I WAS homophobic because the world of homosexuality was dark and unknown to me. I thought that people with such sexual orientations would degrade society as a whole. These kinds of relationships were unimaginable to me, and I couldn’t accept that someone had erotic attractions with the same sex. In the most optimistic case, I believed that they were sick or sexually perverted and should be under treatment. If I believed that a man was a latent homosexual or that his behavior was a little feminine, I would distance myself from him. I made no effort to have gay friends or get to know them better.
The religious government in Iran has made it difficult for people to access information freely. Censorship is rampant. Filmmakers are not permitted to refer to homosexuality. Authors cannot write about this issue. Painters may not work on these subjects. Everyone emphasizes that it’s a great sin, disobedience to God’s commands. Everyone is supposed to think alike.
In such a situation, homosexual activity is discussed in the media not as a lasting romantic relationship but as a fleeting and evil obsession that is controllable. No one dares to live outside the acceptable cultural framework. So people are not able to see the differences between persons. Like others, I thought that the meaning of social life was thinking and living the same way, and if someone didn’t do that, there was something wrong with him.Sometimes I read in the news that a gay person was beaten to death by the police or strangers. I did not agree with the criminalization, but I was never sorry or upset. Based on what the government taught us, I thought that society should be cleared of these unhealthy people.
This was my attitude until one of my close friends came out to me. His family had been pressuring him to marry for several months. I was shocked when he told me he was gay and tired of his secret life. I felt that he had not shown his true self until that day, and considered our friendship to be based on lies and deception.
On the one hand, I had a problem with homosexuality, and it was unacceptable to me; and on the other hand, I thought that my friend was being dishonest. I told him, sadly, that I would no longer have anything to do with him, and that he no longer should consider me as a friend. He nodded andsaid nothing.
After that day, I had a lot of questions. Fifteen years have passed since the beginning of our friendship. He would help me if I had a problem. We ate, talked, laughed, and even fought over stupid things many times. I couldn’t end our friendship because of his sexuality. I wondered if I could be wrong. I started watching a few documentaries about homosexuality on YouTube. Later I watched movies that showed homosexuals could not change, and when we try to suppress them, it can lead to isolation, delinquency, crime, and even suicide.
Gradually I started to doubt my beliefs, and this helped me to break down the high walls that surrounded me. The world of homosexuality was no longer strange and unknown. After a few more weeks, I was convinced that my behavior was not only wrong but also immoral and rude. I shouldn’t distance myself from him because of his sexual orientation.
I had always read that homosexuals should come out so that their families and friends could support them. In addition, coming out helps society understand this diversity. Above all, the stress that gay people have to endure would be greatly reduced because he or she would no longer have to hide anything.
Unfortunately, coming out does not always lead to a positive reaction, and sometimes it causes more stress. In my opinion, the biggest and most important reason for incorrect reactions is ignorance. People like me take a stand or are fanatical about the issue when they don’t know anything about homosexuality. But if they give themselves a chance to research and study patiently, they wouldunderstand that instead of changing others, they need to change their own minds.
If now, after all the movies I’ve watched and the articles and books I’ve read, my friend came out to me, I would listen carefully to his words and tell him that he would be my friend forever. I would tell him I was glad he trusted me and chose me from among all the people to tell his secret, a secret that had been locked up in his heart for years. I would tell him it didn’t matter what others thought, I loved him regardless of his sexual orientation, and accepted him as he was.
Fortunately, he gave me a chance and listened to me. Now he is still my best friend.
Mohamad Roshan isa journalist living in Iran.