Silent Voices - L(G)BT Iran
This series reflects on the vulnerable and dangerous circumstances of lesbian women in Iran and is the result of brave LGBT+ women willing to work with me to raise awareness despite the risk for their personal safety. The courage of these strong women is truly inspirational.
Under the Iranian penal code, homosexuality is a punishable crime. Furthermore, the Iranian regime denies the existence of homosexuality, evidenced by the famous remark by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "We don't have homosexuals, like in your country”. In order to deny and eliminate the existence of homosexuality, LGBT+ people are often pressured to undergo unnecessary sex-reassignment surgeries (which are permitted in Iran) with devastating physical and psychological results.
But even though mosaheqeh, or the rubbing of female genitalia between two or more women, is punishable under Iranian law by flogging of 100 lashes and can lead to imprisonment, abuse and even torture, the lesbian women I’ve met in Iran shared with me that they are more afraid of their families than of the government. This fact is also reflected in the report of OutRight International. The constant fear of being disowned, rejected and/or assaulted by their families often leads to depression, drug abuse and suicide attempts.
The situation of lesbian rights in Iran is particularly complex, since Iranian lesbians face double discrimination - first as women and then as lesbians. Many girls are desperately fighting to escape forced marriage (since under Sharia law, they are required to have a male guardian to be able to study, get a job, rent apartments, be operated on in hospitals etc.) or are trying to survive the wifely obligations expected of her, having no choice but to put up with constant marital rape (which is not a crime in Iran).
On the other hand, since parents and Iranian society as a whole are so obsessed with gender segregation, the subsequent close female friendships can function as a cover. Even more so, because of strict gender segregation, boys and girls both do not grow up together to develop healthy interaction in natural ways, which makes adult heterosexual relationships often strained, unhappy and full of misunderstanding. This leads many bi-sexual individuals to seek solace with same sex partners. With the regime’s insistence that homosexuality doesn’t exist in Islamic Iran, this paradox is one of the many contradictory twists of Iranian life under a draconian dictatorship.
But the fact that many Iranian lesbians “go underground” and lead secret lives out of fear, has given rise to a common misperception that Iranian lesbians are few in number, or they are not discriminated against and do not face serious challenges and risks, including to their health and well-being. Because of these misconceptions, lesbian women in Iran are not receiving the (international) support their situation deserves.