‘Shahs of Sunset’ Star Reza Farahan on Being a Gay Iranian
Reza Farahan, a 38-year-old gay Iranian real-estate agent, steals every episode of Shahs of Sunset. He spoke to Ramin Setoodeh about coming out and his reality-TV fame.
“Aren’t you on TV?” It’s a weeknight in New York, and Reza Farahan has been spotted—again—while bar-hopping through the city. His new reality series, Shahs of Sunset, has been on Bravo for only a few weeks, but as far as the city’s gays are concerned, he’s as recognizable as any of the Real Housewives. Farahan is a loud, mustached, openly gay Iranian who peppers the show with outrageously hilarious one-liners. He’s so pitch perfect, you wonder whether it’s an act until you meet Farahan in person and see this is no performance. “I have a mirror at home,” says Farahan, 38. “I know what I look like and who I am.”
When Farahan first watched the show a few weeks ago, he was thrilled. “I was like a fat kid in front of a big chocolate cake,” he says. “I could not get it fast enough. I could not absorb it fast enough, and after it was done, I wanted more.” Shahs follows a group of wealthy 30-something Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles, but every episode centers on Reza. He and his best friend, MJ, are real-estate agents who—on TV, at least—own Sunset Boulevard. When they go to Las Vegas for his birthday, she ends up trashed and he scours their suite to make sure none of his other guests snuck back any “hoes.”
As entertaining as Reza is, he’s also controversial. He’s the first openly gay Iranian entertainer on TV, at a time when Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies homosexuals even exist in Iran. Farahan says that since the show debuted, he’s received Facebook messages from closeted teenagers in Iran as well as hate mail from Iranian bloggers—one suggested he was “a fake gay,” because it’s trendy in Hollywood. But Farahan tells me: “I’m not backing down because of some blogger. That’s not how I roll.”
I have to say that I’m really excited to see a gay Iranian on TV, because as a gay Iranian, sometimes I feel like a unicorn, like we’re an endangered species. How are you doing?
Really good. I got invited to do four gay club appearances in fucking Ohio. I don’t even know if I’m doing them, but I was requested to appear.
Do you have to dance?
Probably not. They just want me to show up.
That’s what Paris Hilton used to get paid to do.
I’m the Persian Paris Hilton.
Is it true that your mustache has its own Twitter account?
A fan created it. It has 1,000 followers. A thousand!
Some of the women in the office think you should shave it off. Do you get hit on more with a mustache?
I think I get hit on more because of the show, and my mustache is part of it. People are sending me naked pictures of themselves on Twitter. A porn star today sent me a naked picture, talking about how he’s got what I need.
Did you respond?
Yeah. I don’t discriminate against porn stars. I’m an equal opportunity tweeter.
What’s your type?
Usually, you’re drawn to the exact opposite of yourself. I’m kind of dark. I’m usually attracted to people who are longer, taller, and leaner. The whiter, the better.
Have all your boyfriends been that way?
No. My longest relationship was with a Brazilian.
You were born in Iran but spent most of your childhood in the United States. How old were you when you came out of the closet?
Eighteen. I came out in two phases. It was just after high school. The first person I told was MJ.
Did you know earlier?
Before I was 10 years old, I knew that something was different. I didn’t know what it was called at the time. I truly felt like when I was coming through God’s conveyor belt, He was supposed to press a button and he forgot. I was like this defect. For the longest time, I literally thought I was the only one. And I would have to go through life living a miserable life, marrying a woman, and having a family with children and not being able to love someone I was attracted to.
Were you out in college?
I was out to people in the environment, but I still hadn’t come out.
It must have been hard for you to come out to your Iranian family. When did you do that?
I was 21. It wasn’t that I decided to wait, but my family members would say things that would scare me from coming out. My older sister once said to me, “There are two types of people who wax their eyebrows—entertainers and homosexuals—and I know you’re not an entertainer.” My sister is very smart. But I think it was too close to home for her. [When he finally told her], she goes, “Ohmygod. The parents are divorced, the brother is gay, nobody is going to want to marry me!” At that moment, I was thinking to myself, the bitch did not just figure out a way to make my coming out about her.
Why is there still such a fear of homosexuality in Iran?
There’s something that exists in Iran, where they allow men to have a sex change operation. The government will pay for that, but it won’t acknowledge or accept homosexuality. They don’t have the capacity to expand their horizons.
It can be punishable by death.
Being gay is not. I don’t think you can be killed just for being gay. But if you have a boyfriend and you’re in love and you have sex and they somehow catch you, I’ve read and seen things where people have been executed. I feel terrible for people who have had to suffer in Iran under that regime. They were able to overthrow the previous government. They need to overthrow this government. They need to bring about the change they want themselves.
Have you heard from any gay people in Iran since the show debuted?
People have hit me up on Facebook. They type in English. It’s cute, because they are smart and educated, but there’s a lot of grammatical errors. They say they love me, they are proud of, Thank God for me.
Have you always wanted to be on a reality-TV show?
My life has always been a reality show. Now you just get to see it. I feel like I’ve been selfish all my life, keeping my one-liners to a limited community of family and friends, but this show has given me the arena to bless the world with my humor. If I can bring awareness of homophobia and homosexuality in Middle Eastern culture, that’s icing on the cake.
Were you picked on in high school for being gay?
No. I was picked on for being obese. I was pushing 300 pounds.
One of your classmates was Monica Lewinsky. What was she like?
She was fat.
OK, but what else?
She used to love to eat these big cookies. They used to sell these big cookies in the cafeteria, and they were wrapped in cellophane, and I always remember seeing her holding one of those very large cookies. And her family would send her to fat camp during the summer. It was “camp,” but it was really fat camp.
What did you think when the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal happened?
Honestly, I think any girl that said they wouldn’t have done what she did would be lying. It’s a power thing—like the most powerful man in the universe and you have the option of blowing him. I’m not mad at her. I would have done it too. [Pauses.] I probably shouldn’t have said that.
What if the president was Republican?
No. Only to a Democrat. I would date an ex-con before I would date a Republican. An ex-con goes to jail and comes out, and they get some rehabilitation. They are reformed. The Republicans aren’t. They are just wandering around with all those negative views and hate and anger towards anything that’s not like them.