I am a liberal, but my values are not pseudo-liberal. I am quite diplomatic, humane and principled, I might lack willpower in some things, but I have demonstrated great willpower to fight, I have not given up and I have come so far.
My childhood was probably the same as of every kid’s that grows up in the suburbs. The post-Shevardnadze period, stereotypes… I was against inequality back than as well – if someone was getting bullied I would support them; I thought that time would pass and people would regret their ignorance.
I couldn’t deal with my parent’s strict parenting style. Even at that time I believed that parents shouldn’t be so controlling, and I have told them many times and they don’t actually know their children. When they found out about me it was a shock and I told them that if you had known your children better and if you hadn’t held military-kinds of attitudes toward us, this wouldn’t have happened.
The generation of my parents hates the generation that nowadays tries to be friends with their children. They are surprised that if a child is being beaten by their teacher, they start to protest it – “why would they protest that?” – these are the kind of harmful attitudes they hold toward children. What causes this estrangement? Our parents were brought up with different values, they have been poisoned with the Soviet Union mentality. They think that is a Georgian man doesn’t follow these pseudo-traditional values and then doesn’t teach their son about it, our country will come to an end. I also almost ended up being like that, but I managed to save myself from it.
I was 12-13-years-old when I realized that I wanted to be like other girls. Because I didn’t have the environment or the means to do that I felt empty on the inside. For some time, I thought that I could just get over it and I fought with my own self. I had always been kind of feminine. It was noticeable ever since I was a kid, and people in my neighborhood would tell me to stop wearing shorts because I looked like a whore… This is the same period when one man showed up in our school with a yellow tie and everyone laughed at him.
I was distressed. I realized that I could never have what I wanted. The only thing I could think about was how I would be perceived by the people in my environment. I had relationship with guys as well, but someone found out and thought that I was gay. Soon, I was blackmailed by them – they were offering me to have sex with them and unless I did that, I had to bring them money. I’m talking about people that were 10-15 years older than me. Now they pretend that they don’t remember anything.
This experience didn’t manage to damage my mental health, because I lived in my own world, reading books. I also always liked sports and I exercised for 15 years. I played football, went to the gym, and weight-lifted. Lately I’ve been slacking off, but before that I used to wake up at 7 and go for a run.
A different world inside one apartment
In 2015-2016 I was addicted to alcohol and it was extremely difficult to give it up. I was depressed – I couldn’t come out and this is where the inability to realize my personality brought me. Besides this, people “attacked” me, as I was still a boy – “Why won’t you get married, you’re getting old…” I was sick from all this. For those people I am still unpredictable, I have deceived them many times in order for them to have different opinions of me, while I did things that I needed to do, to be free.
When my moral fight began and I realized that it wasn’t something I could give up on, so I came out to one of my friends. I told her that I couldn’t be like a man around her, that she could give me a dress and I’d show her just how feminine I could be. First I only told it to one person, then to another one, and slowly I started to develop myself in this regard. One friend offered me to go to therapy, because they thought that all this was a result of a trauma of having my personality repressed for many years and it would help me discover myself. I went to psychologists and sexologists. I contacted organizations that worked with such things and now I’ve been actively involved with them for 4 years.
During that time, I found a girl like me from Rioni. I was really surprised that there was someone from my region in the queer community. I was so surprised because it is really dangerous there. I recall one time, when I went to a fitness center, I took a photo of myself because I was happy with the progress I was making and posted it on Facebook. My relatives came over right away, telling me to take the photo down, because people’s children and wives would see it and it’s immoral. I talked to this girl and we became friends. We often chatted – at first I didn’t tell her everything; but then slowly, as I noticed her attitudes I explained my situation to her and she told me to bring my women’s clothes to her house. I would leave home saying that I was going to work on something, and I would go to her and we immersed ourselves in our own world. No one could imagine what happened there.
“Our ancestors were true men, what are you doing?”
My job is ruining my nerves. I served in the compulsory military service for one year, and when I came back my dad got me a job, so I have been here for 13 years.
No one at work knows anything about me. A few years ago they noticed that I had shaved my body and said things like “God look at him, he’s one of the LGBT now”. After that, I was working with comparatively humane ones. But once, I got my eyebrows done for a photo and it didn’t grow back very fast, so they noticed and I was bullied again. This time, they weren’t aggressive, they just made fun of me. I have had conversations about transgenders with them and I know their attitudes, so it’s hard to come out there.
