Tamo – I fight because I can

If you asked me how I would describe myself, I would say that I am a strong but an extremely tired person. For several years now, I have been perceiving myself as such. I used to be positive all the time, and now I often say – “I’m tired, I’m tired…” I know that I have to change something and I believe that it is not okay to be this way.

Childhood and life in a small city

 I grew up in the period of blackouts, not having gas, water or money, but I still think I had a happy childhood. I grew up without a father and I would see my mother very rarely as well since she worked abroad, that’s why I became independent from a very young age. This independence was manifested in the fact that I had everything of my own – for example, money, because I started working yearly. I didn’t have any restrictions and I wasn’t forbidden from doing anything; I had a bunch of friends, both girls and boys…

Despite the fact that I had short hair and a boyish style and it was a post-Soviet period, no one payed too much attention to it. This was probably because I grew up in a small city, Marneuli. There everyone knows each other and people are closer, unlike Tbilisi, where everyone has their own problems and you feel lost in the society, where they don’t care what’s up with you. While in Marneuli, when you’re outside you say hi to everyone in the street. I really felt this difference when I moved to Tbilisi. Now I’m used to it, but I still miss those times.

My whole childhood I was doing sports, eastern martial arts and as soon as the first school opened in Marneuli, I was the first one to sign up. I went there for 11 years and for the whole time I was the only girl in the group. I practiced with men and I was considered an equal. I’m not really restricted today either and I connect this to how there was no differentiation back there – I was hit and beaten the same way that others were. No one said to not hit me because I’m a girl. This always affected me positively and it still affects me now – I didn’t feel that I was anything less because I was a woman.

I had a role model and it was my Georgian language teacher. This woman had had an extremely hard life, her child had died young. But every time she came to school I was so happy to see my Mimosa, as I called her. I am an ethnic minority –I’m half Armenian and half Azerbaijani. I studied in a Russian class but the Georgian language was my favorite subject. She had a friendly relationship with the children and no one was afraid of her, everyone respected her, I’d never seen anyone skip any of her lessons. Teaching for her was not only a profession. This woman was a role model for me, she taught me how to always push forward.

First love

 I was 14 when I fell in love with an older woman. I didn’t understand it back then; what type of love it was. I didn’t have any kind of physical contact with her but every time I saw her, I felt like I was melting. I didn’t understand why I was so attached to her. This person had arrived here from a foreign country and I knew that she was going to go back, and just a thought of that made me depressed. When she actually left, I felt really bad. However, at that age I didn’t know that I was a lesbian, because I didn’t know that an attraction toward a woman meant anything. I grew up in such a cultural and social environment where I didn’t have an access to such information, I didn’t even know what the word lesbian meant. I got educated on this subject many years later, after I’d gotten married and had had a family.

Traumatic marriage

 I was 18 years old when I got married. This partially happened because of my upbringing. I constantly kept hearing that I have to get married, have children, have a place in the society, and so on. It added on top of this that I was confused myself and I thought that getting married would help me with that. Even though I had never had a physical relationship with a woman before and everything had been happening on a psychological level, as soon as I got married, I realized that having a relationship with a man was not my thing. Firstly, my husband was extremely jealous and with that he restricted me, I was locked up in the house and couldn’t go outside without my mother-in-law. However, I was working and I was allowed to go to work because it was an additional source of income. When our child went to school it was a sort of a relief, because at least I could go to the school without the mother-in-law accompanying me.

After 4 years of marriage I met a woman on the internet that I talked to. We never saw each other because she lived in a different city. When all of this became unbearable, I couldn’t hide it anymore and I had realized that I was a lesbian, that I like women and do not want to be with a man, I told it to my husband. I was ready for any type of a reaction, even him attacking me with an ax. Instead, he fell down on his knees, thinking that It was his fault that he couldn’t make me love him enough. When I told him that I didn’t want to be with him or any men at all is when he became more aggressive. I told him that it would make the most sense if we broke up because this relationship was going to hurt everyone –me, him, and the kid. However, he stated that I was not going to destroy the family. He even suggested that I get treatment for it. But by that time I had enough information on everything.

