If religion increased your chances for sex: would you have more faith?Avichal Singh
Homosexuality & Religion 1: Zoroastrianism
With everything that’s going on in the world some people think that we’re in the end game (Avenger’s pun intended). So what better time than now, to start a discussion about religion? In this series I talk to openly gay men from different faiths about their experience with religion and sexuality.
Disclaimer: This article contains personal opinions and experiences. The views expressed do not speak for all members of a community, religion or faith
Apart from taking his name in vain, pain and exasperation, my relationship with the almighty is virtually non-existent. Hence, I was very interested to have a candid conversation about religion and sexuality with Farhad Karkaria. Born to a Parsi family, Farhad is a writer who lives in Mumbai. A man who, in my opinion, has been highly precocious in every aspect of his being.
Farhad Karkaria :
Q. How religious are you?
“Till a certain age I was the kind of religious person who doesn’t believe in God at all, but you know when an exam is around the corner then I’d be like God please have my back. I felt like God was a bit convenient back then. But now I don’t like this idea of a man with a beard or a woman sitting up there, I just feel like life is chaotic and it’s random and it’s not… laughs.. I’m not religious”
Farhad explains that this is a complex question for him to answer. Like all religions Parsi’s learn to have a misguided sense of pride with regards to their faith. He elaborates that this isn’t an implicit teaching. It’s instilled over time through observed behavior and interactions.
“I don’t know if it’s a nice thing to say this but you take pride in the fact that we have royal lineage and that the British liked us and that we are fairer, you know; so they are all problematic things. And it’s not like my mom said, ‘Take pride in the fact that you’re so fair’. No, no one ever said these things. But it was always unspoken, oh we are different from the rest. I want to say that it is problematic in a lot of ways, you know cause what the f**k we are all equal.”
Though he recognizes the problematic nature of this pride, Farhad also admits that his life has been better because of his religion. From getting into the college that he wanted, to his experience on dating apps like Grindr or Tinder. Farhad tells me that people generally have a ‘Oh, Wow!’ reaction when they find out he is a Parsi.
“My chances of getting laid are higher after I tell somebody that I’m Parsi.”
I followed up to learn more about what this means.
Q. What usually follows the ‘Wow!’ Do people ever explain what is it that they find so fascinating?
“It’s an odd thing to ask someone, ‘What do you like about me being Parsi?’ But I know a common one is ‘you’re so fair’, again I know it’s problematic but a lot of people go ‘you’re so fair’ especially when I’m sexting and stuff. In Parsi’s there’s this term called doodh pav which means bread soaked in milk. And I’m one of those people when I’m naked. So a lot of times people do have the reaction of ‘Holy shit, how are you so fair?’ The worst assumption is that they think I’m rich. You must have a house in this baug and that baug and I’m like no, I live in a place called Danpada in a building that could collapse anytime. I’m anything but rich, so that’s another common assumption, I think.”
I asked Farhad if he still visits the fire temple. He explains that he hasn’t visited one in years but that’s not because he’s against the idea. In fact, he finds fire temples to be therapeutic because of the silence. He shares a story from his adolescence:
“When I was around 18 or 19, I was going through a rough time mentally and I was a mess. And so I just sat on my bike and I went to JJ Agiary. I wore the sudra and the topi so they would let me into the temple. I went and I sat there for an hour. The thing is, all fire temples have a flame in them and I realized that for an hour all I heard was the crackling of the flame. It was so quiet and eventually I started to get looped into the sound and I had this huge emotional release and all the mess and the pain I was feeling, the silence helped me. But I don’t go to the temple anymore, partly because it would require me to buy a Kushti, sudra and topi. I have none of those anymore.”
1 – a 173 year old fire temple on MG Road in Pune
2 – Avestan term for the undergarment worn by Zoroastrians
3 – the sacred girdle worn by Zoroastrians around their waists)
Q. Does the scripture say anything about homosexuality specifically?
“No, it doesn’t, not to my knowledge. Maybe if you talk to some scholar who knows the scripture by heart. No, there is no God angle. Like you know how in Christianity..chuckles…like it’s laid out, ‘you can never lay with another man’, growing up these type of staunch, strong, anti-gay ideas were never in our field of vision. I know it’s not something even my parents had an idea of and they were more into praying and stuff. In Parsi’s the main ideology is,
‘Good thoughts, good words and good deeds.’
