(This guest post comes to us from Arsham Parsi, director of IRQO, IRanian Queer Organization, a Toronto-based group that is working to overturn Iran's draconian anti-homosexuality laws and help those caught in the crossfire. Members of his organization conducted this interview with an Iranian lesbian living in Europe in exile. ~a.b.)
Please introduce yourself, in whatever way you prefer, to our readers.
I am Taraneh, an Iranian lesbian. I'm 48 years old. 17 years ago I became a refugee in Europe.
When did you realize you were a lesbian?
From childhood I preferred to have girlfriends rather than boyfriends.
Why did you become a refugee?
I am a lesbian. For this reason I was arrested countless times. I went to prison and ultimately sentenced to death [by hanging]. I remember the first time I was arrested; I was 21 and a student in Esfahan. I was making love with my girlfriend in a car when I was arrested. I was kicked out of university. I spent 3 months in prison. I was whipped. Eventually I went to India to continue my education. But my family did not want me to stay there so I had to return to Iran. From there began the rest of my problems.
What problems did you have in Iran as a lesbian woman?
Everyone had found out I was a lesbian. They [my family] married me off, I had no other option. I married a relative. But I had a girlfriend. When the neighbours found out they informed on us. The Revolutionary Guards stormed our house, beat us up severely, and took us away with blindfolds.
Did they have evidence?
Yes, they also arrested my girlfriend and their evidence was letters we had written to each other - they had found them.
They arrested you for writing love letters?
In my second arrest I was forced to confess my lesbianism. Right now as I am writing these words my body is shaking, all of a sudden I feel cold. I wish God would avenge every second of my life spent being beaten with cables and filled with the screams of me and my girlfriend, who was only 17 at the time.
They placed me in the solitary confinement wing. I had been beaten so much, I was bleeding heavily. I pleaded with them to help me but they didn't. Still, the side-effects of the beatings have not gone away. The judge in Esfahan's revolutionary court suggested I repent and cooperate with them, help them arrest others in the lesbian community. After rejecting his offer, I suffered another severe beating and a couple of days later they relocated me to the woman's ward.
What condition was your girlfriend in?
Since she was younger, they said she had been manipulated and released her with bail after 6 months. In my case, since it was my second arrest, since I had a husband, and since I would constantly talk back [to the authorities] I remained in prison for an extra 2 years. Then they showed me a paper and told me it was a verdict for hanging. Every day they would mentally torture me by saying "Even if you're released, we'll get you, send you to prison and hang you."
I was in the ward for women who were prostitutes, murderers, thieves, etc. in Esfahan's Dastgard prison. I was given 160 lashes in a judicial office by a man named ***. They tied me to a bed in the middle of the backyard. The other prisoners came to watch me being whipped. In the evenings, as torture they would blindfold me and then lead me around the backyard over and over again, turning me this way and that. My inspector Mr. *** would say to me "This year they should burn you". All this torture only for being a lesbian.
In prison, were there also other women arrested on homosexuality charges besides you?
Yes. I found 38 friends who were all lesbian and had been arrested on this charge. Most of them were forced to marry. Some of them ran away to Dubai or France.
How did your husband and family react?
They told my husband: "You must show your wife the righteous path." My husband
was in disbelief. But my family had known I was a lesbian since my childhood - that is why they married me off. I have been violated my whole life without anyone ever hearing my voice. I have lived a life I did not want. I have laughed for others so no one would know what was inside me. Believe me; I am ashamed that so far I have not been able to relieve this pain.
How come you were released?
By giving lots of bribes and using connections, I was released on the occasion of Imam Zaman's birthday.
What did you do after prison?
Flee. I searched for a way to flee life in Iran. Nor family, nor husband, no one was important to me anymore. Psychologically I was in a bad place. I had gone mad. I went to Cyprus, then to Turkey, and then I became a refugee here. After 5 years, brimming with things to say, I was completely alone. My father came here. To appease him, I was forced to bring my husband over illegally. In court they told him, "Your wife is a lesbian," and they separated us.
What is your current situation?
I am alone. Even here I am afraid, and I think it is this fear that isolates me. A strange fear is my constant companion. If I were to write the torments I have suffered on a piece of paper the reader would surely go mad. Although, everyone has suffered pain in one form or another. Have you heard of someone being tied to a car and pulled over the ground? In Kashan, they tied me
to a car and pulled me across the ground. What should I say, who should I say it to? If there was a God who would punish these criminals, then why must I, at the pinnacle of freedom, even fear myself? Why doesn't anyone listen to us? Where is this "human rights"? Which Islam? Which God?
Many assume that since lesbians in Iran are women and keep their sexual orientation secret, they don't face problems. What is your opinion?
They have many problems, but they cannot voice them. They cannot, because they have no defendants. My father was head customs officer. They shamed our family in such a way that to this day my family does not love me. From childhood this feeling was within me, I couldn't discuss it with anyone. Is there anyone capable of understanding us?
We think there are many women like you in Iran, but why is no one aware of their plight?
Because Iranian women have not reached that level of maturity in terms of accepting themselves and their lesbianism. And they have no other choice. There is no law to defend them. Even if someone has screamed, no one would be there to hear it.
Some people believe that if lesbians in Iran lived a secret life they wouldn't run into problems!
In my opinion, one cannot live secretly in Iran, because Iranians cannot accept a woman living alone. I am even afraid of Iranians here. If you live alone they ask, "Who is providing for you?" With this ridiculous culture that we have, the mentality of Iranians here is still the same as it was.
What is your dream?
If I could, I would rescue all lesbians [in Iran] and bring them here. It has been years that our screams have died out and not reached anyone's ears.
If you would like to learn more about IRQO, the plight of Iranian queers, or how to help, visit the IRQO website here. This interview was conducted by Darya and Baran and translated by Ava.