In total, we lived together for 11 years, but the last four years were like hell – he knew everything about me physically, sexually, psychologically… All of this has left me with so many negative consequences, those 11 years are erased from my memory – I wasn’t living, the life was passing by me and I was watching it from the side.

The Escape

 The last drop that made me escape this marriage was that he almost killed me over nothing. He stood over me as I was beaten and almost cut my throat with a spit. He was completely out of it and was not realizing that he was killing me. If it weren’t for his friend that saved me, today I would either be crippled or I would not be alive at all. At that time one of the LGBT community members gave me contact information of Nino Bolkvadze who helped me and a psychologist and a lawyer became involved in this case. They worked so hard for me to not work in these conditions anymore, to take my child and leave. That’s what I did – first I went to Batumi because I knew that no one would find me there.

First I left my child in the house. If I had taken him he might have sued me for kidnapping him. In one week we prepared the documents and I filed a complaint at the police station. As soon as I arrived in Tbilisi we texted him to bring the child and my clothes – in just 15 minutes he was at my mother’s place because he’d gotten so scared knowing that I went to the police. Even though the police didn’t do much – they just called him and told him not to come close to me anymore. This is the abuser’s psychology, such people, first of all, are cowards. My kid back than was 7 years old and I got him back soon, so he didn’t have any time to influence him in any way. However, after this, he went to absolutely everyone in both Marneuli and Tbilisi and made sure to tell this to anyone he could find, even my own relatives.

Today I have contact with this man because we have a child together who has always been a priority, I would never tell him to not go to his father. However, after breaking up with him I have not received any kind of material help from him. For about 2-3 years he has stopped the psychological abuse on the child as well, because he realized it wasn’t working. I told him that this was also violence from his side and if he continued I would take appropriate measures. Threatening them with the law works better, it scares them more than screaming and scandals.

The child

 When I was left alone was my child the first thing that I realized was that I don’t want my child to hide anything from me and to not be open with me. When I broke up with my husband my mom knew nothing and it was a shock for her. I didn’t tell her because I didn’t want her to worry. But when I was left alone I realized that I didn’t want my child do hide anything from me, no matter how horrible. We are like that till this day and our whole relationship is built on trust. The fact that I don’t have to hide my partner, that I can admit my mistakes is very important – by admitting our mistakes we give them an example that they can also come to you and do the same. I am not afraid that he will not accept me because of my orientation. I just constantly though about whether he was of the appropriate age for me to tell him about it. But I know that he already knows.

Society oppresses women

 We live in a very sexist society – everything here belongs to men. This is also connected to education and up-bringing. When you keep telling your daughter that she is weak, you are making them experience that feeling. In a family in which 2 kids are brought up – a boy that is allowed everything and girl that’s not just because she’s a girl is where her oppression begins. Such woman will stay oppressed in the future as well.

During this time, I learned so many professions – I worked as a taxi driver, food delivery driver, my whole life has been connected to the car. I’m constantly driving, I have great experience, but I always feel the attitudes – they are convinced that this is a man’s thing and woman should have nothing to do with it. When I became a taxi driver some men refused to be driven by me when they saw that I was a woman. I encountered such cases almost daily – they would close the door and not sit in the car. Only men acted like this, women, on the other hand, were usually happy about it.

We are equal only when we are paying for something or when it comes to responsibilities.

The lives of queer women

 An openly queer woman might get oppressed at a workplace – even if you’re qualified, properly educated, have years of experience, but you don’t look appropriate to be employed at that position. It’s been one year since I cut my hair. I did it simply because I was bored with m long hair, not because I wanted to look like a lesbian – if you do not look like the standard woman, you’re not fit, don’t have long hair, then it’s harder for you to find a job. It is sad that this factor is more important than experience. You want to continue developing but you are not given the chance for it. Often I see the criteria in the job vacancies that I already feel discriminated on.

We are not allowed to have families and be in legal relationships that are protected by law. I would be very happy to have a queer family in which my child would have two parents that take care of him, we would also have a child together, we would have law-based common property that would never become something to be argued about. Everyone wants a family. I want my child to grow up thinking that he has a family.

