The boys of love

TEHRAN in the 18th century.

“Finally, my father saw what he shouldn’t have seen (…) My sister Behi and I were sitting on two stools while the girls were doing our make-up with the beauty products they had stolen from their mothers (…) Behi played the role of the groom, because she was taller and stronger than me (…) Me, given my slim and graceful figure, I was the bride. This inversion of roles (one could say of genders) is the worst insult that one can make to patriarchal systems based on the primacy of the phallus and virility. The punishment will be terrible, “The same afternoon we were tied, Behi and me, to the trunk of the jasmine in the courtyard and the volley of green wood that my father inflicted on us burned our tender and frail legs with a burning pain. »

In the incisive opening lines of his novel, The Boys of Love*, Ghazi Rabihavi sets the scene for the brutal fate of homosexuality within a triumphant patriarchy. He shares with us the distress of Djamil, the narrator, in his long flight forward from his village, his family, from Tehran, from Iran… towards the inevitable but tragic outcome of a sincere commitment in the face of inflexible laws.

Crime of unmanliness

For this memorial confession, Djamil hesitates between three titles: The Boys of Pain, The boys of love and, so fraught with violence is its history, The Boys of Death. This dilemma shows to what extent suffering is at the heart of this life story which alternates passion, repression and repression… because violence is at the center of this identity struggle: violence of impulses, violence of action and reactions, violence of immobility and tradition… The steamroller of patriarchal legitimacy cannot be sensitive to the legitimate cry of survival of a child because this implacable system has been in place for too long:

“You’re a man now! You are going to go to the boys’ school. It is no longer appropriate to take naps with girls and do things that make you look ridiculous in the eyes of women. You understand what I’m telling you ?

– Yes Haji! Understood.

He was right. I was big now. I had to behave in a manly way…”

Hajji is the father, the incarnated male, the man who made the Hajj pilgrimage, the one who orders and who is obeyed. Djamil never accepted the submission that was imposed on him and very quickly the doubt imposed itself on Hajji, to the extent of his mistrust for all that is feminine, especially in a man, his son: “With a nervous step he (my father) walked back and forth wondering what I would be: girl or boy? What was I? Was I asked the question? Or was I asking myself? (…) This man (my father) whom we all called by the name of Hajji had twice had seven daughters and he was fed up with all these daughters. When Djamil was born, the father’s first two wives – his mother being the third – were ready to carry out their plan (if it was a girl) “which was to kill me by sticking a pin in the fontanel. »

Education and homosexuality

We know how dangerous education is for patriarchal cultures, which exclude girls from it, as Laure Adler and Stefan Bollmann showed so well in their essay with the very telling title: “Women who read are dangerous”** . Djamil, who dreamed of becoming a dancer, testifies to this traditional ostracism which assigns homosexuals to a feminine identity: “If my father had known that one day I would write all these things, he would never have sent me to school” .

Initiation perverse

The initiation to motorcycling by Hamed, his first cousin and future brother-in-law – “He will marry my sister Behi” – against whom he hugged on motorbike journeys to go to school, his hand against “his big hardened member “, will be a revealer of the perversion of Hamed but also for Djamil of his own homosexuality. And the meeting with Nadji, which the father will notice, will be the catalyst for this awareness. However, there is no one to confide in, his mother having died during childbirth and Hajji insensitive to the slightest plea from this son which triggers his despair: “Am I cursed, shouted Hajji! Or is it that you have no balls, you my only son? »

It is impossible to fight against the legitimate forces embodied by the Pasdaran, these vigilante guards of the revolution so attentive to the respect of Islamic law. The abandonment of the family village, the escape far from the father… allow the two boys, Djamil and Nadji, an illusion of freedom and show how severe the repression is with regard to relations between boys, in the traditional context of the Islam hostile to homosexuality. In this era of contestation of the Shah by the fundamentalist positions of Shiism – the story begins in the 1970s – popular reactions are extreme vis-à-vis the sovereign but also respect for the traditional order: “This Shah who should care about his people, give them work, worry about their safety, care only about spreading moral corruption, subjugating the country to the West and encouraging fags (…) as long as there is there will be people like me in this country, we won’t let them. Myself, I’m just waiting for an opportunity to go to Tehran and kill these two fags in particular. To hang them with my own hands. »

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Demonstration in Tehran


The revolution occurs which is not a sign of appeasement. Djamil and Nadji try to reach abroad, the Emirates first of all, and dream of Europe… it is the beginning of a long exile, of a headlong rush strewn with inquisitors and sensitive souls… an extremely dangerous life path, a moving epic of humanity and inhumanity, of tranquility and intranquillity… a poignant, moving story that leaves no one indifferent. In search of safe places to sleep, they have the bitter experience of walking – and always walking – to escape being denounced because it must be remembered that confessed homosexuality is still punishable by death in Iran. Fortunately, as stated on September 25, 2007, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic: “In Iran, we do not have homosexuals like in your countries…”***

A demanding publisher, Serge Safran publishes boys of love, this magnificent novel bears witness to a key period in the contemporary history of Iran. Ghazi Rabihavi was born in 1956 in Abadan, in the Persian Gulf. He was 22 years old in 1978 when the revolution broke out. The same year he moved to Tehran. In 1980, the year of the war with Iraq, his first collection earned him nine months of incarceration in the political prison of Evin. Banned from publication in 1994, he went into exile a year later in London where he carried out a literary activity in the novel, the theater and the cinema, describing the revolutionary disillusionment and the bringing to heel of the universities.

Ghazi Rabihavi will be in Paris on October 1st at the bookstore Words in mouth (75010), October 3 at the Utopiran bookstore (75015) and October 4 at the VO-VF Festival in Gyf-Sur-Yvette.

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*boys of love by Ghazi Rabihavi, translated from Persian by Christophe Balaÿ, Serge Safran editor, August 2020; Women who read are dangerous by Laure Adler and Stefan Bollmann, Flammarion, 2006; Gay or straight, is it a choice? by Philippe Brenot, Ed. the Spirit of Time, 2015.

See also below on my Blog (you can access it by clicking on the link) : Can you be transsexual in Iran? (April 13, 2017) and Should gay men be cured? (June 7, 2013)

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The boys of love

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