A homosexual Afghan man soberly details his journey from a discriminative country toward freedom.
Originally published in Farsi in 2009, this affecting memoir recounts Zaher’s experiences as a fearful gay man growing up in Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul. Armed with uncommon resilience, the author stayed true to his feelings, in defiance of the region’s widely accepted, sometimes violent targeting of homosexuals. Despite the palpable sense of fear, he continually hoped the exposure of his sexuality would inspire others to join him in solidarity. From early adolescence, Zaher “did not feel like a man from the inside” and exhibited “girly traits” and affectations that he neither concealed nor was particularly ashamed of. To avoid being ostracized, the author writes of how he spoke “from the depth of my throat in a thick voice.” Eventually, after being frequently victimized because of his sexuality, he developed a stern desire to abandon the country altogether via impassioned appeals to the U.N., much to his family’s horror. His attraction to older men ushered in the first of many awkward and dangerous sexual encounters, and his need to be acknowledged increased as well. Zaher paints a harrowing portrait of his life through the late 1980s and ’90s as a college student, then struggling in Pakistan after 9/11, working in Iran, then employing a guide to help him border-hop through Turkey, culminating in a botched attempt to reach Greece by boat. Zaher’s recollections conclude in 2008 when, after his deliberate troublemaking, the U.N. relocates him to Canada as a refugee. The memoir calls out the regressive “cultural ignorance” and superstitions of Afghan society, where “no one knows a homosexual except himself or herself.” In Afghanistan and elsewhere, leading a nontraditional lifestyle can be a death sentence, just like the indictment for government conspiracy that resulted in his father’s execution. And still, never sulky or morose, Zaher exudes hope for a “spontaneous transformation in the traditional society of Afghanistan,” however impossible it may seem.
A remarkable, eye-opening autobiography that’s as relevant as it is revelatory.