How to overcome phobias – education

Today people have a better access to information. At the age of 15 they know what a lesbian is and the first thought they get isn’t that they need to go to a therapist and they don’t think that they are dealing with someone insane.

When I broke up with my husband and went to Identoba and saw so many gays and lesbians, despite being a lesbian myself, I experienced some homophobic feelings. I was from Marneuli where this topic was never even mentioned. Then, a while later, as I got more information it stopped making sense to hide my orientation. Of course, I don’t need to scream about it every 2 seconds, but there is nothing to hide about it. I am a completely different person compared to who I was. I think that if I had had proper education on this subject, I would not have gotten married, even despite the cultural pressure.

When you receive the correct information you stop having problems with your own self. Before that you won’t be telling your parents about it, because you don’t understand that you’re a normal person, even this fear is normal in the initial stages. How much is the fear connected with the culture? Sadly, there’s a direct link between those two. In post-Soviet countries people don’t wish to take steps into the future confidently, because they don’t know what’s waiting for them, they are scared of novelty, because it will change everything in their mind.

I think that if a person is knowledgeable about this topic since childhood they will never become homophobic. We have to give this information to children at a particular age and this information should be delivered to them in all the correct ways. We need sexual education that we also do not have. If we give them this information now, years later we won’t have the same problems in the future.

Queer people should be given a chance. These people should be appointed to high, decision-making positions, they shouldn’t be blocked. I think that queer people often become painters, musicians, etc., because this is a comparatively easy way to express oneself, because we are not allowed into other fields. People should interact with queers in every-day life and future generations should not be raised with hatred.

What advice I would give to queer people

We, queer people, often need help, be it legal, psychological, or financial. This is especially true of the queers living in the regions – when you live in a small town, you do not have physical access to all of this and often, you don’t even know that you can, get help. People should know about this. If I had to live in a village somewhere now, I wouldn’t have a problem anymore, because I have already accepted myself, I am in harmony with myself and it doesn’t matter where I live anymore.

I became independent very soon and this helped me survive a lot. A lot of queer community members are dependent on their families and are scared to lose them. When you are dependent on something and someone – you are already oppressed. Financial independence is extremely important. It may sound strange, but today I am free because if I have a problem I can just scream and defend my position, I’m not scared that my boss will fire me from my job because I am queer. What made me strong? Education and information on this subject.

The loss

Despite everything, my past has left me with some psychological trauma and till this day I have to deal with post-traumatic stress. I suffered with depression as well, and have needed medication. Finally, of course, all of this left a trace, and it’s all connected with those 11 years.

I have lost friends and people that were the closest to me. A childhood friend refused to accept me and besides the fact that she was the one to abandon me, she also tried to take our common friend away from me, but she failed. Even though my friend cannot comprehend how it’s possible to be attracted to women she told me – “Even though I might not agree with all of this, you are still my friend and it will always be like that”. I remember this support very well. I lost a cousin of mine, who was closer to me than my own sister. This also left a very negative trace on me.

It is necessary to mention that when I really needed support, so many strangers stood beside me. My psychologist, Nino… People from the office of Identoba. And, most importantly, my partner, whom I am still dating after all this time – she is the most important person in my life.

I fight because I can

I love life so much, I want to study, to have knowledge, to see, all of this empowers me so much. This and my daughter – the fact that I want a better life for her. Why do I fight? Because I can. This has always been a characteristic of mine since I was a kid – I went to martial arts, did every move, even the ones that the boys did and when they asked me why I did those things I just answered – “because I can”.

I have always been very curious. I have had so many hobbies – photography, mosaic, crochet… I am still searching for new experiences, doesn’t matter if I need those things or not. I always try to learn something, that’s how I learned 7 languages. I always chose a profession that is connected to people because I’m a very social person. Now I’m working in a hotel, I really like this job. I see new people every day from different countries, with various cultures.

There are two or three professions that I want to master and to work in those fields. One of those is photography, right now I’m just an amateur. When I hold the camera in my hands, I forget about everything else – I can just sit for hours in the garden, waiting to capture a beautiful moment.

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