This monologue was inspired by a series of conversations with a friend in Iran. Although I have taken a few of their points accurately, I have invented much of it. I do not claim to represent the views of my friend or anyone in particular.
“If someone in Iran denies having at least two lives they’re either lying or they’re boring”- A.
I am officially mentally ill. ‘Officially’ in this case, however, does not denote reality or scientific accuracy or anything genuine at all. In fact I’ve never even seen a doctor about it. There’s no point. Some people refer to my entire country— and countries like mine— as schizophrenic. I definitely don’t have that. Schizophrenia is the inability to decipher fantasy from reality. I know exactly what is real. And I know what’s not real. What the government spews out on television, in leaflets, on billboards is a manufactured reality that only a few truly believe in. Yet, in order to survive in this stolid and oppressive regime everyone must spend part of their daily life upholding these fantastical pretenses. This way we can appease the government and its arms purely in order to carry on living our realities.
How I conduct myself in public— under the gaze of the police— contrasts dramatically with how I conduct myself in my private lives. Yes, lives. I have a few. The one I choose to live on any given day depends on where and with whom I will be spending my time. I’ve mentioned one life already; my public persona, which is the more conservative mask I don in the busy parts of town. Very little of my true self is exposed in this environment for fear of harm. This façade bears no resemblance whatsoever to the personality I take on around my boyfriend in the privacy of my apartment. Well, I say boyfriend, he is in fact a married man but he’s just like me. Our kind of relationship is not uncommon in our community. My apartment is my sanctuary. It smells like cannabis from about 10am onwards. I love cannabis. At night, the silence of my room is prickled by the crackle of joints and the groans of sex.
I suppose that this is a kind of fantasy life. It can’t exist outside my room. I don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s a created world. A world fashioned by the coming together of him and me. It is where I indulge in my vices. I’m always high at the weekends, too, which adds to the unreality of the situation. This life never comes into contact with my others. Well, it did once. I managed to bump into him and his wife at the bazaar— quite the feat if you think about it. Of course I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t even wave, but I did smile. I doubt his wife would have been standing there if she knew I’d fucked him the night before. Then again, neither would I, probably.
Those are two of my lives. Overall I have five; first there is the life involving ‘it’, which is the gaze and the propaganda of the authorities, the same authorities who tell me that I am mentally ill. ‘Them’ is the second life, it represents the general public, strangers who don’t know me but are told of my kind and how to approach us, whether they take heed of this advice depends on the individual. Surrounded by ‘them’ I must carve out yet another, self-protective existence. Whether I’m in the queue at the bakery, at the bank or at university I deepen my voice slightly and straighten up. Then there is ‘him’, who I’ve already mentioned— my escape, my pleasure, and my vice. Then there is ‘you’. ‘You’ is you, the reader, ‘you’ is my sister, my confidant, the sphere of my life that comes closest to the final frontier of my true self— ‘me’. If you imagine four overlapping circles, ‘it’, ‘them’, ‘him’ and ‘you’, then ‘me’ is the opaque center.
‘Me’ is my real personality, a deftly veiled and disguised life that would be easily corroded in this toxic atmosphere. The authorities here in Iran make it difficult even for me to explore myself truly so I’m only going on what I think I know. To do what I want would be a crime against the values of the Islamic Republic. In fact, some of the things I do regularly are punishable by death. Only two people know this truth: me and my sister. I imagine that you are starting to get an idea, too, of whom I really am?
My secret truth is safe with my sister and I trust it’s safe with you. To expose my real personality would be to give myself into to systematic destruction that meets and greets people of my ilk. A reaction so volatile that my entire personality (and thereby me) could be snuffed out of existence, strung up by the neck in some grubby prison basement. I was born with this burden. It should be a celebration of love but I am not free to love. I am not free to express myself. I am not free
I. Am. Not. Free.
I am trapped, suffocated, hidden, invisible, gasping, in love, exhausted, desperate, in love. I am torn between fantasies. Fantastical future and fantastical present. Nothing is real. What is real is hidden in the recesses of my mind. I have a feigned past- an outward lie. No past. A past that I myself do not recognize as mine. No trace of me in my behavior. No proof of my reality. My past is ‘him’, ‘it’, ‘them’, not my own. An artificial existence. A pre-determined path of stale and unattractive opportunities. I can’t escape ‘it’. ‘It’ would kill me if it had the chance. I would be erased. But what would be erased? I don’t exist. Not really. Not yet. The government would kill me because I make love to another man, because I love another man, but they wouldn’t see it that way.
Did I choose to live this fantasy because of the reality in which I was born? Or did I choose to live this reality because of the fantasy in which I was born? Deciphering the two is a survival technique, not a symptom. I sometimes feel partially dead. Like I’ve never really existed. I would never renounce my Iranian nationality, which has nothing to do with it. I am fiercely proud to be Iranian. I am an Iranian who is gay. My country tells me that I’m mentally ill because of the way I am. It graciously offers a plethora of treatment, ranging from psychological realignment to gender realignment. Neither of which I need. Neither of which I want. I often find happiness in small things, with my friends and family, and with him. But I’m worried that this, too, is a survival technique.