Nina Ruth Mir
Recently, I made a spontaneous TikTok post expressing my deep anger with the ongoing brutal oppression of peaceful Iranian protesters by the religious government of Iran. I called the government a fascist entity and asked my few viewers to punch anyone who vocally defended the Iranian government’s actions, since punching fascists is considered halal in my own made-up religion, where I am the prophet of peace.
Prophet Nina preaches rage against fascism. Prophet Nina encourages everyone to punch anyone who violently arrests brave Iranian girls, who are loudly demanding justice, human rights, and a bright future in their own cities. Further, Iranian men are banned from treating Iranian women as personal commodities or infants. Prophet Nina wants to have amiable international, cultural, and trade relations with the world instead of sad and predatory handshakes with China, India, Russia, or North Korea.
Nina is not the name my parents gave me when I was born a few years after the 1979 revolution that saw the last Pahlavi king replaced with a bearded monster, a hard-liner daddy, a black turbanite, a vicious prosecutor, a ruthless judge, a grand ayatollah, a geriatric totalitarian, a self-appointed supreme leader of Iran’s streets, offices, bedrooms, grocery stores, hospitals, ports, cabins, rivers, deserts, swamps, cows, hawks, history, literature, poetry, cinema, theater, kindergartens, colleges, children, men, women, wombs, mouths, past, present, future, and everything, everywhere.
I have always found it funny that while my parents were not religious and never bothered to teach me or my two siblings how to pray or fast according to Islamic teachings, they named me after one of the many nicknames of Prophet Muhammad as it conveniently rhymed with the names of my two older siblings. I am not going to divulge my dead name here because I want you to know me as Nina. I named myself Nina about seven years ago after self-identifying as a transfemme/nonbinary person. My inspiration was Nina Simone — the iconic black American artist and star of the twentieth century, who was an outspoken civil rights activist at a time of racial segregation. Eventually, after months of consideration, mental anguish, and suicidal thoughts, I decided to share that piece of personal news with my family members. They rejected me. As a consequence, I am not in touch with any of my relatives in Iran or abroad. It is tough and lonely— especially so on my birthdays, the annual occasion of Persian new year, the night of winter solstice, or, anytime there are world or Olympic wrestling, volleyball, or football events involving Iranian athletes. But all these terrible feelings and thoughts are nothing compared to the pain that plainclothes officers of Iran’s byzantine, vast, and secretive security-intelligence apparatus are violently imposing on brave Iranian protesters in Tehran, Zahedan, Sanandaj, Mashhahd, Saqqez, Rasht, Ardabil, and many other cities. The protests started more than a month ago after the heartbreaking, senseless, and brutal kidnapping and subsequent murder of a twenty-two-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, Jina “Mahsa” Amini, in the custody of the notoriously corrupt Iranian police. Up to now, there has been no indication that the government is going to listen to the demands of the protesters. It is clear the only tool in the toolbox of the Iranian state is their usual go-to device: an infinite loop of suppression, censorship, oppression, and murder of Iranian protesters.
In their book, Prophet Nina preaches ethical relativism in the hopes of preventing their followers from murdering people who are dressed differently. To promote physical and mental health, Prophet Nina encourages everyone of all ages and abilities to dance at least five minutes a day in a public square. Prophet Nina will never approve of selling dangerous drones to Vladimir Putin to use against the Ukrainian people. Prophet Nina will ensure that all women have the same rights and opportunities to ride bicycles in Iran as their male and nonbinary neighbors.
After expressing myself on TikTok, I went out for a bicycle ride to Ocean Beach via the beautiful JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park, past the conservatory of flowers, a skating rink, the de Young Museum, all the lakes, all the meadows, all the buffaloes, and a Dutch windmill to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Normally, riding my bicycle in San Francisco distracts me from awful, intrusive thoughts, but not on that day. Somehow all I could think of were images of me punching my older brother in the face, chest, and back, then in his face again. These thoughts felt right and cathartic at the time because I have hated my older brother most of my life. My brother lives in Tehran; I have not talked to him in more than a decade, and I doubt I will see him again. Regardless, these visions were unsettling and violent, and I am not a violent person. Later in the day, I became disgusted with myself and confused.
In reality, I have never punched my brother. He is seven years older and always loved learning and practicing martial arts growing up. He made my childhood a nightmare. Because of his age, and my parents’ work schedule, he had many hours alone with me in a supervisory role. He was a violent person to be around. My parents knew he physically and verbally assaulted me, since he did all those in front of my parents’ eyes too. My parents didn’t care a lot unless we had a guest at home. In that case, they would make sure their kids behaved according to the protocols of an imaginary respectable family that we were clearly not, but, apparently, strove for whenever we had an audience of random guests.
In the context of Iran’s current situation, a readily available analogy would be my parents as the Supreme Leader Khamenei and his three useless branches of the Iranian government. My brother as the morality police enforcing his own protocols may or may not align with my parents’ goals. Obviously, I would be a typical Iranian girl in this lazy analogy. Further, I cannot comment on how the majority of Iranian families raised their children in the ’80s, but I can report that I was caught off guard when I learned that other kids at my school liked or adored their older brothers. I think the first time I heard of such sibling dynamics was in fifth grade. At that time, I had a crush on a classmate who was okay at math and science like me, but was a star in soccer, basketball, and ping pong. He was brash and funny. I liked him like that. But, obviously, I never got to tell him how I felt because, in spite of not knowing the word for people like myself was gay, I knew it was extremely dangerous to express such gay feelings as a boy to another boy. Homophobia aside, I remember feeling sad that I didn’t have a close relationship with my older brother like my crush had with his own three older brothers! What stung the most was the fact that I had to go back home after school. Every time I was home, I had to find ways to avoid contact with my older brother. I didn’t feel safe around him but I had nowhere else to go to escape him. My parents’ house where I grew up in was a snug two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom apartment in a four-story building between Laleh Park and Gisha neighborhood in a central part of Tehran with a variety of government offices, K–12 schools, museums, mosques, churches, hospitals, a garrison, and different academic colleges. I loved my neighborhood but I hated my home.
