Shame, dishonor, persecution—these are just a few tribulations highlighted in Yousef & Farhad, a new webcomic that illustrates the realities of being gay in Iran.
LGBT human rights organization OutRight Action International teamed up with the creators of the acclaimed graphic novel Zahra’s Paradise, Amir Soltani and Khalil Bendib, in this engaging narrative of forbidden love, suppressed identity, and self-acceptance.
Following the likes of Alison Bechdel, Sean Martin, and Howard Cruse, Soltani and Bendib use the power of language and cartoon to explore LGBT themes that resonate among a worldwide audience. By doing so, the artistic duo aim to confront the nation’s pervasive enmity towards homosexuality and inspire readers to regain their autonomy.
“There’s certain key words, like ‘terrorist’ or ‘gay’ or ‘faggot’ or ‘animal’ or ‘apostate,’ ‘heretic’—all of these words, they are such hateful instruments,” Soltani told The WorldPost. “They can cause such extraordinary damage, that I think the ultimate goal for me as a writer is to take the venom and the force and the power and authority out of these words.”
“And it’s not just happening with gays,” added Soltani. “It’s happening with the Baha’i, it’s happening with secular Iranians, it’s happening with religious clerics—it’s a question of power. I think as artists we can submerge it, we can challenge it. So that’s why we agreed to do this project.”
The graphic novel series is divided into four parts. Centered on a gay romance between protagonists, Yousef and Farhad, each comic segment unfolds a different facet of Yousef’s journey through coming out and romance. From his father’s dismay and disownment to his idyllic love affair with Farhad, Yousef’s story portrays the conflicts and circumstances afflicting Iran and its LGBT community, and challenges the stigmas that still prevail within the Islamic republic.
“One of our major motivations was putting a human face on an entire culture, which tends to be defined by a lot of stereotypes and negative impressions,” explained Bendib. “So we’re trying to bring to life real people and showing how they’re flawed like everybody else. They’re certainly not perfect, but they’re certainly not any more evil, devious than you or me.”
Homosexuality is criminalized in Iran, and can result in imprisonment, physical punishment, and even execution. Beyond these harsh penalties, majority of homosexual people in Iran are subjected to banishment, abuse, and humiliation by their families and peers.
Despite the deep-seated homophobia, Soltani and Bendib see a bright future beckoned by awareness and love.
“Many parents of gay kids have been so homophobic until they discover that their kid is gay,” said Soltani. “And then they’re stuck between what they learned and what their beliefs are on the one hand, and what their love is on the other. And for us, I think it’s just coming back to this idea that love is what matter. Love and acceptance and tolerance.”
Check out the comic series here.