I am Dadu, the most non-standard person according to the criterions of Georgia – I am queer, I belong to an ethnic minority and I do not live by traditional Georgian customs. In short, I do not fit into any of the standards that are adopted here.
Soviet childhood, role models and a leap into a great life.
I am a child of the Soviet Union and I grew up in that environment up until I was about 10-11 years old. For me, as a child of that time, it was very difficult to determine whether the regime of that time was good or bad. We got whatever we were given and we were satisfied with that.
I remember my childhood as a very sweet memory, and for that I am very thankful to my parents. I didn’t lack in anything that a child needs: toys, rest, theater, culinary activities… Education didn’t revolve only around school-home, I received very good general education too. The fact that I am fond of classical music, ballet and opera, is also the merit of my childhood and my parents.
To a certain extent, I was affected by everything. However, I especially remember my first book – “Heroes of Hellados.” It was about ancient Greek Gods and I fell in love with this subject. Also, I truly like Nodar Dumbadze and I have special feelings for his books. As for classical music, there was this one time that my mother used to recall – I was about three or four years old, my parents were watching a movie and a soundtrack started playing, and when I heard it, I started crying hysterically. My mother asked me why I was crying and I replied that I really liked the music. It was an Adagio, and up to this day I really love that melody. This moment immersed me in music. I do not listen to music as a sound, I listen to the music with my heart and feel every note. Moreover, in general, whenever I hear sounds, I get a feeling that they are going through me.
The role model for me was my godmother – I really liked her visually, and in fact, I even started smoking because I wanted to be more like her. It was very childish of me… But a while later there was a person in my parents’ friend group, who was a part of my life for a very short time, but they were very important to me nevertheless. I had this so-called Radar with I felt and knew they were also queer but at that time no one talked about this. Sometimes I think, how much struggle they had to go through in a society, in which it is a crime even to think about it. But despite everything, this person was very bright, positive, strong and I really liked meeting them. I was happy about everything when I met them and I always knew that they would sit down and tell an interesting story.
I think that often our selves are formed through interactions with such people, along of that axis that we have.
My childhood ended when the 9th of April happened. This is still a very painful topic for me. That was when I understood that things were not as bright, nice and colorful as I had thought before. When everything turned upside down, our family also had a very hard time, we were all very distressed. Our generation is a distressed generation, who missed out on their youthful years. We had to skip this interval and suddenly jumped into the adult life and that was very painful for everyone.
Born this way
I was about eight years old when I first realized that something “different” was happening. To be honest I wasn’t really that upset and didn’t resent myself for it. Life went on and the first time I realized that this was not a normal thing in the society was when I had the first crush on a girl when I was 12 – I was basically a fanatic. We were on a vacation together and we were close friends. I had some feelings in my heart, but this was the purest friendship and I could never tell her anything. I understood that something wasn’t in its place when her parents arrived and took her away urgently. Either they realized something, or someone told them something – visually I wasn’t a very standard child, I looked kinda boyish and it seems that someone hinted at something, for her to be taken away.
My mom passed away before I came out. However, if she were alive, I would for sure tell her. She probably had some idea anyway. I was already living with my partner when she asked me if she could live with us. Then she had a stroke and she needed special care. That’s when we decided that we would move to her place. We planned everything, but unfortunately, she passed away in about two weeks.
Now it seems very funny to me, but I have even been officially married to a man before. It was not coercion, it was an absolutely purposeful and well thought out move, I was probably just trying things out. I was 23 then. I loved that person and respected them. However, later I realized that I cannot do that, I already knew that it’s not my thing.
We are born as such, we live as such, we do not become such.
My child knows about my orientation. I didn’t mention it for a while, I thought she might not be ready yet. When she was about 11-12 years old, she entered into the age when she would already figure things on her own too. I sat her down, talked to her, told her that it happens like that as well, women fall in love with women and men fall in love with men, and this is not bad or immoral, it is a normal thing. She basically grew up in the queer community and she was so used to my friend group that she wasn’t really shocked. She probably still needed some time to think about everything, which is very normal, but she was never not accepting. Now she’s 17, knows everything about me, has met my partner and has a relationship with her father too.
