buttress their viewpoint, but I think you (and the chef!) planted a small seed of doubt, nonetheless.

Kurt / January 12, 2011 11:03 AM

As soon as he said "You are the one with the problem",I would end the conversation and ask him to leave.

John S.Henchey / January 13, 2011 1:33 PM

That's funny, Henchey. You would ask him to leave even though--in this scenario--you aren't even the host. That makes you both a homophobe and a good old-fashioned arrogant boor.

As for me--IF I WERE THE HOST--if I heard one guest seriously say to another, "If you were gay, I wouldn't feel comfortable talking with you," I would tell him to either apologize or leave, just as I would if I heard him say, "If you were black, I wouldn't feel comfortable talking with you," or "If you were Muslim, I wouldn't feel comfortable talking with you," or "If you were a straight, white, stupid American male, I wouldn't feel comfortable talking with you."

Morvarid / January 15, 2011 11:47 AM

I don't think this "Conversation" took place anywhere but in the mind of the 'Correspondent.

John S.Henchey / January 15, 2011 7:31 PM

thanks for your e mail
but i strongly condemn your Censorship
we never trust you westerners
and we know that all your efforts is making us like yourself through your media.
you, like to destroy our culture and dignity
and, this will not happen and we will not allow it.
do not think that i am a supporter of Iranian Regime
as a matter of fact i hate them
but you are worse then them
keep freedom for yourself
thanks again
parviz. Iran .Loristan

parvaz / January 16, 2011 7:30 AM

Hey parvaz, I am from canada. I am also gay.

I have no problems with your culture (excluding one), your culture used to tolerate people like me; and I would hope one day it goes back to tolerance towards the individual. People are just pawns, they are being manipulated by their leaders. I don't agree with mine, AT ALL. My leaders are scum bag crooks that can't keep their noses out of everybody else's business while their job is to manage this country. Some job they have done, things are falling apart now faster than they can be fixed. They've managed to figure out how to unemploy people that would otherwise work together and keep busy as communities. They've destroyed the family unit and divided people.

I respect your culture, but I cannot respect the fact that if I set foot on your land I would be dead. One of my best friends is palestinian, and if he ever revealed to me one day that he were hammas, I would shake his hands and tell him to give Isreal hell for the criminal and inhumane treatment they've given his people.

What you ought to do as a culture is begin to tolerate like the west does (at least get rid of the stoning and the killing, you know the systematic tyranny). That does not mean tolerate a cheating wife like we do -- I think it is culturally important to have a mechanism to make sure people take marriage seriously. Saving everyone on the planet at the expense of making everybody's lives miserable is not cool -- this is what the united nations is all about. If your culture wants freedom some day; take it for yourself I have no interest in forcing it, and I take deep offense that I have no choice but to pay taxes towards my government's evil agenda of having a presence in a land where they have no business being.

Funny thing is while you could supposedly never have respect for me because of your culture, a friend of mine who is palestinian has respect for me because I can see the truth and I am brave enough to say that my government does not represent me at all. Nobody in palestine is a terrorist, it's a knee jerk reaction to the evils commited by the Isreali regieme.

Either way, your leaders and my leaders are all sick, perhaps we should all work together to a better world that lets people move to where they want to go if they don't like the culture. The problem isn't with your culture, it is with the brutal inhumane punishments for certain things. We have victimless crimes here too that go harshly punished. What is the difference between killing someone and sending them to jail for 25 years? About 25 years of suffering.

ryan / January 17, 2011 2:31 PM

parvaz we do not want to destroy culture or dignity.the powerful may for profit but we ordinary people just want a peaceful prosperous life with the advantages of all cultures/ideas available.I as an individual wish gay people equal rights as three of my brothers are gay.It was against our culture,religion,family and traditions but it was obvious they were different from about 5 or 6 years old. No-one knew what the difference was but later it became obvious.I do not believe one chooses this, i think it is genetic.That you are born this way and should not be punished,as being different is punishment enough.Are you different?

leonie / January 17, 2011 3:43 PM

Parvaz....I agree with everything you say.

John S. Henchey / January 17, 2011 5:26 PM