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Living with my lesbian partner where it's illegal to be gay

Two women holding hands Image copyright iStock

After Sunday's attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people were killed by a gunman, vigils in the US, UK and elsewhere have shown solidarity and support for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people worldwide.

But in Iran, committing homosexual acts can incur the death penalty, and being gay can put severe strain on family relationships. Sara, who is 23, has lived in her mother's house with her 20-year-old girlfriend for four years. Here, both mother and daughter explain how difficult their life has become.

Sara

I was about 11 or 12 when I first fell for a woman. I told my cousin and her reaction was shocking - she called me a hamjensbaaz or faggot. I didn't realise it was an insult back then but I knew that if I told anyone else they would make fun of me.

I once told my personal trainer that I had feelings for her and she told me to read the Koran.

I knew for sure that I was gay when I met my partner, Maryam, four years ago. We chatted online and when we went on our first date I saw a schoolgirl who was so delicate, so tiny! I was mesmerised by her beauty thinking, "Is she really going to be my girlfriend?"

My mother listens to our intimate phone conversations. Sometimes in the morning she checks our bedroom, looks at the pillows and says, "Why do you two sleep too close to each other at night?" Or she suggests that the bed is too small and one of us should sleep somewhere else. She comes into the room without warning and makes sure the door is always open.

I want to tell her to stop, and that it's none of her business!

My mother is scared of me. I can be very violent - I won't hurt anyone but if there is too much pressure on me I will collapse. It has happened before and I left home twice. I didn't have anywhere else to go so I came back after a couple of days.

In the middle of the night I hear her weeping and praying to God to cure me. It's very difficult.

I was naive to think that, because my cousins bring their partners to family gatherings, I could too.

My family has become increasingly hostile and at my cousin's birthday party, they collectively ignored Maryam. It was very awkward and we had to leave. They love me but they hate her - I can't bear it.

It's ridiculous - I had to hide her in the cupboard once when we had my uncles over for hours. When my aunts visited unannounced, she asked me to hide her again so she didn't have to face them.

Sometimes I feel for my mother - she is nearly 70 and is a religious person. I can't argue with her and I fear she might not be able to bear all this.

I also believe in God and pray every day. I tried to find something in the Koran to show that homosexuality can be compatible with Islam but couldn't, and you can't ask an imam.

Once I saw a counsellor and she started swearing at me. "Why don't you understand that even cows know how to have normal sex?" she asked. She told me that I was breaking nature's law.

At one point I thought the only way to deal with it was to have a sex change. In Iran, being transsexual is considered a medical condition that can be treated, but it is illegal to be gay here. People are sometimes encouraged to have surgery so they don't "fall into sin" and live as homosexuals.

The doctors won't tell you honestly if they think you are a transsexual who really needs an operation so people are often left feeling confused.

I had 10 sessions with a counsellor who assessed me and I have been put on the list for surgery, but I don't think I can go through with it. I might regret it. Besides, my partner would hate it. She might leave me.

And there is no way back if you change your mind. I know transgender people who have suffered after the operation with depression and mental health problems.

I saw a woman in a clinic who had had surgery to become a man - he was sobbing and begging them to reverse the operation. He was saying he couldn't live in a man's body. I was horrified.

I have quite a masculine appearance anyway - I have short hair, wear baggy jeans, a man's watch and trainers.

I love the power that men have and I love behaving like a man in my relationship. Sometimes when I see heterosexual couples I feel weak that I can't protect my partner as much as I would like.

When we've been out together, Maryam and I have been stopped and questioned by the moral police. Once we were in the park and I removed my headscarf. A man came and asked if I was a woman and I said "Yes". He told me to go with him but when I showed him the card I was given at the transsexual counselling centre, he let me go.

That card means I am allowed to go out in public places without a hijab - the idea is to let you try living as a man before the operation.

You see many young women like me in the streets now and it's a bit more relaxed than it used to be, but years ago when I walked around Tehran, I was constantly insecure.

I worried that if they stopped me and searched my mobile, and found pictures or saw my text messages to my partner, they might put me in prison or confiscate my passport, even execute me.

I would like to marry my partner - maybe one day when we leave Iran it will be possible.


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Sara's mother

I don't know if this is a kind of illness or what. It's sinful in Islam - she won't accept it from me but it's not right.

I knew very soon that their relationship was not just a friendship. Her other female friends were fine - I knew them and their family backgrounds but this woman is a total stranger. I don't know who hooked them up.

They used to go out together and my daughter would come home very late, and tell me that her friend was young and didn't know how to get back home so she had to drop her at the train station.

I thought it would be better if they stayed at home together. It's dangerous outside. It's better to be at home than wandering about in parks or even in hotels. That's how that woman worked her way into my house.

I don't interfere. This woman lives here comfortably. She doesn't come out of their room when my daughter is not home. They even eat in their bedroom.

I know what's going on, but I keep silent. I try to avoid them. I try to go out as much as possible so that I don't see them.

I have had a horrible time in this house for years. My daughter is stuck between her and me. I hate this woman, but for the good of my daughter I put up with her in my house.

If she was a normal friend, I wouldn't have any objection. I don't want my daughter to be lonely and it's good for her to have a close friend. If only they were normal friends, I'd have asked her to stay with her for life.

But I know this woman is rude and unashamed. She is coquettish and brazen all the time. She is corrupting my daughter. She takes advantage of Sara and wastes her money. They're like lovers and buy things for each other.

I was kind to this woman. I gave her motherly advice and asked her to find a husband but she told my daughter and upset her.

My daughter is very lonely, and I think if I tell this woman off, I will break my daughter's heart. I am really scared that if I say anything, if I push this woman out, my daughter will do something bad to herself, and I will regret it for the rest of my life.

She might set the house on fire - she threatened to do that once. I am worried that she would hurt herself so I keep quiet.

I hate to talk about it. If only Sara had a brother or her father was alive, this woman wouldn't dare to come and glue herself to my daughter like this.

I ask this woman, "What is this ring on your finger? Remove it so some boy will propose to you!" Her reply is, "I won't marry until your daughter marries!"

I need someone to talk to my daughter, to make her think about her future - she'll grow old without any children.

This woman won't stay with my daughter. She will leave her and marry a man!

My daughter is exceptional. She is kind and smart - I always tell her that she is flawless except for this one thing.

It is abnormal. This woman is a torture to me.

I don't know what to do. I am not happy to leave them on their own for a single night at home, let alone move out together.

I can't think of a solution. I don't know how to save my daughter's life.

The names of people in this article have been changed. Sara and her mother spoke to Leyla Khodabakhshi.


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