Probably all queer mothers including myself have this fear – fear of not being accepted and some feelings of guilt as well, that our children might encounter some problems because of us. A child is emotionally the closest person in the whole universe, no matter how many partners or friends you have in your life, your child is the person who is always the most important, or at least – it is like that for me. I was always scared that one day she would just stand up and tell me – I’m done, I don’t want this anymore, then what do I do?! Do I have that fear now?! A little bit, it’s almost gone. It has disappeared because she always tells me – “Mom, you’re the best mother in the universe, I’m proud of you”.
I am not sure what I did, but it is like that. And I think that I have the most wonderful child in the world.
There are many aspects that are very different for us, queer people.
Let’s start with the fact that our appearance in society always provokes some reaction, while the appearance of a heterosexual woman doesn’t. Someone like me, or maybe a trans person comes in, and everyone starts staring. It’s not much, but it’s there and it’s bothersome. Secondly, we always have to hide things. Besides us having to live in a lie, we have to lie to everyone – not because we want to, but because it happens like that. Thirdly, there is twice as much risk of our being punished and bullied. In addition to being a woman, plus, you are a queer woman. Society tells you – “what do you mean you don’t want a man? It’s not normal for you to want a woman.”
And the last and the most important problem – employment. This is a war on its own. The last time I remember, I was working as a consultant in quite a prestigious shop. I was approached by my boss, with whom I had a very good relationship. They told me that I’m a very good employee, everyone is very satisfied, just one thing – the next time you come here, you should wear make-up. I told them that I was working just fine without make-up and did not understand what it would change. They wanted me to look more woman-like because they thought I would sell more things like that. Of course, I left.
I have never had issues with housing before. Very often I hear from other queer community members that people refuse to rent them apartments. It might sound wrong, but in my case they see that I have a kid and they feel okay – knowing that at some point I had a relationship with a man.
Equality and Freedom
Unfortunately, there is no equality in Georgia. I find it hilarious when men come out and say that they are also oppressed. In a society where 90% of women are victims and they are not just abused, they are oppressed, an enormous man comes out and tells me that you know what, my rights are also violated… This used to be funny, but now it’s not funny anymore. It’s a part of the problem that they were raised like this. Who raised them? Those victim women, for whom, this is normal.
I have a very standard and stereotyped answer to what freedom is, freedom is love. I mean everything in this – to love the person that you love, to love the work that you want to do, to just love – whenever you have a luxury for all this. Unfortunately, we still do not have this freedom, but we have the luxury to pass it on to our children.
Aggression as a defense
I have always had to protect people throughout my life and it will always be like that. But protection isn’t the only thing that matters. The main thing is for your words to bring about the necessary message and to have some results.
This reminds me of one time – I had a co-worker, who was a very nice person but thought it was normal to beat women sometimes, etc. She was a young girl and I nagged her and talked to her so much that one day she came to work and told me a story of how she saw a guy beating a girl in the street and she stood up for her. She approached them, got the girl away from that situation and called the police. That was when I realized how much impact my words had on her – before that she would have never gotten involved in such a situation. Here she did get involved and she even took action.
I have to resist people all the time. We are already so tense inside, we are so used to this resistance that when a stranger approaches us in the street, we have a subconscious fear that they will tell us something. I recall one story – My child was about 12 years old, we were going home after being at a shop, I was holding 2 bags in my hands. We were walking and talking about stuff. We were approached by a guy that came over and stopped in front of us, he seemed drunk. I tried to move but he moved in front of me, would not let me pass. I asked him if anything was wrong, I knew that something was happening. I gave the bags to my kid and told her to leave. She stared at me with scared eyes and I screamed at her to leave. She took the bags that were too heavy for her to carry, she walked away fast and stopped a little bit far away and looked back at me with hopeless eyes. I turned to him and asked what he wanted. He started saying things like “who even are you”, “what the hell are you doing here”, and started swearing with vulgar words.
