Payam Feili, a 30-year-old gay Iranian poet, never thought he would find himself living under the jurisdiction of ‘the little Satan’, as the Islamic Republic’s founding Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomenei liked to refer to Israel.
But sitting outside a bohemian cafe near the fashionable Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, Feili looks perfectly at ease.
“For me, it’s not just another country," he says, speaking softly in Farsi. That’s where life would happen,” he says, as he describes an apartment where he lived with his mother, and the room where he would host his friends, fellow writers and lovers. Payam has also long been interested in Israel, the "forbidden fruit" of a country—a trait that earned him additional suspicion at home.
(For security reasons, Saeed asked to be referred to by his first name only.) Until recently, consensual sexual intercourse between men was a capital offense in Iran.
After a change in the country's penal code, the "active" person in the act can now be punished with up to 100 lashes, but if he's married, the death penalty may apply.
Saeed was 20 years old when he sat his father down and told him he was gay.
Trembling, he recounted how, as a child, he hid cutouts of male underwear models from foreign magazines under his pillow, and would gaze at them for hours when he was alone.
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