Carlotta Kramer met Zeynab Peyghambarzadeh online for an interview.
Zeynab Peyghambarzadeh (they/them) is a queer-feminist activist from Iran living in the UK and identifies as a gender-fluid non-binary female. In this interview expert, Zeynab Peyghambarzadeh talks about their activities as transnational activists.
Carlotta Kramer (CK): Zeynab, you live in the UK. Do you consider yourself an exile?
Zeynab Peyghambarzadeh (ZP): In some respects yes, I think of myself as an exile, but I prefer to think of myself as part of the Iranian diaspora. I don’t only live abroad because of the political system in Iran but also because I don’t fit into Iran’s social norms. I think I need to live around the world, travel around the world, explore the world and get new experiences because that’s how people grow.
CK: To what extent are you involved in transnational activism?
ZP: My activism right now is mostly online, and it is about ‘edutainment’, educating and entertaining people at the same time. Together with a friend, we founded our own small organization called ‘Spectrum’, which has different websites and social media pages. Some target specifically LGBTQI+ people, some are for people who want to learn more about feminism, and some are for everyone like our sex education website. Since our content is in Persian, our audience are Persian speakers in Iran, also Afghanistan and all over the world. We don’t know the exact visitors’ numbers from Iran as our pages are blocked in Iran and only accessible via VPN.
Apart from that, I work for an Iranian alternative university, which connects students that cannot study in Iran and lecturers who cannot work in Iran due to their political or religious attitudes. I am also active on social media, mostly Twitter and Instagram. Sometimes I participate in or organise a Twitter storm which is a series of related tweets posted by a Twitter user in quick succession. The last time I was actively involved was when an Iranian journalist said on Persian TV that bisexuality is a psychological problem.
I can’t say how much time I invest in activism. The boundaries between socialising, activism and my research for my PhD are very blurred, and it also depends on the political situation in Iran. There are situations when something has happened and you can’t concentrate on your work, you can’t even sleep.
CK: Do you feel you can have an impact as a transnational activist on the situation for women and queers in Iran?
ZP: Yes, of course, everyone has their own impact. But our impact is very limited since our resources are very limited. In contrast, the mainstream media or the education system in Iran have a great influence on society. So, I am sure that we have an impact, but I don’t want to be too optimistic.
Usually, our followers and visitors grow when we are promoted by other activists or when people hear about us on mainstream Iranian diaspora media. However, the other day there was a slightly different, complicated and at the same time funny situation. We have a period tracking app where we also provide information on gender equality and health issues. And one of these organisations working with the Iranian government brought out an app for marriage. It was a marriage matching app, and the logo and the name of this app were very similar to our app, and suddenly many people became curious about their app and ended up with our app. Some of them really wanted to use this app that the government had released, and they got angry. So, we issued a statement and explained that while they were releasing their app, they were also attacking our app, which caused it to collapse for a short time and they deliberately chose our name and logo. So that was a situation where we got a lot of attention.
At the same time, I think that harsh criticism and attacks are natural consequences of any kind of activism for anyone around the world. But it can be more complicated for LGBTQI+ activists. Especially if they come from a country where queer people are not very accepted.
CK: Do you view your life abroad as temporary?
ZP: I used to think yes, but now I accept more and more that I don’t feel safe there even if dramatic political changes would take place in Iran, and I don’t want to live among Iranians. I think it takes a few generations for people’s minds to change, and then I can feel safe around them. But I also grew up with the idea of living abroad, as I read exile literature as a child. There are many Iranian activists who lived abroad for a while and returned to Iran at different times but then had to flee again or regretted their return. I had in the back of my mind that I might end up living abroad forever. I might not have an alternative.
Zeynab Peyghambarzadeh (they/them) is a queer-feminist activist from Iran living in the UK and identifies as a gender-fluid non-binary female. In Iran, Zeynab was involved in the ‘One Million Signatures Campaign’ to change discriminatory laws against women. Due to Zeynab’s participation in social activism, they got arrested several times in Iran. Since 2011, Zeynab has been living in Europe and campaigning for political and social change in Iran. In this interview excerpt, Zeynab talks about their activities as transnational activists.
Carlotta Kramer hat im Bachelor Medien- und Kommunikationswissenschaft studiert. Im Master Soziokulturelle Studien legt sie nun den Fokus auf Gender und Diversity Themen.
Carlotta Kramer studied Media and Communication Studies in her Bachelor’s degree. In her Master’s degree in Sociocultural Studies, she now focuses on gender and diversity issues.