Instinctively, in situations like this I always feel aggression in response to aggression and I started yelling too, it wasn’t just shouting. I told him I was going to call the police right away. I took my phone out and my hands were shaking so hard that I barely typed those three numbers. When he saw that he said “I know where you live, I will come over and destroy you and that bastard as well”. He said this and ran away. The most interesting thing is that this happened in the middle of the day, there were people walking around us but no one got involved or was interested in what was happening. It took me some time to calm down and stop shaking. I approached my child and took the bags from her. She looked at me and asked me if I was scared. “Of course not” – I told her, as I was still trembling on the inside.
Aggression is what helps us survive. Whenever I was in a situation like that, I had tried to talk calmly and I am generally good at persuasion. But whenever someone is approaching you so aggressively, it would take you at least half an hour to calm them down. You don’t have that much time on your hands, you have to act momentarily and do something to defend yourself. You confront them with their own weapon and they pull back. They realize that you will not be their victim. I couldn’t come up with anything else, maybe others have different methods.
Emotional, financial and social damage
The most damage that I have experienced of all was psychological. You can never feel like a true member of society. Fear brings on all types of psychological damage – depression, hopelessness, despair, or this inferiority complex. I come to you with my intellectual resource, trying to work for you, and if you refuse me only for the reason that I’m wearing a shirt that looks gay, unconsciously I will start thinking that there is something wrong with me, get an inferiority complex and will be forced to adapt to this society. I refused to adapt and that is why I had a lot of problems.
You also get financial damage, because you don’t have the luxury to work at certain places, or work at all. I have always tried to work around my friends, people that I know – to avoid unacceptance. I realized that my appearance might have a negative effect on someone.
On May 17, 2013, I was working in a company where all of the employees were men. Since I need to work and I need the income, I can’t go to the rallies and on that day too, I had to be at work. Half of my friend group was at that rally. I was stressed, realized that I could not get any work done, my mind, heart and soul were out there. Meanwhile the male manager stands up and says – “Those faggots are getting beaten so well, that’s so cool…”. I don’t remember what I screamed and yelled at him, I fought so much. I told the director to fire that I would leave, but he also must fire that man, because he’s basically a murderer and an abuser. He did fire him, but he also became more aggressive toward me, I realized that I could not stay in such a situation and left.
As for the social damage, I do not have any relationships with my relatives. I used to have relatives in Russia whom I grew up with, and it is thanks to them that I have some things in my life, such as education. They were the only relatives for me apart from my mom and aunt, and when they passed away, those relatives were the only people whom I had left. Once I called them in Moscow. My grandfather was in the hospital and I wanted to find out how he was feeling. My grandpa answered the phone and suddenly I hear a phrase – “Don’t call here anymore”. They found out about my orientation and decided that I should not be a part of their life anymore.
The only relative I have left is my daughter.
I remember one story: 2 women lived together for 50 years. When one of them passed away, their daughter came over to the partner woman and tells her that she has to leave, because the house belonged to her mom and now it’s hers. A house that they have been building together. This is the legal aspect – I, as well as my partner, have no right to have a claim on each other’s property. My child can very easily go to her and make her leave the house which we have been living in for half of our lives. Why shouldn’t my partner have a claim on my property? When everyone else does – children, sisters, brothers…
Another example is healthcare. I went through an operation and I needed my partner to be next to me, I was feeling very bad. She told me that when she was trying to enter she said that she was my friend and she was not let in, because it’s only allowed for relatives. I told someone about this and they replied that she should’ve said that she was my sister – why did she have to say that? Why do I have to live in a lie? This society is drowning in lies and it demands the same from us, to come up with a lie and then tell it to everyone. Excuse me, but one day we will face the reality, and then where do we go from there?
Same for my health insurance – our health insurance includes our family members, but not my partner, that might really need it. That is why I demand the legalization of this relationship and it’s not just a game for me to come out and wave the flags. For me my family is my child and my partner. Why shouldn’t my family member have the same privileges that everyone else has? Especially in this day, when medical care is so expensive.
