Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week Yalda is an Iranian queer man, Radical Faerie, DJ, musician, poet, activist, and masseur. Now a Lismore local, Yalda grew up surrounded by lush green nature in the north of Iran, near the Caspian Sea. He attended an Islamic High School and his experiences in Iran led him to develop a strong passion for human rights and protesting injustice. Two things guide him in life; music and massage. He uses both to work on the spirit, soul, body, heart, and mind. This story was recorded at Queerstories Mullumbimby in 2021. Presented in partnership with local org Queer Family and hosted by Aidan Gentle. Follow Queerstories and Queer Family on Facebook for event updates in the Northern rivers.
Yalda: 10 years ago I decided to leave my country to find more peace and freedom,
I left Iran to Turkey and after meeting UNHCR’s lawyers I have been accepted as a homosexual refugee. Then I got my temporary refugee visa and I could start my journey in another islamic country.
It was a long way to get my permanent visa to the third country which I didn’t know when and how it would happen.
I found a small city and a small cute apartment in south Turkey. Where I started my life again on my own.
Mersin was a small city and most of the people couldn’t speak english or understand, even some of them were against to western culture and their languages, so whenever I tried to speak English they looked at me even worse.
However after living in Mersin for one and half a year, I could speak Turkish fluently and I felt more connected to their culture, my new country and city.
Everything were looking not too bad, till one day when I was walking in the city centre, a few masculine young Turkish men looked at me and stopped me in the street.
One of them raised his voice and said “Hey you, come here now!”
One of them asked me what I was doing here and I said “I’m just working in the streets”
I was a bit scared, but I couldn’t ignore and pass them, I felt they will be more aggressive and chase me or even attack me, so I tried to calm down to see what was going to happen. I said “Hello, how are you?”
He said “Why are you plucking your eyebrows? Aren’t you a man?”
I said “Hmmmm, I didn’t pluck them, my eyebrows are like these.”
They laughed at me loudly and started asking more questions about my gender and sexuality and the country that I was coming from.
They were verbally insulting me, their talking tones were so aggressive and abusive.
Suddenly, I thought it might be better to pretend that I can not understand their language so much and that was my saver idea.
I passed that day safely but after that experience I couldn’t live in Mersin city anymore , I decided to move to Istanbul where I knew the homosexual community was much bigger so I would be more acceptable in society.
I went to the police station to let them know that I can not live in this city anymore and I’m not safe because of so much nationalism and homophobia.
Of course as a refugee you have no right to move to any other cities before the government’s permission, so they straightway rejected my request.
I was so angry and couldn’t believe that I’m in another prison again and I have less freedom in here then Iran, while my hands were shaking, my eyes was full of tears and fears, I responded “I’m not a prisoner, I did not do any crime, I left my country to have more freedom, I wish you could understand me, but of course you can not even imagine my situations, I will leave if I have to and no one can stop me.”
I left Mersin and I started my life from the beginning in Istanbul. I found a beautiful home with open minded atheist feminist Turkish housemates who got into my heart so quickly.
I started to explore the night life, gay cafes, night clubs, live music, ancient architecture places and I found more radical friends, I had an amazing life in Istanbul, I even fell in love two times with hot Turkish men. They broke my heart but all good.
After a year and half, I got a phone call from the Australia embassy. They told me that my Visa is ready and my flight will be booked soon, so I had to check my account on the UNHCR website to get more information. Everyday I was checking but nothing changed.
I had a few weeks to pack all my stuff, but before leaving Turkey I need to go back to Mersin to get an exit letter from the police.
“Hello Mr officer, I came back to get my exit letter.”
Officer said “Aw Yalda! it’s You? Where have you been all this time?”
I said “I was living in Istanbul, I have told you about my situation.”
Officer said “And we told you that you can not, it’s impossible.”
Officer said “Yalda we pulled out your name and all your documentary from the system, you do not exist for us, how can I write an exit letter for someone who doesn’t exist?”
I couldn’t believe what was happening,
I said “But I’m here now! Can you see me? My visa is ready and my flights have been booked by the UN, if I don’t get my exit letter soon I will have to wait in the queue again and no one knows how long that would take to get my second flight.”
He said “Yalda you broke the laws by leaving the city without permission, I can arrest you and keep you here tonight and even deport you to Iran but because I really liked you and you are respectful person, I let you to go and I pretend I haven’t seen you, go back to where you were before and never come back here again.”
It was one of the worst days in my life.
I called all the human rights organisations in London, Turkey, Canada and whoever that I know, to ask for help, I was too scared to be deported .
Sitting at the balcony, watching the beautiful Mediterranean sea, crying , feeling alone and depressed, my phone rang and it was Samira my best friend, who was a Kurdish refugee from Iran. She said “I’m coming to see you, give me your address. We can walk at the beach and have a shisha and cry and talk together.”
She said “Please please come with me Yalda, just stop thinking for tonight, I will take you to a Turkish café, the cafe is so beautiful and some fortune teller always are at the cafe, maybe they can tell something to us and we just have a Turkish coffee and Ciggie. Cigarette before, now I’m Aussie I say say ciggie.
The Cafe was full of people but quite quiet, staffs are serving coffee, tea and drinks. Suddenly I saw a gypsy Turkish woman walking in the cafe, she felt my vibe and just turn back and stared at my eyes. She walked out and came to us and said “Hello darlings, how is your day, is everything fine?” I said “Well, I don’t know what to say, can I ask a question? Are you a fortune teller?”
She smiled and said “Yes my son, what’s happening for you?”
I said “I really don’t know and I don’t want to share anything about myself with you, if you want to read my cup or tarot. I doubt about fortune tellers, but I believe in metaphysics, so would you like to tell what you see in our Turkish coffee cups and open tarot for us?”
She asked permission to sit and we welcomed her .
“You have a big legal problem and that is worrying you too much”, she said. “You feel you are alone and you can’t find any solution, things are so messy and mixed and you cry a lot, your cup is full of tears…”
Now I’m impressed, I said, please tell me what you see, continue, I don’t want to give any information, that’s how I can believe what you say is true or not .
“You both love each other so much, but you are not partners , I see a very strong friendship which will last forever if you don’t let anyone come between you.”
She said “And my son, I know you are having a very difficult time and you see nowhere to go, but you will leave this country very soon , you are going somewhere so far away, by plane, it looks like a big massive Island.
My mouth was widely open and shocked. I said “No, I’m stuck here.”
She continued “My darling, I can see so many protection and help, you will leave Turkey before new year, and before you leave, you will celebrate and share your happiness with a lot of friends.”
You also will continue celebrating your life in your new country, that land is a wonderful place, you will have a great life there .
I got goosebumps and was speechless.
Whatever she said came true, I got my flight and exit letter in 2 weeks, I celebrate it with all my friends for days and nights. When I arrived to Australia it was 12 December, everywhere was full of Christmas preparation and new year ahead and I remember I was so drunk at gay night club and dancing so happy, feeling so free and extremely lucky and I still have her voice in my head.
“Enjoy your life, don’t you worry too much about anything, everything is getting sorted so soon. Have a magical night beautiful creature.”
Maeve: Thanks for listening. Please subscribe to our podcast, share your favourite tales on socials and follow Queerstories on Facebook for updates. You can also follow me, Maeve Marsden on Twitter and Instagram.