When I first came to America from Iran, I lived a double life. My family had no idea where I went at night and fortunately didn’t ask. At my college, I met a beautiful Armenian girl, and we started dating. But our relationship required me to be a master at living a double life. A typical evening consisted of dinner or a movie together. Afterward, we would make out in my car. While we made out, I’d have one eye open, looking at my watch behind her head to see what time it was. We couldn’t waste too much time; otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to get to the gay club I went to, the Abbey, and make it home early enough not to raise any questions.
Every night I kept a change of clothes in my trunk like a high school girl who didn’t want her parents to know about the skimpy clothes she wore for school. I wanted to wear skimpy outfits too! I wore skintight T-shirts that hugged my biceps and stopped just at my waist, so when I raised my arms, you would be able to see my stom- ach. Honestly, if transforming into a homo was an Olympic sport, I would have taken home the gold. Every night, right before I got home, I changed back into my boring “straight” clothes.
When I was at the Abbey, I never drank. Not a single drop of alcohol. Just water. I also never stayed out too late or went home with anyone. I was simply an observer. For me, going to the Abbey was about nothing more than being present in this world that I had never known existed. It was my safe space where I was able just to be. I can’t say I was able to be myself there. I didn’t know who I was yet. And perhaps in many ways, I was simultaneously inching toward the real me. It wasn’t about partying or sex. It was about feeling a connection with people like me. I felt it through the music and the lights. The genuine happiness people had to be among each other. I lived vicariously through them. I connected with them, even if that connection was simply about sharing energy more than making friends.
I had been living the double life for weeks without so much as a peep from my girlfriend or my family. That all changed one night when I got home and noticed the light in the basement was still on. My uncle told me one of his friends saw me at the club. He told me, ““You know, there are programs out there that can help fix you, right?”
When you grow up with something, a difference that is so obvi- ous, so clear to so many people, a difference that is repeated by every school kid on the playground, every teacher, every principal, you get to a point where you no longer believe you are fixable.”
I was right. I didn’t realize it then, but I was right. I wasn’t confident in the fact I was gay. I still wasn’t able to truly identify as being gay. But I knew I was different, and I knew it wasn’t some- thing anyone would be able to fix. I had always been this way. In a perfect world, if an uncle found out that his nephew was gay, he would reaffirm their mutual love and support and welcome this truth with open arms. But the world isn’t necessarily that perfect. At least my world wasn’t. He was kind, which was his nature. Uncle A was an immensely kind and loving man. As such, he approached the issue with compassion, albeit misguided compassion. He wanted to find solutions to what he perceived as a grave problem. The only trouble was, I was starting to no longer see it as one.
It is incredibly frightening to go against your culture and community. Humans gravitate toward one another, and we often find comfort in the shared identities and experiences within communities we create versus those we are born into. Growing up Armenian in Iran, our culture was extremely important because we had to fight to hold onto it. Honor, shame, standards, and reputation are all aspects of my culture that I learned to understand and respect at a young age. But my culture did not support who I was becoming. So I had to make a decision. Either choose my community
or me. I chose myself. Even if the environment you are a part of doesn’t support who you feel you are in your heart, you still have to follow it. Family will express love and concern because they want what’s best for you. That doesn’t mean they are right.