Elena: We should get out in the streets without flags

Elena is a 22-year-old transgender woman. Queer tried to understand how the everyday life of transgender women has changed in recent years for her. Also, what does Elena think about May 17th; What are her needs and what does she see as an opportunity to improve her life?

Here’s Elena’s thought on issues of our interest unchanged:

During the events of May 17, 2013, I was a 14-year-old child who lived in a rural area. I heard about the crackdown on television, but I didn’t know the meaning of queer activism back then. Nevertheless, this event shook my heart. I realized the unacceptance of the queer community later, at the age of 16. I still remember the pastors running with truncheons and stools. Since 2013, the government has massively released people with criminal experience from jail – violent people, pedophiles, etc. These people were gathered by the Georgian Dream and threatened vulnerable people.

May 17th is for me a day when you come out and say who you are.

“For example, I am a transgender woman. It doesn’t matter who will come to me and hit me with stool, I cannot be changed. I am who I am, I was born this way and live this life. No one can change me, nor my mother, father, doctor, or pastor. Therefore, what happened on May 17th was a provocation from the government”.

They organized these groups, who then attacked people, the same was the case with “Tbilisi Pride”. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, together with Alt-Info, was mobilizing the perpetrators, who then bleed people and kill them, as they killed Lexo Lashkarava.

Although the government is trying to confront us with a criminal mentality, normal people on the street are no longer as hostile as they used to be. Even now they are using bad language and someone may spit on you, but it’s not like before when they used to hit you right away.

Older transgender women often tell us: “You should have seen what was happening in the 90s, they used to attack us with guns. When we went out to raise some money, they attacked us to kill us and we had no other option than to run away.” The situation is a little different now. Of course, it is common for passers-by to insult us, call us men. At that moment, it is better not to start a fight, but some trans women can’t stand it. If passers-by are more in number and there is a fight, no one can help trans people. The clients are often also violent, some cannot accept themselves and become aggressive after sex. They can hit you or even kill you.

“It is risky to be involved in sex work, but for trans women, it is almost impossible to survive in Georgia differently”.

Still, the situation in the city is better – people are mostly living their lives, and there are nightclubs where you can go out and not be the center of attention. While in the village, everyone knows you and no matter what you do, your every move is seen, a trans person can’t stay there. In my case, I had to leave my family at the age of 16 and go to an orphanage. You can leave the orphanage at the age of 18.

“The main problem for trans people is that no matter how difficult your situation is, no one can give you shelter. The organizations may help, but it is still hard”.

It should be noted that our situation improved a little after the adoption of the anti-discrimination law. Before that, the police did not react at all, now they might do something. The economic situation is more difficult, people did not have problems before, therefore there were more clients and more income. Now you can see that it is a very difficult time for everyone financially.

It is not easy to find employment elsewhere, still, it is not impossible. For example, one of the trans women, Gabriela, works in a medical clinic, she was hired as a nurse during the Covid pandemic and is still working there. She cares for patients and has earned love and respect from them and the clinic staff. She feels loved by people, they call her “darling” and treat her with respect. In my opinion, if you want to work, you should be able to find one. But the salaries are so low, you can’t afford to live. I am also employed, but I have to pay the rent for an apartment. I also know other trans women who work, but many may say – should I be a man during the day and a woman at night? Walking with an appearance of a man during the day is not acceptable for some, then how should one behave? If you are not famous and supported, you cannot be a woman. Some may say that I am a man during the day and a woman at night. I work in the cleaning department of the City Hall. For me, this is not a problem. I can go to work without makeup and heels.

“The work of the community organizations should also be noted. During the pandemic, no one helped us except them. They helped me with rent, food and food allowance, medicine, and one-time financial allowance”.

Among the challenges, I will point out violence, and verbal abuse. I walk around the neighborhood with long hair, make-up, and earrings, and I might get teased for that. I was on the bus the other day and heard someone talking about me: “She is wearing leopard pants”, “She is trans”. Also, we still haven’t resolved some things in the community – gays can’t stand trans people, trans people can’t stand gays. Trans also fight with each other.

As for plans, I know that I should leave Georgia.

“The country is in chaos, the time has come when even your government is chasing after you”.

To recall the speech of the Prime Minister, a few weeks ago. If Russian laws are adopted, we will not be able to walk in the street at all. We will be locked in our homes 24 hours a day as transgender women in Russia.

I don’t know what we should do about it, but I think we should come out in the streets even without flags and demand the protection of our rights. It is impossible to come out with flags at all, and maybe we could come out like this. Organizations as well as society and the supporters of the community should come out and demand the protection of queer people.

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