I am who I am. I cannot change it, nor do I want to. I’m comfortable in my skin, figuratively and literally. I don’t mind my acne, I sport a nice olive tone and the burn on the side of my leg is a constant reminder of times past, and times lost. A reminder of the country I feel like I abandoned, when in reality my country abandoned me.
I’m Gay, I’m Iranian. I’m 19 years old. I’m the product of a Muslim father and Armenian mother. I am the child who got teased at school, well before I knew about sexuality, let alone homosexuality, and I’m the one who got teased at family occasions for not being “purebred.” I can’t remember when I was ever Shahin, although now I go by Shawn. I was always a name, an insult, or a derogatory phrase. I never just was. Until I got away. Until I found my favorite spot in Laleh Park to retreat to, with my Gameboy. Until I learned that the boys two-neighborhoods East of mine would let me play soccer with them, because they didn’t know me. Until I started learning English because I knew I’d soon leave Iran, to recreate myself. I’d create Shahin, not allow Shahin to be dictated.
But was leaving my immediate family worth it? Cold Canada nights far my mother’s radiating love are empty, even if there is a man next to me in bed. Was insisting on being publicly “open,” at such a young age, the right thing? If my immediate family accepted me and loved me, did I really need to put my ego before my rationality? Perhaps adrenaline leads you to do stupid things, like announce your homosexuality publically in Iran because you think you can change the system, that you being a rebel will start a rebellion. But when Iran has become infamous for public executions of gay men (or supposedly gay men), and the rise in “encouraged” although clearly forced gender-reassignment surgeries for gay men, to make them women, what was I thinking?
And now I’m in Vancouver. Far from my childhood home, a refugee because in Iran’s eyes I loved wrong. Because my love is blasphemous. Dangerous. An insult to god. Those who insult god, in Iran, are destined for the noose.
Being a refugee is living a lonely life. The consequences for coming out in Iran have caused me to lose so much… and that’s regretful. But nothing is more gratifying than being true to your core, your identity and your conscience. Nothing is more empowering than your personal pride and independence. Nothing is more rewarding than getting sleep at night, and know that your mother is too, finally—because until now, the threat of random arrest or kidnapping at any moment was just too high. If Iran didn’t want me the way I am, then I wasn’t going to live as a second class citizen in the country of my birth. I wouldn’t hide how I live, and who I love—my heart loves the same as everyone else’s… and it breaks the same too.
Being a refugee is hard, but being a caged, second-class citizen, and prisoner in my mind and heart if still in Iran, would have been so much worse.