What It's Like Being a Gay Poet in Iran

Authors and the LGBT community are burdened by mandates from the Iranian administration, fearing the notion of capital punishment. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance controls access to all media, condemning and restricting anything labeled inappropriate. The LBGT community lives in constant fear because of the mandates against same-sex affairs and marriages, which contain grave consequences. Thus, for Payam Feili, life in Iran is dangerous because he is a blacklisted author and homosexual. Index on Censorship recently featured a interesting profile of Feili by Nogaam, a group that publishes censored authors from Iran.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance forbids Feili from publishing his books, which means that his first book, The Sun’s Platform, is also his last and only official published book. Since the Ministry is responsible for access and distribution of all media, this implies that censorship plagues authors or artists if their work is considered inappropriate. The ministry refuses to publish Feili’s works for unknown reasons, censoring him and stifling his creativity. 

Feili conceals his sexuality for fear of greater persecution by others or by the Iranian administration. The Iranian administration and populace consider homosexuality a malady, marking the illegality and consequences in fatwas issued by Iranian ministers. Similar to North Korea, Iran is portrayed as totalitarian regime — through Feili’s words — that suppresses an inhabitant’s rights and enforces mandates through threats of incarceration and death. Thus, Feili lives in a perpetual state of fear and tension.

He completely ostracizes himself because of the inability to publish his work and the extreme condemnation of homosexuality in Iran. The misfortune ensues as the ministry threatened and forced Feili’s translator to separate from the recluse author, further crippling his career. In addition, Feili was fired from his job without notice or a specific reason. As a result, ostracism is possibly the only solution for Feili since the ministry virtually ruined his life and career. Feili currently resides among his thoughts and books, pondering ways to share his writings with the world.

Despite the obstacles, Feili refuses to let the ministry destroy his spirit and silence his voice.  “If you read my books, it’s obvious I have not succumbed to self-censorship. My poems are bold and fearless,” Feili said. “I don’t allow anybody, not me, not others and not even the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance to censor my books.” Feili asserts his bravery and strives to obtain capital to translate and publish his books, enlightening the world and bypassing the Iranian administration.

Besides his status as a blacklisted author, Feili is secretive about his homosexuality due to the danger at hand. Considerable animosity surrounds those who are considered homosexual, but the consequences are far dire for men than women. Execution is the consequence of any same-sex affairs between adult men who are fully aware of their actions whereas lashes are the main punishment for adult women who willingly engaged in lesbianism. The death sentence applies to women once they have engaged in lesbianism and been punished three times. Thus, life for Feili in Iran is tragic and unfortunate because same-sex affairs or marriage are labeled haraam, or unlawful, in Islam.

Feili even hides his sexuality from his partners, pretending that it is his first experience. He notes that he only has one friend, named Poker, in a poem titled, “I Will Grow, I Will Bear Fruit…Figs.” Feili manages to maintain his friendship with Poker despite the risk involved. In other words, he will never have peace of mind as long as he resides in Iran.

He longs for the world to read his books and hear his opinions, but his blacklisted status and homosexuality make it nearly impossible. The ministry continues to reject his books for publishing and Iran institutes strict laws against homosexuality, making progress motionless. There is a high likelihood that authors cannot share their works if the ministry labels them inappropriate, and homosexuality will be illegal as long as the Iranian administration considers it to be a crime and an illness.

Feili is one of the few who endures the suffering, but continues living on.