So as long as you abide to these three norms you’re fine. At some point in the scripture it says, you can live your life to the fullest, so this is why Parsi’s have no meat constraints and you can drink as much as you want. Smoking is a big no, no, because we worship fire; but in terms of homosexuality it’s not like, ‘Oh my god! You don’t know in the Zend Avesta4 it says this…’ I’ve never heard something like that.”
4- Primary collection of religious texts of Zoroastrianism
Q. Did you ever feel the need to come out to the community, was that ever a conversation with people?
“No. People who knew, knew and people who didn’t know, didn’t know. I just felt like it was beyond the point of questioning. No one ever came up to me and asked, ‘are you gay?’ There have been people who have asked that question but it’s never come from a problematic place or like bullying. It was always just like Farhad is Farhad. It’s weird, but my straight friends, the ones I grew up with, they always knew. For lack of a better word, they would be like ‘Oh Farhad, he’s such a fag.’ But my gay friends, the one’s I’ve made after I’ve been out and about; they still think I have this total straight hangover and that I am actually not gay. A lot of times people assume that I’m married. I’m not sure what gives them that vibe. Because I’m gay as the sun shines, I actually identify as bi but I dont have any qualms identifying with any label anymore.”
I ask if Farhad has faced any challenges with the Parsi community with regards to his sexuality. He says,
“It was very common in my community, women who lived together, you know two friends. Now, as an adult I think wait, were they lesbians, were they just companions? I don’t know how they identified. But growing up I knew a lot of women that used to be married at some point and maybe their husbands died, I’m not sure, but them living together was a very common thing. Another common thing was gay boys living with their mom. Even till date, I know so many gay boys who are now 30, 35, 40 and they still live with their mom. The fact that they’re not getting married combined with, there’s no nice way to say this, but maybe they’re a little effeminate or they’re open about their sexuality. I have a friend who is openly out, gay and he still lives with his mother. And he loves his mother and they’re inseparable. You know what I mean?.”
Q. Did that give you a sense of security or make things easier?
“It did not. Because the other side of the scale is this, when you’re a dwindling community, there is this unspoken pressure to have kids. I remember assuming that if I tell my parents (about his sexuality) the friction would be from the fact that I might not get married and not have kids because the conversation about us being a dwindling community is so prominent. This was not because my parents made me feel this way but it was me assuming that this pressure existed.”
Farhad recognizes that there are others in the Parsi community that struggle with coming out a lot more than he did, but believes that has more to do with their personal journey than the religion. He goes on to say,
“I’ve had a healthier relationship with my sexuality because I was born in a community that had no opinion about my sexuality.”
Farhad has his own podcast with friend Sunetro. In the episode below they explore “The intricacies and idiosyncracies of religion, faith and the queer identity.” Click on the link below to hear more from the man himself:
Farhad has a close kinship with his religion, one that isn’t tainted by ideas of hate and exclusion. He admits he is not religious but finds his place of worship healing. He believes in the Parsi teachings of having good words, thoughts and deeds. He does his best to apply those teachings in his day to day life.
Our conversation made me wonder, what makes a person, ‘not religious’? I’m oversimplifying here, but a question I’d like all the readers to reflect on is, “How many weekly visits to a place of worship would it take for a ‘not religious’ person to be branded as ‘religious’? What does being ‘religious’ mean?” Share your thoughts in the comments below.
When I agreed to write this series, I have to admit that I had a preconceived notion about how my conversations would go. I braced myself to hear gut wrenching stories about religious persecution, bullying and mistreatment. I know those stories are out there and so much progress needs to be made with regards to tolerance and acceptance. However, my conversations over the past few weeks have expanded my perspective. I can’t wait to share more from these discussions.
Do check out Gaybcd which is India’s leading LGBTQIA+ Podcast, where Farhad and Naveen Noronha, who is a very well known queer stand up comedian, talk about some important issues people from the LGBT community face.