Shahnameh in Paris
Over the years, the two women developed a special
October 13, 2006
The Marais district of Paris is full of people some would not really
expect in the heart of Paris, like Iranian lesbians. A traditional
neighborhood of Jews, Le Marais is now famous as the “gay” neighborhood
of Paris. Many of the gay restaurants, clubs and other happenings
are found here. But it is because of the atmosphere of this district
that attracts them, say the locals.
A 37-year-old Iranian lesbian
named Parvaneh is visiting a young (man and woman) couple who live
in a tiny studio on rue Sainte
Croix de Bretonnerie. They also happen to be Iranians. But “they
are not gay,” Parvaneh assures me, “they are young,
educated and open minded. And last summer I met them at a rally
outside of Paris for Maryam Rajavi. We have become very close since,
and I’m here today because I’m in search of moral support.”
she is upset because the woman she has been in love with for the
past five or so years has left for Tehran last night. Narjis,
a 46-year-old mother of two, had been coming in and out of Paris
for the last ten years, because her husband is a middleman who
works for a French company that deals with Iranian companies. Because
their children are grown up (and are living abroad,) Narjis had
been able to go with her husband wherever business takes him, preferably
Over the years, the two women developed a special
bond. Although Narjis is almost ten years Parvaneh’s senior,
it did not hinder the fact that the women found themselves so much
in common. And
Narjis’s frequent trips to Paris only enriched that bond.
“They come here a lot, and often do business with my husband,” explains
Parvaneh. “Sometimes two or three times a year. A lot of
the times they stay a long period. This time they stayed for nearly
a year. It is hard to let go someone after all that time. I’m
unhappy because I want to be with her all the time but I can’t
because of our dilemma.”
Parvaneh is also married, with three
children. They live in a luxury apartment in the upscale 7th Arrondissement.
To all the Iranian
friends and families of Paris, and those who visit all the time
from all over the world, her life seems perfect. She is married
to a great businessman who has been able to afford her the best
life possible. They own vacation homes in three countries, including
Spain and Switzerland.
“I have been married to him for fourteen years,” recounts
Parvaneh, “and I had never been without something I needed.
He has been there for me financially and emotionally. But there
is something inside me that is just beyond him. I wish I could
change it but I have come to terms with it now that I could not
because it is inherently part of me.”
Although she admits
she had known about her lesbian feelings since she was a young
girl, and was dreaming of women like Anicée
Alvina and Dalida, Parvaneh says she really did not accept it and
fought very hard to overcome her sexual desires for other women.
Instead, she grew into a sad young woman with very low self-esteem
because she had this crazy idea that men could suspect her lesbian
feelings although she is very feminine.
When her father told her
about his friend’s son who expressed
interest in marriage, she thought it was the one thing she had
been praying for because men did not show interest and she desperately
wanted to experience her female sexuality with men. Marriage came
fast. Everything that she wanted to happen happened. But that did
not change how she felt about women, she says. And that she only
ended up in a life that she did not bargain for.
“It is a tough life being married to a man
and in love with another woman at the same time,” confesses
Parvaneh. “At least,
before it was fantasies about women from afar. Now it is a relationship
with a woman, an Iranian woman. Somehow, the longer we keep this
up the easier it gets on hand, because our feelings grow. On the
other hand, the harder it becomes because Narjis and I are much
attached now. It is too late for us to back out of this.”
has especially been very tough for Narjis because she comes from
a very religious Muslim family. When she was young, her father
used to tell her that she might become the mother of the Mahdi.
She took his words to heart and immersed herself in the faith.
As a grown woman who realized she had sexual feelings for women,
feelings that were condemned in her faith, she began a long life
battle to reconcile her sexuality with her faith. It almost cost
But since she met Parvaneh, who comes from a far
more liberal background, things have eased up for Narjis. “Slowly
she began to understand that religions are formed by males who
often want to be only heterosexual,” says
Parvaneh. “And that sometimes they don’t understand
or want to understand the complexity of human biology.”
that day, Parvaneh is home and waiting for the call. Narjis always
calls the night she gets to Tehran, to let her lover know
that she made it safe and sound. Although Parvaneh was comforted
by her friends in the Marais, Parvaneh is growing nervous. “She
usually calls right away, and the flight is only six hours, and
it has already been ten,” she says.
For a moment, Parvaneh’s
sadness is taken away by the distraction of a ritual. Her seven-year-old
son loves to hear the story of
his name. Something she has done since he could remember, he can’t
imagine sleep without. Tucked together in his bed, she says...
were a large baby in mommy’s belly, and decided to come
a month early. Then your father was very scared because mommy was
in trouble. He prayed to God and I was able to deliver you in good
health through cesarean section. We had originally decided to name
you Ahmad, if you turned out to be a boy, after your oldest uncle.
And if you turned out to be a girl, we would name you Narjis after
my dear friend. But because your birth was as miraculous as the
birth of the son of Zal and Roudaba, whose name was Rostam, we
decided to call you that instead.”
She opens the book, and reads
the story the way Ferdowsi wrote it. Parvaneh has been reading
the stories to her children as a way
for them to keep their culture. And although there is always “reasons,” says
Parvaneh, she gives them of why all the kids are named after such
characters, “it is really a way for me to let my children
know that they come from a great people. Not that I believe everything
in these stories but the imagination of them all,” she adds.
the little boy falls asleep, Parvaneh’s husband walks
in quietly. “It is Narjis,” he whispers, handing the
cordless phone to her, and as if he knows about their intimate
relationship, slowly walks back out. As Rostam sleeps away, Parvaneh
goes into the bathroom to talk to the woman she loves.
“I had to read another Shahnameh tale in Paris,” she
starts with the conversation. Comment
Jama is the Editor of Huriyah, a
queer Muslim magazine based in the United States.