I’m Aia Beraia, a queer woman and gender researcher.
I finished my master’s program at Tbilisi State University. While studying, I got involved in feminist and queer activism. I chose Gender Studies program after reflecting on how unequal the society we live in is, including the inequality between women and men and the patriarchal tendencies that can actually be seen in everyday life.
Being an internally displaced person from Abkhazia is a big part of my biography.
I vaguely remember Sukhumi, I was three years old when we left. At first, we lived with my grandmother in one of the villages of Samegrelo. My parents were students back then, They were very young when they came to Tbilisi and, so Tbilisi became a sort of refuge for them.
Being an IDP has affected my life in many ways. I went to one of the elite public schools in Tbilisi, where I hid the fact that I was displaced – this status represented shame along with the stigma of poverty plastered onto it. Being IDP is still a stigma. In my childhood the society did not show the solidarity and support towards the IDPs that it should have. Unfortunately, this has not changed, and modern events confirm it.
Photo: Vakho Kareli
As a child I was influenced by books, movies and TV shows I could get my hands on. I read Astrid Lindgren, Mark Twain… one of my favorite works was Harry Potter – the world and the characters that were described in these books had a great influence on my values.
The fact that I went to a Byron school where they taught me English was also very important. It opened me up to British and other cultures and helped me see how diverse the world is.
I started thinking about it as a teen, as it was a turning point. However, back then I didn’t know what “queer” meant, not did Iknow who a lesbian or a bisexual was. I had very limited knowledge about sexuality in general. Yet I was different from girls around me. I watched how they reacted to their surroundings and how they expressed themselves. As teenagers, a lot of girls started to dress more feminine, use make up… I was never interested in any of this, on the contrary, I rebelled against being “girly”… At that point, for the first time, I noticed that something was not quite “normal”.
Photo: Vakho Kareli
Coming out and self-identification was something that came after I enrolled in Gender studies program. It was kind of a turning point for me because I made friends there who were open about this issue. I never had such friends before. This opened me up to discover myself and pushed me to get involved in activism
I came out to my mother. She is a person with quite open and liberal attitudes and, yes, I would say that she is my supporter. I was really lucky in this regard, unlike many members of the community.
Traumatic experiences and barriers
I have lost friends because I am queer. I felt like I wasn’t welcome in certain groups, that I was considered a bad person… As if all the bad things that happen in society are my fault because of my queerness. Isn’t it strange? And yet it happens-
Our community is a kind of scapegoat that is blamed for the hardships, war and cataclysms that occur and this feeds hatred toward us.
Unfortunately, I don’t feel at home in this country. I would be free if I could autonomously, freely define my values, my interests, my views. Not just define these things inside my head, but to execute all this in a safe environment. Freedom of expression and gathering are precisely the most important issues for me at this point, the things that the state purposefully does not provide. It is crucial to explore the socio-economic needs of different groups and queer people. We are a poor country and this especially hits community members who are often oppressed and excluded by family members, from work environments, etc. Basic human needs, housing, health care, education must be provided.
Photo: Vakho Kareli
As queer women, we face many additional barriers in life and sexual harassment is one of these. I think queer women are even more vulnerable to sexual harassment, be it in public, on the street or at work. Additionally, queer people do not have equal marriage rights and the civil rights or benefits that come with it. This is yet another area where we feel that we are not recognized by the state as equal citizens. Although this issue is not on my agenda at the moment, it is very important. If circumstances and opportunities were, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility, I have even thought about it.
First of all, we activists demand that our freedom of assembly and expression be protected in order to fight for what we need. For this we need spaces but we have a huge problem- we can not gather in public. Visibility politics is very important to our community. We must not give up on this, we must work in this direction, and the Pride initiative is one of the important tools for this. We often contemplate as to how much we can do, when it comes to public demonstrations, which is correct..Nevertheless, I think that
We must constantly aim to achieve the way of expression called public assembly and march. We should always consider whether to hold Pride. This issue should always be on the agenda.
coming out is very important for visibility. The more people appear, the more people speak about themselves and on behalf of the community, the more the people will see that this community is a part of this society, and will see the struggles of its members. In addition, coming out is important for the social circles of which we are a direct part of – our family, our neighborhood, friends, colleagues… This has been confirmed by research – if a person knows a representative of the LGBTQI community directly, they are less prone to homophobia. It is important that your immediate circle sees you.
Photo: Vakho Kareli
Visibility politics is necessary for raising awareness. As I mentioned, holding a public demonstration is sometimes a controversial issue, but demonstrations are not the only way to increase visibility. The Pride festival organized by Tbilisi Pride, is a prime example of this. This event was attended by 2000 people last year. I think such events are important, as well as online campaigns and media activity.
Despite the difficulties, I still think that the most important thing is not to give up, to keep faith in a better future and to continue creating our spaces, to evolve and get stronger.