Zahra Noorbakhsh: Writer. Comedian. Satirist. Filmmaker.
Our Favorite Unconventional & Funny Female.
Why? Because she’s decided to tell the world the challenges she faced growing up in a Persian family by publishing her dating experiences as a Muslim Iranian-American in “Love, InshAlla: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women.”
Huffington Post and NY Times (CLICK FOR LAUGHS) recently published an excerpt of her story on the awkward parent-child sex talk she received in her teenage years on their website: Her mother not-so-delicately reveals that 14 year-old Zahra has a hole, and she must guard it from the hole-hunters (men).
The S&F Team caught up with Zahra to get the low-down on what happened after she discovered her ‘hole’, and how she came to a compromise between her American-ness and certain Iranian traditions.
– Growing up, how did you feel about being Iranian?
I hated it. I didn’t get to love my Persian-ness until I was in college and developed a penchant for sarcasm, which helped me combat the stupid questions. Up until then, “Iranian” was the label I was born with that left me constantly having to defend my heritage, where I felt forced to patiently answer questions, like “What’s a Persian?”
I remember when I was in 5th grade, my teacher was telling the class how Iranians were “not-good people” ruled by a “a very-bad man,” Khomeini, and what a hard job George Bush Senior had, trying to stay out of the Iran-Iraq war. I could feel my classmates glaring at me. I should’ve told my parents what she’d said, but instead I just came home screaming: “WHY DO WE HAVE TO BE IRANIAN?!” I threw my backpack on the couch and ran into my room crying. My parents were so confused. They were like, “What do you mean? Everybody else sucks, we’re the best ones!”
“Everybody else” of course, refers to EVERYBODY ELSE. An ego I’ve come to love about my Persian-self!
My parents were also very adamant about holding onto their culture and religion and this was frustrating for me as a kid. I so badly wanted them to assimilate. My mom wore hijab at the time, which ALIENATED us from Iranians who didn’t practice and the rest of the non-Iranian, non-hijab wearing population.
“Now, in retrospect, I realize my parents held on so tightly because the culture was threatened at every angle, and I’m glad they did.”
– How About now? How do you deal with the cultural conflict?
I get frustrated with the idea of cultural conflict as a ‘bad’ thing. We have to have conflict in order to reflect and develop; people need conflict in their relationships in order to grow the hell up, cultures need to be challenged by their younger generations and by opposing ways of life, because that’s how we develop into healthier societies. Personally, I’m glad America IS a melting pot and got that going early on, because I’m really not into scarlet-letter “A” iron-ons. Maybe another culture will help us get passed the religious right in this country so they’ll get their stranglehold off my Planned Parenthood.
EVERY country needs its immigrants, because at the very least, we learn from conflict– as individuals and countries. My whitey-white boyfriend needs me, because without me he walks out into public wearing his button-down shirt with basketball shorts, tube socks and hiking boots (I’m not even going to scare you with the color clashing happening here, I’ll just orange is in the mix).
Our foreign policy, foodie culture, trade, educational system, and the mining of our own resources are equally in dire need of a Persian girlfriend.
When I hear anti-immigrant sentiment, demanding everyone to “go home,” it makes me laugh. You know what happens to a country whose immigrants don’t stick around and really are just tourists? It’s called, Greece! Love your immigrants so they don’t leave you.
[Knowledge = power. Learn from the unfamiliar.]
– How do you believe your friends influenced you?
I went to a different elementary school for almost every year of grade school. I didn’t have a sense of identity that was actually “me” and not just “me conforming to yet another new school-culture.”
I didn’t have a lot of Persian friends growing up, aside from a Farsi school that my dad used to drive us to every Saturday, a two-hour drive from Sunnyvale to Sacramento, so that my younger sister and I could be around other Muslim Iranians and learn to speak Farsi. My parents were really dedicated to giving us some experience they’d had of “home” and “community” as they’d known it in Iran. No matter where we moved to in the Bay Area (Fremont, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, San Francisco, Danville)–Farsi school was a constant.
And apart from the consistency, it was nice, because all the girls at the school wore hijab and girls and guys were expected to dress modestly, so it was an escape from the social pressures of middle school—where some girls wouldn’t talk to me if I wasn’t wearing Stussy shirts and Guess jeans. (sad to learn recently that after 9-11—and the Islamophobia that came with it—their school was shut down) I didn’t connect as much with my non-practicing Persian friends as a kid. In my teen years, I felt from them the same pressure to conform to Western standards of beauty, which always left me feeling too fat, too tall, too loud and just not “hip.”
It wasn’t until college, again, that I started to get more comfortable with my own femininity and culture that I stepped out into society—as the French would say—and came into my own.
For me, my religion had been a security blanket from all the social pressures coming at me, demanding that I conform. As a Muslim girl, my answer was always simple: “I can’t, it’s against my religion (smile and then proceed to educate).”
This of course was my experience of a select group of 3 people I came into contact with and does not mean that you now go to your Persian co-worker or Persian neighbor and blather on about how you heard from your Persian “token” friend, Zahra, that Persian girls were “all” too into their Stussy shirts and Guess jeans to play with Mervyn’s-brands Zahra (that’s what they called me) and look at me and all my cultural insight—NO, you’re not allowed to keep reading this interview if you’re going to do that! However, if you want to facebook me so that you can facebook them and make them feel really, really bad about the nickname… I will make it easy for you to make that happen.
– So what happened after you discovered your hole and let a hole hunter in?
Well, I definitely wanted to be able to relax and have fun, but it was so much more complicated than I’d imagined. Guys seemed to look at themselves as the “conquerors” no matter how I approached it – which just kept me from trying to sleep with them at all. It’s definitely guys that can’t just have fun without confusing it with a bunch of bullshit.
My mother in the story I wrote for Love Inshallah was right: most guys really are after “your hole,” or at the very least, they’re not very good at seeing past “holes” well enough to think like a human being!
As much as I hated admitting it, I realized, sex for me couldn’t be casual – it was so much more of a mind game than dating actually was.
I had to bite the bullet and date, get to know the guy, and make sure he was the type that would be able to have fun, equally, and not make assumptions about me just because I was having fun too.
I found that guy and haven’t let go of him since. It’s too damn crazy out there, man!
– So what piece of advice would you give younger girls just discovering their hole and hole-hunters?
There is a huge misconception that guys don’t carry the relationship drama that girls have. Guys are idiots where emotions are involved, especially guys in college! They won’t admit that they get attached or that they fall in love. They project it all and then make like Bill Clinton, and deny the intent to gratify. Always listen to your heart, and if it tells you that you’re confused, they’re probably being confusing!
When you think its you, its probably them.
(AMEN TO THAT ZAHRA)
– How many Persian guys have you dated and which do you prefer?
Not a one. I can’t date a man better dressed than me. It’s just too much pressure. I like men that I don’t have to perform for – men that don’t need me to be a princess so they can feel like a prince. I have to perform all day! When I come home to a guy, I like to know that I can be myself: crack dirty jokes, watch Bones on Netflix (yes, Bones, it’s embarrassing), and just be an idiot in Target pajamas. Not that Persian men don’t love their girls in Target PJ’s!
– On One Night stands?
For straight women, one night stands are a ‘look as sexy as possible’ event. If you’re into that, go for it. I can’t enjoy myself with that kind of distraction. I think it’s always better to get to know a guy. Then when something embarrassing happens during the deed – like it always does – you can laugh about it!
– How do you like your fessenjoon?
Buy the book because we guarantee you’ll enjoy it as much as we did: Love, InshAllah available January 24th and check her out at: www.ZahraComedy.com