Getting back to my lazy analogy, I can now see why my brother was so abusive to me. He was neglected by my parents and he didn’t know what to do with his anger, discontent, and hopelessness. I feel sad for my brother now. But I still hate him. I stopped talking to my parents in 2010 after my first coming out as a gay person. Some years later, I tried talking to my mother during the pandemic lockdown while I was holed up in a dingy room in Oakland, CA. My mother texted me back saying that she couldn’t speak with me. I asked around if she had a throat problem because that could be the only thing preventing her from speaking with me after many years of tortured communications. I gathered that she did speak on the phone with relatives and had no throat issues. That is when I understood her response. I tried once more a year later. She told me again that she could not speak on the phone with me. I wasn’t disappointed or surprised at this outcome, since the summer before the pandemic, she had sent me a long letter condemning my gender transition and name change in response to my second coming out to her and my sister via text messages and emails. She has never called me Nina.
Depressing familial problems aside, I wish there was less generational trauma in Iran, so that my brother or the current Iranian government didn’t have to resort to brutal violence to express themselves. Interpersonal communications in Iran have never been the subject of a national conversation or educational campaign because (my two cents) most Iranians have always lived under a form of dictatorship or the dreary prospects of a looming disaster, such as famine, plague, or drought. Try to find a time that Iranian towns didn’t experience dictatorship. The closest I can find is the constitutional revolution era (1905–1911) that resulted in the establishment of a parliament, a justice department, and a constitution modeled after the Belgian constitution. Sadly, all that progress ended with the arrival of World War I and a new British-Russian-backed dictatorial dynasty. This short era is also legendary for its flourishing free press, which offered insights and knowledge on the life and politics of Iran, shared news of faraway countries and continents, ongoing progress of global women’s rights, modern education, and scientific progress, in addition to modern literature from around the world.
Prophet Nina advocates for gay and trans rights, so gay and trans Iranians do not have to live in fear of deadly abuse by their families, coworkers, and classmates. Prophet Nina claims women know what is best for women. They claim women get to choose what to do with their lives, not their male elders or some prophet out in the desert from a different millennium. Prophet Nina supports a free-speech constitutional clause. Prophet Nina supports socialist and leftist endeavors of great social safety nets, public education, national parks, childcare, free internet, and clean air and water for all.
Since my interaction with the Iranian community is minimal, I have been trying to follow the progress of these protests via Instagram, Twitter, and a couple of Farsi-language news outlets, BBC Persian and IranWire websites. I got very excited that some Iranian queers spoke at the historic Berlin protests in October (80,000 Iranians rallied in Berlin!). It made me cry when I saw trans and gay flags and symbols in the pictures and video footage from the Berlin protest. However, I know better. I began to read the comments on a few Instagram posts that included images or videos of Iranian queers protesters in Europe or the US. I saw homophobic and transphobic commentary that I have come to expect from Iranian users online. These hostile sentiments are widely shared by both pro and anti-regime Iranians in my own experience. Then I saw an Instagram post from an Iranian trans woman, who is an interviewer, op-ed writer, and an LGBTQ rights activist based in Canada. She said even if these protests succeed in toppling the brutal Iranian regime, she would not leave Canada to move back to Iran, because she also knows better.
The hard reality is that no matter the form of government in Iran, queers will not be safe in Iran. Maybe cis Iranian queers could get lucky to pull a rather safe life in a secular democratic Iran, where honor killings, forced sterilization, and corporal punishments—such as forced amputations of hands and fingers, floggings and death penalty for sodomy—aren’t the society’s norms. But I doubt trans people would have a chance in Iran in my lifetime. Judging by what numerous other countries have gone through—India, Japan, Mexico, the US, France, etc.—it’s clear it will take Iran many decades to become a less deadly place for queer people. But what matters most is for our current government to sashay away without any more violence and mayhem. I understand what I just expressed sounds like a dream. And that’s true. I have a dream.
Prophet Nina will celebrate their birthday by throwing a contest asking random people to tweet their best jokes about Prophet Nina—dirty jokes are OK as long as Prophet Nina is cumming. Prophet Nina encourages all schools to teach music theory and practice to all students. It is halal in Prophet Nina’s religion to show musical instruments on TV and for women to play music and sing in public without censorship. Prophet Nina considers manufacturing and using single-use plastic bags as the worst crime against humanity and nature punishable by learning how to sew reusable bags from scrap textile. Prophet Nina will have one month of the year celebrated for artistic expressions that aren’t about honoring religion, defending the country, or fighting imperialism. Instead, it will be about living in a place where there is no censorship of thoughts and ideas, and humanity’s complex dispositions are celebrated.
Spring / Summer 2023
The Iran Issue
Nina Ruth Mir
Nina Ruth Mir (they/them) is an Iranian person. They love riding their bicycle, doing nothing, ranting, daydreaming, and meeting weird people. When they were an 18-year-old closeted queer boi in Tehran, they never thought of getting beyond 30, let alone 40 years of age. As such, every day since their 30th birthday has been both a blast and a disappointment