However, until we directly face this problems, we forget all about them.
How to overcome phobias, what to do, how to behave – I think this is something queer people constantly think about.
We have to try and make the issues that bother us today be at a legislative level as much as possible. It’s nice to go outside, it’s nice to hold rallies, but I feel like we are addressing the wrong public. Those people outside are not legislators, we have to have our voice heard by those who are specifically concerned with them and those who write these laws can work on them and ensure their enactment. Despite the fact that the queer community has grown, we cannot do this until we have support from the governmental and legislative wing.
The discrimination law has to actually work and someone who chased me to kill me should be prosecuted appropriately instead of being fined with a 100 GEL and the law shouldn’t be just a small piece of paper. We are people that exist in this society, we have a right to vote and you ask me for it, then you go to the parliament and then you do not care anymore…
Additionally, there is the issue of education. Education is the most important thing. One generation follows another and at this point ignorance and false information transfers from one to another on almost genetic level. Accordingly, we have to ask for particular changes to be made in the educational system, for the future generations to have the right information
“Whatever doesn’t kill you, destroys you”
Do you know what’s the worst thing? When the accent is on your sexual orientation – you shouldn’t have to talk so much about it, this is the private life of me and that person that I am with, it’s not society’s business. No one asks heterosexuals questions about this. I am glad when people don’t emphasize this aspect and they only talk about my humanity.
There are moments in which you think that you don’t want it anymore, you are tired, it’s better to just be by yourself… You can’t be, and that’s the thing, there are members of society that are dependent on you, people who are important to you. I have both had support and lost friends. I lost a friend whom I knew since kindergarten when I came out at the age of 18. I was sad, of course. But I am glad that people exist who don’t care about your queerness, they just care about you, as a person. I also felt so much support when I lost my job during the pandemic and so many people stood next to me.
Whether I want it or not, all of the aggression that was directed either at me or my partners partially gave me the strength to fight. I really dislike the phrase – “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” It’s not like that. Whatever does not kill you, destroys you. In reality, you make yourself stronger, people that tell you “I am with you” make you stronger.
What I would tell queer women
I don’t think that there is a woman in Georgia that has not encountered violence, it starts at an early age. It is very hard to give advice, because the psychology of a victim is very different. Oftentimes, queer women also have psychology of a victim and they are scared to run away. They prefer to live with that violence and you can’t say that it’s their comfort zone. They are expecting the worst because they are, to some extent, dependent on this society and are afraid to take some steps independently.
I was also a victim in violence. In particular, psychological violence – blackmail. The first thing I did was show that person that I was not scared of them. When they realized that I’m not scared, I switched my weapon and they left me alone. But of course I understand that not everyone has it this easy.
I advise them to gather all their strength, there are organizations that they can go to, they will help, provide some support. Also there’s friend groups, acquaintances… They should do their best to switch off their emotions and switch on their rational thinking and plan what’s the biggest priority for them. I believe that women have a good mind and they understand everything really well.
Whatever unites us
What should we, queer people. do? In those tiny social circles that we have around us, we have to talk as much as we can and give each other the correct information.
For some reason this society thinks, and I find it really funny, that queer people are rich, they have everything and they live in luxury. They cannot imagine that queer people can be poor. They think so because they feel like queerness comes from Europe, and Europe is a rich continent – this is a very low level of thinking.
We must also bring to the attention of these people that we, the queer community, are members of the same society, we are at the same level as the average statistical citizen – I also think that the electricity bill is too expensive, I also have a right to vote; I might also be nervous that I didn’t make it to the polling station, I also get worried when someone murders someone. And when I do something, unicorns don’t run around me and rainbows don’t shine around me. Why are you trying to make me think that I belong to some other society? When I have the same problems as you do, I need a job to take care of my family.
Here, this is what we have to bring to the public. We need to talk about social problems as much as possible, we need to find common ground.
The key is not to find what sets us apart, but to find what unites us.
The interview was prepared with the support of the Women’s fund Georgia (WFG)
Author: Nino Urushadze
Photos: Vakho Kareli