The way that I came out with my family was that someone showed them a picture of me wearing women’s clothes. 7 months before this, I showed my photos to a few people and one of them remembered it and showed it to everyone. I couldn’t imagine that this could’ve happened. Even though I was ready and I knew and I was taking a risk, I was still shocked. At that time, I was at work, I packed my luggage, picked up some basic things and left. Then they mailed the clothes to me as well.
For a whole week I was shocked. First few days were the worst, we had some horrible conversations in the family. They were all mostly worried about our relatives – “what are they gonna say?! You have embarrassed yourself and us, our ancestors were true men, what are you doing?” and so on. I had to deal with all kinds of insults. I told my mom that at some point some criminal will want to kill her child because of orientation, and while most parents are ready to sacrifice themselves to save their children, she was just worried about what people would say. My dad was never told because he isn’t in good health. He’s angry only because I showed photos of myself dressed like that to others.
I asked my parents – what will it change if you kill me now? I asked my mother, “If just for your and your family’s happiness I just say that no, I’m not a woman, I was wrong and I’m sorry, and then I just come home and play the role of a boy, will you be happy with that fake reality?” the answer to that was that my mother didn’t raise me like that, and now by trying to change everything like that I was erasing all of our family’s values. The last time I talked to her she asked me why I never talked to her about it before. I wasn’t afraid that someone would beat me up, I just didn’t want to be neglected, and I knew that my mom would be so upset that they would kick me out of the house. Then I would start thinking about stuff like whether I was ready to lose so many things, to end up in the street…
Now that everything has happened, I’ve realized that I was, in fact, ready. If my father and brother tell me that they’ll never talk to me again, I will not forgive them. I will not give up on myself because of anyone anymore.
The Patriarchy Whip
I have often thought about the women’s situation and equality in our country, and talked about this to many other women. The same way that women born in a women’s body have something that defines their identity, I have that too. I stand in solidarity with all those who have felt the patriarchy whip on their shoulders. I believe that it’s a tragedy that we let the traditions that were created so long ago during the time of monarchs still dictate how women should behave.
To women living in hostile environments I’ll say to once again remember their past, recall what they’ve been through… To have new relationships in new communities, to not drown in clichés and taboos. The one thing that has helped me personally, is the thought that life is already so short and we don’t have time to let other’s opinions influence us. Especially of those people that barely know how to live themselves, as they’re often the ones that criticize us the most. They don’t know what you’ve been through, what’s worth for you to lose, in order to find something new.
We want to build a house and we don’t even have a foundation yet
I hope that things will change and a political party will rule this country, one that will take the needs of the queer community into account. The society needs to see the queer community, the state needs to show that reforms are being carried out in this regard. A queer person always thinks about how damaging it will be for them and what problems will arise for them after losing something. When the society sees that a family member, a relative, or someone else standing by this person has been changed… The state should implement trainings to raise awareness, especially in the regions. There should be changed in the educational system, psychological services should be available, and healthcare system needs to be taken care of – a whole chain of changes that needs to take place in order to change people’s opinions. Improving social environments will also influence this.
It would be great if there was some kind of a quota for big companies – for example, to hire 4 queer people out of every 10 people that they hire, of course, if people are interested, so that people don’t have to engage in sex-work on the streets. Maybe I’m a great journalist, a cook, an artist or I work on wood – everyone should be given an equal chance. Just holding the pride and waving the flags in the streets won’t help me realize my potential. People will still hold their toxic opinions; someone will again use this to their advantage. Russian propaganda is already going strong lately, so someone will just take the religious feelings of the people and direct them against us.
It is crucial for people to be more humane toward each other and find a common ground. I don’t mean those people and groups that exist in this country that just hate people, we can’t just teach them and accept their opinions.
Little by little I’m moving forward. During these 4 years I did many things – I learned to accept that I will lose some things and some people; at the same time, I found some new beginnings, discovered new social circles, created new relationships. What I thought was impossible in past, turned out to be fine. If one year ago someone told me that I would leave home, leave alone and I would even start talking to some politicians, I’d say that it sounds ridiculous.
I’m not only thinking about myself. If that was the case, I would’ve left the country. I can’t live happily anywhere knowing that others are miserable. Half the country entered some religious organization by “Girchi” just in order to avoid going to the military, and as that’s happening, the parents of those people will come out and say that I, the person who went through compulsory military service, am embarrassing the country. I can be involved in any process as a proud citizen and the society should understand that we’re not monsters.
Our personalities should not be defined by our identities; they represent just one side of us.
The interview was prepared with the support of the Women’s Fund in Georgia (WFG).
Author: Nino Urushadze
Photos: Vakho Kareli