I am Pertso, 21 years old, and I am very sociable- I think this is what describes me best.
I study business at Free University, and work as a content architect at Bank Of Georgia. I have worked at numerous jobs before, I have been a lot of things and will be from now on, as well. But I really like my current job. I plan to stay in tech and digital fields.
You’d be surprised, but I had been gay since first grade. I don’t remember much from elementary school; what I do remember is sitting with the girls and discussing our crushes. When all the girls would name a boy, I would name a girl who was not in our squad, but I liked a lot.
So I did know it at that time, but I didn’t know what the word “gay” was, or that there even was a term for this. Well, I didn’t even know this was something worth naming. I never considered my identity as a problem or as a deviation from the norm. It has always been like that. I don’t know how I managed to pull it off, but when I talked to my childhood friends about coming out, they answered that there was no need, that they knew everything. Turns out, it was always clear to me and my friends alike, they all knew it.
I found out about the existence of the LGBTQI community on May 17, 2013. This was my first encounter with LGBTQI terminology. Yeah, it is pretty awful when you find your people, that you didn’t even know existed and here they are being attached. I remember it very clearly, I was sitting on a couch, waiting for a dentist to see me. They were showing scenes from that day on TV. I was shocked, I thought- “What the hell is going on? Why is this happening? What do these priests want?”. My mum was sitting next to me. I don’t remember what her answer was. She must have just brushed it off rudely, as she had no idea what was happening, and I doubt she had any position on the topic. This was the event that triggered a question: “So, if anything happened, they could beat me too?!”. I was 12 years old, very confused, also scared, but I wanted to go there so much. I didn’t know why, or to whom, but I remember being very determined to go there.
“I think my mother is proud of me, even if she never tells me this. She likes who I am, but there’s no way she will ever admit to my queerness. “
My whole childhood was about survival. This one English word describes it the best, which in Georgian means being in a constant state of struggling to stay alive. I was a rebel- despite the obstacles. I always tried to adjust my surroundings to my liking. One of my mothers best decisions was to transfer me to Vekua, the physics-mathematics school in 6th grade. This opened a small window of freedom for me, where I did things my way, free from my mother, so that she could not find out, and even if she did, I would survive, as I would think of something before getting home. And it’s not like I did something outstanding. I just spent time hanging out with friends. We used to hang out at Smart supermarket or go to the taping of X-FACTOR- we did what our teenage heads would come up with. And that feeling of teenage fun and freedom was very cool, not being watched all the time.
I said my childhood was survival, and I tried to spend the minimum amount of time at home. In 11th grade I got a summer job as a consultant at one of the supermarkets. I lived in Varketili and I purposefully looked for a job that was very far away. Imagine a 15 years old Pertso, who gets up at 6 every morning and goes to Nutsubidze third district. How was I not lazy to do this is what I think now, but my household clearly caused me great discomfort.
I didn’t feel safe at all there. There were attempts at running away, cases of actually running away, then making ups, which were not real anyways, and so on. My years were always ringing with the phrase; ‘you must survive’. I don’t really love my childhood. My brain blocked a lot of it. Like, I don’t even remember it, but there were times where it all broke out.
Recently I discovered that I sleep with my fists clenched, probably so that I am always ready to protect myself and run away.
Coming out to my mother
When I came out to my mother, my father had already passed away. As a child, I realized that if I started talking about it, it would result in a fight, so I didn’t want to say anything. I kept thinking that what I do and who I have a crush on is none of my parents’ business. I am separate from them, with my own life and it is up to me what kind of decisions I make. Plus, I thought that she knew- it was as much evident back then as it is now, so I couldn’t fathom how she could not know. In general, I have such a strategy in my relationship with my mother that I talk about any topic from start to finish. I also tell her about my attitudes, about which there are usually objections.
“I can accept a homophobe for being homophobic and then make them accept me for being gay.”
During the protest regarding Namakhvali cascade, my friends went to support the movement. One of them had a pride armband, and what happened next will surprise no one, unfortunately. I was very upset that day, my psyche demanded I do something. I decided to put on an armband and walk around like that. I couldn’t wait for someone to tell me something about it…
So I told her the whole story starting from Guram Kashia till Namakhvali protests. She looked at me and asked- and what does it have to do with you, why are you wearing it? I exploded, I replied as calmly as I could- I need it, cos I am a part of the queer community and I am expressing my solidarity. Is this the only question you have after this whole story?
I say as calmly as I could, cos in reality I yelled…
We had a very dangerous conversation. Both of us started screaming. It was crazy. It was very tense. In the middle of the argument I realized I had to neutralize the situation somehow, so I just threw a lot of terminology at her, then proceeded to explain the terminology and when she got really confused I just left the room and changed the topic. (wow, that was one way to come out, kudos to me!).
I came out to my mother at least 5 more times after that. I keep thinking that she knows, but she ‘’doesn’t remember’’. Later I realized that her brain refuses to accept this info. I get it. I really do. She is old, she has gone through a different life; she has a different mentality… I really get it and I don’t get tired of explaining it over and over again. I hate hiding stuff or managing lies. I had to when I was a kid and I don’t want to do that anymore. That is why I hide nothing. She asks? I answer!
