By Mahpharah Khan
Sara Farizan’s 2013 novel “If You Could Be Mine” has given the young adult genre new insight into how LGBTQ+ individuals are treated outside of the United States — at least for its American readers.
Farizan’s novel highlights the violent and hidden parts of Iranian culture as the story follows a love story of two women, Sahar and Nasrin. Their entire relationship is kept in secret because if anyone finds out about them, they could be beaten, imprisoned or executed. Although they are willing to carry their relationship out in private, it’s threatened when Nasrin’s parents announce that she is getting married.
Sahar is determined to find a way to be with Nasrin. When she thinks she has come to a dead-end, she discovers a new way to be with her: become a man. Sex re-assignment surgery is legal and attainable in Middle-Eastern countries like Iran, but same-sex relationships are not. In fact, sex re-assignment surgeries are partially financed by the state. The novel raises the question: how far is one willing to go to erase their identity in order to love someone freely?
Much was celebrated June 26, 2015, as this date signifies the day the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage legal across the U.S. Although the world has never been free of its homophobia and transphobia, this ruling seemed like a gateway towards a more free and happy life for LGBTQ+ individuals. However, this has become increasingly hard since Donald Trump was elected President in 2016. Stated by the New York Times, In July, the Department of Housing and Urban Development allowed single-sex homeless shelters to exclude transgender people. It was argued this ruling would make women’s homeless shelters safer by not allowing men to seek them out to attack them. However, if one comes to a women’s homeless shelter, they identify as a woman.
The Trump administration’s rulings keep homophobia and transphobia alive, therefore allowing more violence to occur. Are transgender people really causing the violence? Or is it the racist, misogynistic and sexist man who is currently President of the United States?
Conservative governments inflict more harm than they believe they do — instead of their supposed care for their people, they are instrumental in their suffering and their death, as is the case with LGBTQ+ individuals. Homosexuality is considered illegal in ten of the eighteen countries that make up the Middle East, and in six of these countries, it is punishable by death. The only country where LGBTQ+ individuals are protected by law is in Israel; any act of violence targeted towards them is considered a hate crime. Some of the extreme countries include Saudi Arabia and Syria.
In Saudi Arabia, one can be sentenced to life in prison, be subjected to public whippings, beatings, chemical castrations, and death.
However, it seems to be less severe in Syria. In Article 520 of Syria’s Penal Code, it criminalizes “unnatural sexual intercourse,” and Article 517 states that any crime “against public decency” will be punished with a prison sentence that could be up to 3 months — or as long as 3 years.
If You Could Be Mine paints this picture clearly, as Sahar describes within the novel the punishment for gay people in Iran:
“She keeps thinking about the two boys who were hung after being accused of raping a thirteen-year-old boy, but most people think the two were lovers who got caught. Whatever crime they committed, I didn’t want a part of it. I wanted to stop loving Nasrin, but how do you stop doing something you know you are supposed to do?”
The most common and prevelant, insulting misconception conservatives have is that gay rights is a “trend” or a “phase”. It is actually common belief among Arabs and Muslims that homosexuality is solely a Western creation. Gay relationships have always existed, whether in secret or not, so it is actually foolish that our world has evolved to such a homophobic and transphobic state.
Even though this is a negative part of our society worldwide, there is still progress. People have felt more comfortable to accept themselves while also sharing this part with others — essentially what was harder for older generations to do. Elaine Ostry is an English professor at SUNY Plattsburgh and has taught this book before in order to raise awareness of how LGBT+ people are treated outside the US.
“In my generation, no one came out until high school or college,” Ostry said. “I think of how certain kids in my school were teased for being preceived as gay or bi.”
There is more freedom to come out among young people, which is a drastic improvement because it allows them to live a longer life being authentically themselves.
“I know there is still progress that has to be made,” Ostry said. “But someone of my generation can see a hopeful trajectory based on how things were when we were young.”
Sahar carries this false sense of optimism throughout the novel; first when she believes they can find a way to be together, and second, when she believes she can force herself to become a man in order to be with Nasrin. This can be an easy mindset to fall into for teens in the same situation as Sahar in the Middle East because when one experiences so many restrictions, it is excruciating to always think of the torture and the impossible nature of their situation.
Sahar notes, “Homosexuality is dangerous, but adulterers can be stoned to death. We can’t continue if she goes through with marrying him. Both of us are afraid to bring it up.”
Either way, Sahar and Nasrin lose, because they can die if they keep seeing each other, and Sahar cannot force herself to become someone she knows she is not. Both cases produce Sahar’s literal and spiritual death.
Sahar’s line of thinking is a result of her internalized homophobia; she wants to stop loving Nasrin, but she is unable to. The fear that is instilled in Sahar perpetuates the worldwide problem of the abuse of the LGBTQ+ community. In the US, Donald Trump has been instrumental in the abuse of the LGBTQ+ community. He refuses to acknowledge Pride month and has generated the trans military ban. There has been a rollback of health care protections by the Department of Health and Human services, The NYT states. There is also no protection currently required for transgender people in federal prisons, evidently enacted by the Justice Department.
Trump’s homophobia and transphobia is loud and clear. He clings to practical conservative ideals, even though he does not practice any of these ideals. He is only enthralled by the idea of Christianity, because truthfully he is in no way religious himself. He claims we are protected by God. This religious language is part of his abuse towards LGBTQ+ people. His cult followers listen to him, and then act upon what he says because they believe he’s right. Trump uses these traditional ideals to perpetuate and excuse his passive aggressive behavior towards LGBTQ+ people. He is the embodiment of everything offensive, and he has no care in the world to change — he does not have the empathy to.
Even though some American young adult readers may not be gay or trans themselves, or live in Iran or other parts of the Middle East, it is still important for them to read stories like If You Could Be Mine.
“We really should read books from other countries or set in other countries. Even if getting hung for being gay is not something I think would happen here, I think it’s important for teenagers to know that it is something that does happen in the world,” Ostry said. “Gay rights is a global issue and a global movement.”
It is crucial for teenagers to be aware of these issues because society’s treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals signifies if their government truly cares about everyone. Any government, that excludes LGBTQ+ individuals from their society, is fully responsible for the violence and ridicule they experience.
The United States is no exception.
Although there is much disconcert to be had concerning the protection of the LGBTQ+ community, it would be foolish to ignore the revolutionary optimism Gen Z has. If You Could Be Mine is one YA novel of many in which more LGBTQ+ teens are being represented. This encourages teens to fully embrace whoever they want to be, especially in a shifting, ever changing world at this moment. And while these stories are for us to reflect and relate to, it also exists to educate us not only on our domestic issues, but our worldwide ones as well.