In October 2010, Fateme Ekhtesari wrote an exclusive self-revelatory piece for ARTICLE 19 called ‘The Day I Became a Woman’. This piece received some of the best, often controversial, reviews any guest writer has had on our page. In the wake of her recent arrest, along with Mehdi Mousavi, I decided to re-publish her piece here today to remind our readers of her free soul and bold spirit.
I think it might have been Kurt Vonnegut who once said: If you want to torture your family and don’t have the guts to become a homosexual, get into literature.
I know this is not a word for word quote! Not that it is important But what is important is that Kurt Vonnegut never lived in Iran to know that in third world countries, ‘being a woman’ is such a big crime, so big that it dwarves ‘being a homosexual or not’, ‘being an artist or not’ and other ‘beings’ and ‘not beings’.
My book is not granted a permit because I have written about women, and the word ‘feminism’ in its title is a crime! Our dear Deputy Minister for Culture, who refers to me as ‘dear Fateme’, thinks the contents of my book will not help when I want to get married in the future. I burst into tears (even if you call this feminine) because I have no fear of being a woman, no fear of my emotions, I am bare.
I get beaten on the street by a man armed to his teeth, ventilating his sexual complexes by insulting me obscenely. You, Imam Zaman’s semi-anonymous soldier, I am happy that you don’t call me ‘your sister’ like before, but a ‘prostitute’…I’d rather be a freeborn prostitute than the sister of a murderer like you.
A certain fan of my poetry has come from a certain city to run a certain errand in Tehran. He sets up an appointment to meet me and I show up. I’d show up in a chador if I want to, or half naked if I want to (and had the freedom to do so). But this open-minded gentleman dares tell me what my clothes represent and what is proper for me. Sometimes my crime is my chador; sometimes, my nakedness…nobody bothers to know what is going on in my head. Later, this gentleman takes me to a restaurant and a coffee shop, rubbing his legs against mine all along the way in the taxi. Even then, my dear fan is not waiting to hear my poems. He is weighing up the words in his head to propose having sex with this wild poet in a way not to offend me. Be frank and I‘ll frankly tell you ‘yes’ or ‘no’. My body belongs to me and to anyone who has seen my naked soul. But I beg of you not to involve my beloved literature in this game of yours.
I post some pictures of me kissing Fereshteh by the sea on my Facebook page. The insults and threats begin. Apparently, I need to apologise to the world for kissing someone of my own kind! Apparently you, who sleep with 10 people a day and see the world like a whole to be screwed, are sacred; and I, a piece of filthy junk! Because I have allowed myself to be passionately ‘myself’? And to act from the heart, not based on what you have decided for me?
As usual, I put an image of myself underneath my poem. An image in which my hair is lying scattered on my body, revealing my neck and arms. My image is distributed on the internet, saying private images of Fateme Ekhtesari, the ‘young poet’, have been leaked! But you forget to email the poem to your friends as well…you have only seen my image, you devoted and dutiful brother or sister!! Your eyes are closed to literature…and later you ‘report’ me repeatedly to have my poem and image omitted from my Facebook page. If it were up to you, you wanted to bury me alive and rid your little world of me…how many times a day do I have to delete your insulting and threatening emails from my inbox? How many more times can I divert your disturbing phone calls to my professor’s mobile who stands up for me?
A certain sister’s biggest problem is how ‘Fateme Ekhtesari’ dresses in which gathering and what drinks she has! I swear to God that I prefer most men around me to you my dear sister with whom I share the same gender! You whose hottest topic in life is the shape of your nose, the colour of your hair, and the number of boyfriends you are leading on (to marriage). You who never find fault with my exhausted ideology, the linguistic functions of my poetry, or my insufficient knowledge of philosophy…but the small size of my breasts and my tiny figure. Oh dear sister, you just caused an uproar in a renowned literary workshop to justify your loss of virginity to find a husband. So stop talking about literature! Don’t talk to me of freedom! If you have serious issues and don’t have the guts to tell your future husband that you are a human being and the owner of your body and soul, I can replace that hymen of yours! You know I hold an MA in obstetrics, I am 24 and I am from Tehran.
A man called ‘Bahman T’ is having a debate on postmodern ghazal with me. Happy to have found an intellectual as an enemy, I respond. But when the polite critic falls short of words in our debate, he becomes disturbed that a woman has been bold enough to technically discuss poetry as an equal human being. He writes, “Please shut it and stop leaving comments on my status. Let your mouth which reeks of your knickers open once the stink is gone. You little woman, you are a lost cause, feeding on the filth coming off the naked bodies of your own kind, inhaling the reek of your deserted and musty being, so please shut it.” You uncivilised gentleman! I prefer the smell of my feminine knickers to your stinking mouth and gender-degenerating mind. And I will proudly and publicly speak about it.
I am a woman…but don’t forget that before anything I am a human being! Good or bad…not higher, not lower! In chador or naked, I shall fight for my freedom as I see fit…because if mankind is free, ‘woman’ and ‘man’ are free as well. For me, love and literature and freedom are sacred. My goal is not to compete with anyone. All I want is to be passionately ‘myself’ and not ask for anyone’s permission to be alive or to fall in love. I am a human being…and I have friends who cry along with my poems and laugh along with my childish playfulness beyond my gender. But sometimes it becomes very difficult to be a human being.
My dear intellectual friend, you might report this note to the authorities as well…or you might use the ‘F’ word again…but remember that someone, just like yourself, on account of numerous insults, accusations and threats, stares at the ceiling of the dorm at night, and cries silently.
Fateme Ekhtesari is a poet, writer and blogger born in 1986. Holding an MA in obstetrics, she has been blogging for over 4 years (www.havakesh3.persianblog.ir). She was the editor-in-chief of a technical publication on postmodern ghazal called ‘It was just tomorrow’ that was closed down in 2008. Her book ‘A Feminist Debate before Preparing Potatoes’, published in 2010, was banned from the Tehran International Book Fair.
 Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance
 Imam Zaman is the 12th and last Imam of the Shiites.
 An Iranian name for a woman.
 A poem similar to a sonnet in Persian / Iranian / Urdu literature.