Jafari, ‘Silencing Sexuality’, 2013

Subject Area

Sexual Orientation/Sexuality
Gender Identity
Human Rights






Asia | Europe

Year Published



Farrah Jafari, Silencing Sexuality: LGBT Refugees and the Public-Private Divide in Iran and Turkey, PhD dissertation (supervised by Anne Betteridge and Leila Hudson), The University of Arizona, 2013


The current Islamic Republic of Iran distinguishes between homosexuals and same-sex sexual activity: the former is not recognized as an identity, while state apparatuses openly condemn the latter. Beginning in Iran’s medieval period, through its current Islamic regime, this dissertation argues that the allowances made for behaviors and attitudes for queer same-sex sexual intimacies in the historiography of Iranian sexuality are very distinct from the modern and Western notion of `gay’. Same-sex sexual relations in Iran threaten the conventional order that is built on an accepted series of gender differences reinforced by the Islamic regime. Marginalization of Iran’s queer population permeates into local Iranian communities, creating ruptures with society and family. In the face of a generally repressive and heteronormative Iranian state, as well as the prospect of resettlement abroad, Iranian queers are fleeing to Turkey. This dissertation examines the processes by which queer Iranians face unprecedented forms of stigmatization and violence in Iran and later in Turkey. Going beyond a simple report of homophobic abuse in the Middle East, I engage ethnography as a vehicle by which to appreciate the effects of the constant silencing of queer voices and issues on social, familial, governmental and religious relations in Iran. During the summer of 2012, I conducted 24 qualitative interviews with queer Iranian asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey to assess the impact of societal and state consequences for queers in Iran, and later as refugees. Migration into Turkey reworks social relations based on race, sexual orientation and nationality; Iranians are both victims of and agents within the processes of asylum. An analysis of Iranians vis-à-vis one another, as well as their relations with local Turks, will explain the way race and sexual orientation impact migrant life. My research examines how the failure of figuring non-heteronormative sexuality into modern social, national, religious and academic discourses of Iranian culture is destructive on a human rights level, as it fails to generate new possibilities for developing truthful identities in Iranian and Turkish society and human rights law concerning queers.