This is the last in a series of four interviews with cast members from the new Bravo show Shahs of Sunset. The first one, with Mike Shouhed can be seen here, the second one with Mecedeh Javid can be seen here, the third one, introducing Sammy Younai can be seen here.
How do you respond to criticism that the show could turn into a Persian version of “Jersey Shore” or “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”?
It’s completely different in my mind. No one who’s calling it a Persian version of Jersey Shore has seen [Shahs of Sunset]. I was there for the show; it wasn’t a show. We were living our lives [with] a crew following us around. Jersey Shore is a group of people that didn’t know one another that were thrust into a living arrangement. We’re actually a group of dynamic friends. We’re educated, we’ve got rich backgrounds and a culture.
There are not many openly gay Persians. Was it difficult to overcome the fear of coming out?
I didn’t overcome any fear but the way I’m programmed as a person, I have to live an authentic life. There was going to be a time that I would explode and the information would come blasting out of me. My parents saw that I was attractive and I was never bringing any girls around. One night [when I was 21] I went out and I came home really late. The next morning my mom woke me up and brought me into the kitchen, sat me down and looked me in the eye and she asked me if I was gay. At that moment, my life flashed before my eyes. I realized I either had to take that opportunity and let her know or I had to keep my mouth shut and live a miserable existence without being authentic. Somehow I summoned the courage at that very moment to be honest and I told her.
How did she respond?
It was the most fantastic two minutes of my life. She started out in tears talking about watching an episode of Oprah where these people found Jesus Christ and Jesus cured them, to “Your father wasn’t around; he was traveling too much in your formative years.” [Then] she stopped, collected herself, she sat up straight, she looked me dead in the eye and she said, “I love you. You’re my son. I’ll always stand behind you and nothing has changed.” From that day forward 17 years ago to today, she has made such strides in her reprogramming who she is as a Middle Eastern woman that grew up in a in a different era with different standards and norms. She is an amazing woman and I hope I can be half the person she is when I am her age.
Do you hope appearing on this show will help other closeted gays who are Persian come out to their families?
You hit the nail on the head. The only reason I did this show is because even though my mother is very accepting, the Persian community as a whole isn’t known to be the most accepting community when it comes to people deviating from what they perceive to be the norm. It’s opened my family to whatever criticism and backlash that may come as a result of me being on this show [and that] was for one reason and one reason only. Teens and adolescents were committing suicide because they were getting bullied in school for either being gay or being perceived as gay. It devastated me to my core. I wanted to do something, and this opportunity came along. I got lucky that my family loves me and supports me, but if they had all turned their backs on me, I would still live an authentic life. There are a lot of Middle Eastern cultures where kids may be exposed to bullying or families that don’t accept them. If I can help one of them not commit suicide or give one of them a glimmer of hope, whatever backlash I get from being on this show was worth it tenfold.
How has your family handled the exposure?
It’s been mixed. I have to be honest. There’s been a lot of hearsay, rumors and speculation because there’s only a little teaser on the website. I love Persians, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a lot of us and we do like to chitchat, so something small [like] “I saw Reza walking down the street” can all of a sudden turn into “Reza
Do you think the fact you are gay had something to do with why you were cast?
It was very organic because Jesse Leed in a very informal meeting sat down with MJ, Sammy and myself to talk in big broad strokes about concept. For our show that’s the unique, amazing part of that, we are legitimately a group of friends. It wasn’t like they decided they wanted to have an openly gay person and threw the net out. Do I think the fact I’m openly gay and Persian helps? Well, yeah. Especially for featuring a group of Middle Easterners, the perception isn’t always about a gay guy. It’s kind of refreshing.
Your bio says you want the “American White Picket Fence” happy ending. Do you think this show will help you find that?
I actually do because when you verbalize something, I’m a firm believer you will things to happen in your life. There weren’t trailblazers in front of me that were Persian and gay that were talking about wanting the white picket fence and American dream. I feel like if I put that energy out in the world—I try to live my life in a way that I give back more than I take away from my community—I think that I’m going to will it.