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A Closeted Life For Tajik Sexual Minorities

Tajik Gay: 'I Don't Want To Be Killed'
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WATCH: 'I Don't Want To Be Killed,' Says Tajik Gay

"I was a six-year-old boy when I told my mother that I felt like I was a girl," recalls Komil. The next thing he knew, he was undergoing medical treatment intended to cure him of his disease.

After his mother warned him not to share his secret with anyone else, Komil quickly came to realize that there was little tolerance in Tajik society for sexual minorities. Two decades later, the 32-year-old paralegal says, little has changed.

But after hiding his true sexual identity for 25 years, Komil says he is ready to speak about his "life in denial."

Komil says he would love to openly discuss his gender identity, but certain realities lead him to take precautions such as using a pseudonym and speaking with his back to the camera.

"People here think homosexuality is just a treatable illness," he says. "For many years, my parents took me to doctors, faith healers, and mullahs. They took me to mosques, where mullahs tried to exorcize evil spirits from my body. They told me a female genie had taken over my body, and that is why I was attracted to men."

Tajikistan decriminalized homosexuality in 1998, scrapping a Soviet-era law, but homosexuals and other sexual minorities still face firmly entrenched social taboos.

Elena Ibrohimova, a Dushanbe-based gay-rights activist, says parents often pressure their gay children to "fit in," and are even known to force them into heterosexual marriage. Such marriages often end up in divorce, Ibrohimova says.

Komil says his "many years of trying to act normal" put an enormous psychological strain on him.

'Nowhere Else To Go'

At one point, his parents arranged for him to be engaged to a woman who had no idea about his sexual identity.

After going along with the charade for a long time, Komil decided to cancel the engagement.

"I didn't want to mess up somebody else's life and dreams," Komil says.

Komil's decision angered his brothers, however. They stopped talking to him, saying he had brought disgrace on the family.

Like many, Komil suffers in silence. As Ibrohimova describes it, there is a sizeable gay and lesbian community in Tajikistan, "but they try to hide their sexual orientation at any cost."

In Tajikistan, it is not uncommon for psychologists to offer therapy sessions to sexual minorities to cure what they see as a treatable condition.

Dushanbe-based psychologist Zarrina Kenjaeva, who has treated gays and lesbians, says that "homosexuality is another addiction, like drug or alcohol addiction, which you can cure with a strong will."

"We can awaken [gay] men's true, masculine identity through treatment," she says. "It's like treating smoking addicts. Step by step they give up their habit."

Komil's parents haven't still given up hope he will act "normal" one day with the help of counseling and exorcism. Komil, however, says he has had enough.

He has considered moving abroad to live someplace where he can live an "honest life," but financial and visa problems have hampered his plans.

Komil has come to accept that he will likely have to remain in Tajikistan.

"I understand that I will never be accepted in society," Komil says. "I just ask for a bit of space, for a bit of understanding, because I'm also a member of this society and I have nowhere else to go."

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondents Shahlo Gulkhoja and Firuz Barot