Do you know if anyone in Iran watches the show?
I do! I do know, because I get messages on Facebook.
What sort of feedback have you received?
People are losing their minds. They’re so excited, they’re flipping out. They want to savor the flavor, have something tangible to hold that’s Shahs of Sunset-related.
Have you heard from any openly gay Persian people?
That’s been one of the most phenomenal blessings, that I’ve been able to impact people’s lives in that way, because I’ve gotten hundreds of tweets and messages on Facebook, whether directly from someone saying, “Watching you on the show helped me come out to my family and friends,” or from people saying, “My friend is going to come out because of you, watching this,” or just “Thank you, I’m gay, and the fact that you’re putting your life out there on blast is gonna bring about some awareness in our culture that happens to be narrow-minded when it comes to homosexuality.”
So, that’s been... I can’t even put into words how amazing that has been for me, to read that I’ve impacted people’s lives in that manner, it makes all of the criticisms or whatever, it makes it insignificant.
Was it ever hard for you growing up as an openly gay Persian man?
I mean, whatever struggles I had were internal struggles. I wasn’t bullied or picked on or tormented or taunted or anything, because I’m not that type of person that that would happen to. I’m just not that guy, because…I don’t know. I have this chip in my brain that tells me if the world is against you, what you feel and what you think isn’t wrong. I was just programmed that way, and I know that not everyone is like that, and for that reason I wanted to be on this show. I wanted to be the shield; I’ll take all the heat for every gay Persian teen out there.
Give me the heat, let them have that sense of comfort and security that I had that is so valuable and precious. If I can help them by being on this show, that they can watch and say, “Hey, look at him, he’s 30-something, he’s successful, his family loves him, his friends love him, and he’s gay? Maybe I can do this thing.”
Absolutely. It’s very hard for everyone, but I know it is especially in the Persian culture it’s really hard.
Really hard. How can you turn your back on your child for something like that?
And oftentimes, their children are great people, and successful, and so smart, and just because of their sexuality, they’re rejected by their family.
Yeah, and that’s why I’m doing this. That’s why I’m on here. Me being on this show forces close-minded Persian families, it forces conversations to happen. You don’t think every single Persian family in Los Angeles is talking about this show? Everyone is. The ones who act like they don’t watch it, the ones that love it, the ones that talk shit about it, everyone is talking about it.
And, just by the mere fact that I’m on the show, they have to talk about it. Not only am I on the show, but I’m the one running shit, with the biggest mouth, the fan favorite, the blah blah blah. Like, look at the gay one regulating.
On the show, you talked a little bit about coming out to your family. Was that hard for you? How did that go?
Yeah, it was really hard, but it was hard in the sense that bungee jumping is hard. Like, you jump, not knowing what’s going to happen, but in actuality there’s a cord that’s gonna save your ass. It was the saying it that was the difficult part. I told my mom, and it was maybe two minutes of hysterical talk, ranting, and then, as soon as she was done with two minutes, she pulled herself together, looked me dead in the eye, and told me I was her son, that she’d be behind me until the day she died, and nothing would ever change our relationship.
And that was the end of it, period. And she’s been a super supportive and amazing mother, and nothing did change. She never changed. If anything, she loves me more.
The way that the Persian community was talking about the show before it came out, literally, my mom and my family thought we were going be bringing the universe to an end, the way people were talking about it.
What about your father?
He’s amazing, too! His old ass? Come on, like this old-ass Persian man, and I’m sitting there talking about my gay ass. He had his moments too where he wasn’t down with it, and struggled with it and all that, but he pulled himself up by the bootstraps and he’s, like, kick-ass supportive too. He’s like, “Go do your thing, go do the show. I support you a thousand percent. Who cares what people have to say about you? Anyone that ever does something that deviates from the norm is going to get criticism, but look at you, standing up for what you believe in. Go knock ‘em dead.” And my whole family, everyone. Aunts, uncles, cousins, all of them.
So your family’s been really receptive towards the show as well?
Yeah! Now that they’ve seen it and realized we’re not killing anyone on there, we’re not slaughtering animals—the way that the Persian community was talking about the show before it came out, my mom and my family thought we were going be bringing the universe to an end. And after my mom saw episode one, she was like, “They were talking all of that because of this? People have a lot of free time on their hands, people need hobbies! Some of these people need to go read books, do some volunteer work, like, something, because this is innocuous.”
I did read a lot of criticisms. I know that the former mayor of Beverly Hills, Jimmy Delshad, said that he was “afraid” the program would make Persians look like "undesirable people.” And the author Firoozeh Dumas said she just wanted to shout, “We’re not all like that!”
Are you talking about Charlotte Safavi?
No, it’s Firoozeh Dumas.
Oh, the girl that wrote Funny in Farsi, who couldn’t sell a book? Here’s my thing. If you’re going to talk down about the show to make yourself relevant...I mean, come on. First of all, Jimmy Delshad’s the age of my great grandfather. If you ask my great grandfather about reality programming, he’s not going to know anything either, bless his heart. And he has an opinion, and opinions are like you-know-whats, and some of them stink more than others. And what he has to say doesn’t impact me; he didn’t watch the show, and he’s getting out there, someone’s asking him to talk on TV or in the paper, and of course he’s going to jump at the opportunity.
So you’re saying the criticisms are stemming from them trying to—
Self-promote? Absolutely. If you can be in the paper and talk about yourself and plug your book? You and me are Persian, you know where that comes from. A lot of other people don’t understand it, but that is a cultural defect that we have, we can’t support each other.
Persians like to talk, especially about each other.
Yeah, this is my opinion on that: If we were all six-feet, six inches tall, they’d say, “Oh, look at these Persians, they all very tall, we don't like them.” If we were all three feet, eight inches tall, “Oh, these Persians, they’re so short, we don't like them.” If we were all super skinny, super fat, if we were all blue-collar workers, if we were all CEOs, they would find a reason to separate us regardless of who we are and what we’re doing. You can’t please everyone. We are entertainment value only, and we don’t claim to represent anyone other than ourselves.
Mind you, I think I’m fabulous enough to represent every Persian, and I think I would do a great job of representing everyone, but no one elected me to any official post. When you do, I’ll gladly do what you want and say what you want as long as you’re paying my way. But until then, I’m going do me, and I’m going be me, and that’s all I’m going to be.
Interview by Tanya Ghahremani (@tanyaghahremani)