Ghazi Rabihavi and the taboo of homosexuality in Iran

“I would like to start by talking about the situation of writers in Iran. When I left the country, I was not only banned from publication but also physically threatened, and six months after my departure, mass murder of writers took place, the bodies of my missing friends were thrown in the desert. . So begins to speak Ghazi Rabihavi, Iranian writer in exile in London, while the situation of his colleagues is still in the news: oWe have only recently learned that Baktash Abtine, Reza Khandan-Mahabadi and Keyvan Bajan, all three members of the Association of Writers of Iran, were sentenced to prison terms, found guilty of “propaganda against the regime” and “Conspiracy against the security of the country”.

The novelist, short story writer, playwright, is passing through Paris for the release of his first book published in French by Serge Safran, and what a book “Les Garçons de l’Amour” is! Moreover, noticed by the Prix Médicis which confirms it in the second selection of foreign novels. Here is the epic, tender yet, in the midst of so much violence, of a couple of young Iranians, gently drawn to each other, and who will remain bound throughout by a deep love. Epic all the more challenging as it is situated on the edge of the fall of the Shah’s regime and the coming to power of Khomeini, when the ayatollahs sow terror, when the Iraqi bombs fall, when in less than two years , all women are veiled, and that, more than ever, the loves of Djamil, who dreams of becoming a dancer, and Nadji, the fisherman in love with the violin, are condemned.

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And if he answers quite frankly “no” and, with a smile, “not yet”, when asked if he speaks in intimate knowledge of homosexuality, Ghazi Rabihavi explains above all that he is in the habit of speaking of what does not necessarily concern him directly, but inhabits him, in his responsibility to describe oppression, as he saw it, and wherever it comes from. “I wanted to show that a romantic relationship between two men is nothing different from a relationship between a man and a woman. I wanted to get out of a religious and cultural conception, to go beyond the curiosity of seeing what happens in the bed of a gay couple by showing their daily life, what they live in like everyone else. And that’s exactly what he manages to do by recounting the journey of his two heroes in the heart of society in upheaval.

I remember men looking at us when I was 14 or 15, like we were women, and scared us.

Even more, in this book, Rabihavi denounces by describing it without loud cries, but in the reality of every day, how the young boys of his native country are the prey of the men. “I wanted to deal with the theme of pederasty in the Eastern world, to show these men, non-homosexuals, fathers of families, who want to sleep with young boys. I remember men who looked at us when I was 14 or 15, as if we were women, and who scared us. In the tailoring, or blacksmith’s, apprentices had to have sex with the bosses, and even if the families knew about it, they said nothing because they were the only source of income. The law in our country lets it happen. A young man raped by a man finds himself in a legal vacuum. Worse, the raped boy, if he spoke, received the lashes endorsing the “sin”. If only he would add, praising the work of Christophe Balaÿ (who made it known to Serge Safran), the translation of his novel “into a beautiful Western language” could help that this crime be punished …

Nine months in prison

Speaking of what disturbs, in spite of the censorship, not only political but moral, this is one of the essential motivations of the writer born in 1956, very early sure of his vocation and who, since his first short story, has described this that others feared to tell: “An Iranian writer who wants to write about the reality of this country in itself is already in danger,” he continues. But I felt responsible for telling what I saw. ”When writers were summoned by the power to use it as propaganda, or at the very least, censored themselves, Rabihavi was thus one of the first to describe the ravages of Iran-Iraq war. “I saw women, refugees forced to leave their homes, I was interested in these characters, who were not found in Iranian literature. I was a fine arts student in Tehran, and when I returned home, to Abadan, I wrote with a small lamp, in a trench, what I saw around me ”.

The publication of “Souvenirs du soldat” earned him nine months in prison between 1982 and 1983. The association of writers of which he was a member was soon no longer entitled to citizenship, but Rabihavi remembers how, around one of the fathers of Persian literary modernity, Houchang Golchiri, the writers met clandestinely for “the Thursday sessions”. “You had to arrive one after the other, every quarter of an hour, so as not to be spotted by group effect. ” Iranians who want to know the truth behind the propaganda are spreading the hugely successful news at a time when private publishers are taking big risks: “Magazines, bookstores are attacked by pro-regime activists, coming with stones destroy the premises. So the booksellers put books on the sidewalk … “

In Iran, my books circulate almost like drugs.

In 1994, Rabihavi was banned from publication, following an article in the journal Adineh about the Association of Writers of Iran. After more than fifteen years of a “facist regime, where neighbors denounce each other”, he ended up in exile in London where he continues to write for the theater and the cinema, having turned to the scriptwriter profession already in his country, where his publications had to go through the censorship office. But in Iran, he continues, his books are sold covertly “outside official bookstores, printed in offset, they circulate almost like drugs,” jokes the author.

The weight of patriarchal culture

During the Paris meeting, the President of the Committee for the Defense of Persecuted Writers – French PEN Club, Michèle Gautard, read a message from the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Iranian Shirin Ebadi, addressed to the author of the “Boys of love”: “Unfortunately, the situation of homosexuals worsened considerably after the 1979 revolution by the promulgation of discriminatory laws. Patriarchal culture rejects homosexuality. In a sexual relationship between two men, there is, according to this patriarchal culture, a difference between the passive and active partner. The passive person would thus be confronted with a harsher and hostile reaction from society because according to this society, the man thus dishonors his masculinity. This being an example of how patriarchal culture is justified in any way possible. Homosexuals are not free to express themselves. They have to conceal their identities to stay alive. Those who campaign for gay rights are subject to persecution. Therefore, the international community must be the spokesperson for these marginalized people in Iran and help them by becoming their voice so that they are heard.

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“The separation between politics and religion could solve the question in the West, not in Iran, where religion predominates” answers the author of this novel of more than 400 pages of which one cannot skip a line so much the thoroughness to say how a young man feels his first emotions in contact with the body of a man who urges him to hug him when he rides the motorbike, how a father denies his only son, how this father himself is the toy of a lawless son-in-law, how a beloved grandmother who has become blind is abandoned, how guilt, the risk of betrayal too, interferes between friends, how there is no other hope than the flight to Europe …

Literature, when it is thus just and clear, makes the reality of a country pass like nothing else. And this in an unarmed gentleness, a naked sincerity, which gives Djamil and Nadji not the Manichean status of persecuted heroes, but shows what they are: two young Iranians who loved each other in turmoil.

“The boys of love”, by Ghazi Rabihavi. Translated from Persian and presented by Christophe Balaÿ (Serge Safran editor, 432 p., € 23.90).

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