By Rachel Savage
LONDON, July 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When Soudeh Rad shared her experience of domestic abuse online, she hoped it would encourage others to speak out – only to be bombarded with more insults because she is bisexual.
Facebook users excused her Iranian husband’s violence, saying that he must have been angry about her sexual orientation, even though Rad had not come out at the time. Some even said that the attacks were a way of him showing his love.
“There was this thread of comments on Facebook: ‘Well you’re a bisexual’ … This was really very sad for me,” said Rad, 38, an Iranian who now lives in Paris.
“(They were) legitimising domestic violence, which ended (with) me going to the hospital and having these huge physical and mental problems.”
Iran is one of the worst countries in the world for LGBT+ rights. Its Islamic penal code includes the death penalty for gay sex and up to 100 lashes for lesbians, according to global LGBT+ rights group ILGA.
Bisexual people also face discrimination from within the LGBT+ community, Rad found, which led her to set up the first Farsi language website on bisexuality in 2015 together with Zeynab Peyqambarzadeh, an Iranian based in Britain.
“There was huge bi-erasure and biphobia amongst LGBT+ activists in the Iranian diaspora,” said Rad, referring to people who ignore and discriminate against bisexual people.
“They would absolutely promote bisexuality as a thing with all the stigmas that everyone can imagine … like they’re greedy ones, those who are here to abuse us homosexual community, or those who don’t know what they want,” she said.
“Bisexuality is a valid and existing sexuality, and we cannot really let LGBT+ activists think like that.”
The two activists set up the website Dojensgara – meaning bisexual in Farsi, or Persian, a language spoken by about 110 million people – to educate people in their mother tongue about sex, gender and sexual orientation.
“There’s no information out there,” said Rad, who only discovered the word dojensgara when she was in her 20s.
The site features YouTube videos, podcasts – produced with the London-based LGBT+ online station Radio RanginKaman – and written stories about bisexual Iranians around the world.
It also publishes a comic “One of Us”, about the hidden lives of Iran‘s LGBT+ community, written by Nima Nia, a gay Iranian in the United States, and profiles famous bisexuals like Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and U.S. poet Walt Whitman.
Bisexual Iranians are less likely to come out than their gay and lesbian peers, a 2018 survey of some 800 LGBT+ Iranians globally by London-based human rights group Small Media found.
Studies have found higher rates of mental health problems and drug abuse among bisexual people than their straight, lesbian or gay peers, which have been linked to the dual discrimination they can experience.
Dojensgara has more than 8,300 followers on Instagram. Rad would not disclose how many visitors the site gets, noting that it is blocked in Iran and can only be accessed by using a Virtual Proxy Network (VPN) to hide users’ internet addresses.
One of Dojensgara’s visitors is Fariman Kashani, who saw 12 psychologists in Iran after being accused of behaving like a boy for holding hands with a female classmate.
Some diagnosed “sexual perversion” and the last psychologist said 20-year-old Kashani – who was raised as a girl – was transgender and prescribed gender reassignment surgery.
But Kashani needed parental permission to get male documents before having surgery. And after being sexually abused by a landlord and kicked out of university in Tehran, Kashani fled to Turkey in 2016.
“I couldn’t handle it any more,” Kashani, 25, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “I was becoming suicidal.”
Finding Dojensgara helped Kashani to identify as non-binary – of neither female nor male gender – and realise that surgery was not necessary.
“I found out I don’t need to fit into male or female gender behaviour,” said Kashani, who also has an undefined sexuality.
“I don’t tag myself, but I fall in love with anyone that I find interesting … I fall in love with the character of the person.”
Kashani, a computer programmer, was awarded refugee status in Turkey – and fell in love with another Iranian refugee.
“I think my love life and sex life is perfect. I couldn’t have this in Iran – we couldn’t even live together,” Kashani said.
(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)