I don’t live at home anymore. I moved separately and the less time we spend together, the better our relationship is. Now we want to talk to each other more often and sometimes I even miss her. She has not accepted me, but somehow she has. She knows, yet doesn’t admit it. I think she is proud of me, even if she never tells me that. She likes who I am, although she will never admit I am queer, with herself the most. She will never even mention it to others. She will never tell her friend or ask for advice. No one must know, is still her motto. Even though that is not me at all. I am here talking publicly and my mum still has the illusion that no one knows.
I’ve also grown, and now try to give her information in a different manner; maybe how I did it was not right. The fact that she knows I am gay and I have done nothing wrong taught her more, I think. Although she can’t fully accept it yet. She might never be able to do it, or speak publicly about it. But observing the progress of her development brings me so much joy, I don’t even exclude the possibility of her becoming more queer than I am.
COMMUNICATION IS THE KEY
I didn’t mention me being social for no reason. I have changed people’s attitudes by communicating with them and I find it awesome. In my experience, this is what actually works.
“We should not have to go through this. I should not care that I am gay, why do I have to explain that I do nothing wrong?!”
I can accept someone as a homophobe and then make them except me as gay. This summer I was driving my moped in Batumi and I stopped at Samtredia. I saw a man who was saying something incorrect to the gas station employee, so I intervened. He turned out to be a very sociable type, so we started talking. He took me to his hang out spot and introduced me to his friends. This is how I ended up with local homophobes in Samtredia. It of course led to them asking me if I was gay and I didn’t hide that I like girls. I didn’t just blur it out, they asked so I didn’t hide it or lie. We talked a loooot and now we are friends. I text him and we meet up every time I am in Samtredia. He’s still a homophobe, but his attitude has changed a lot, and it will get better after every visit. I really believe in Mixo and his European perspective.
I know a lot of homophobic people around me who have no problem with me being gay. Maybe because I am very sociable and they just don’t know other queers. I’ve told them many times- when you look at me and think that I am a good person, I am sure there are other gay people around you; they are just scared to tell you because of your attitude. Let them come out, why does them being gay bother you?!
Communication is the key —this phrase has been living in my head for years and kind of became my main belief. I really like that I can talk to and communicate with just about anyone. I will surely find something in common with them. Good things have come out of that. Even in Samtredia decreasing the level of homophobia in Mixo and his buddies.
In my opinion, visibility is crucial. It has a domino effect. Visibility is contagious, as you can feel someone has your back. You are not alone. I have never hidden myself and that is my visibility politics. With this I am not pushing someone to be gat, no. Some people are simply gay; they are just scared to come out. Some have not accepted themselves and think that they are doing something wrong.
Looking back to the past, I was lucky to have such a mindset; otherwise it would have been much harder for me. I am brave enough to be who I am. Not everyone can do that. This takes character, and also supportive surroundings. And even if our society is not like this, we try hard and we will inevitably change it.
The biggest challenge lies with people over 50. They have never seen someone like you, and they don’t want to see you as well. And even if they see any news, only on social media through Russian propaganda, which tells them that you are a “pervert:. They believe everything and don’t even understand what “disinformation” is. They have never thought that this issue could be used for propaganda. But society is much more accepting nowadays. A new generation is coming, the world is evolving, and so are we, even if we do it much slower. We should not get discouraged. The situation is much better now than it was in 2013, and this is coming from someone who had explosives thrown at her on July 5th.
“We were hiding in a hallway, and when we knocked on someone’s door saying ‘please let us in, they want to kill us’. They replied – get out of here or we will call them yourselves.”
Queer people are more visible nowadays, and it can be said that we are represented so we can live normal lives. We have celebrities who are gay and won’t/can’t come out. I look at how nice they are, so many people know and love them, but they’re still in their shells, mostly because they’re afraid. I am a bit strict on this topic, because I know I would not get scared. We should hide ourselves from no one and never, not even for anyone’s sake, especially when your words carry value; you have your audience, fans. But yeah, I understand everyone’s journey is different and I truly hope that one day they will all get to a point where they can no longer hide their true selves and give others strength.
I’m involved in everything that worries me, – whether it’s supporting Ukraine, Georgia, anti-Georgian Dream movements, or LGBTQ communities. In general, what I identify with is wanting to help everyone. I often think I am oppressed; therefore, I want to support everyone who is oppressed.
My brain is like a problem solving machine. Every time I hear that something I didn’t like happened, I start thinking about what to do as a response; should I go to a protest action, text my friends and plan something, even if it is just spray painting graffiti… I think it is also a part of visibility politics, and when you don’t like something you should say it. When I see that I might be oppressed because of something in a certain space, I say out loud what I don’t like so that others don’t have to go through the same thing.
Communication is also activism, and perhaps that’s what we queers should consider—anyone who cares and has the resources to do so. I also have moments when I run out of resources to be in activism, but the time will come again when it comes back – the main thing is not to stop.
The visions of the queer organizations operating in Georgia may differ from each other, however; I think that it is possible to reconcile all of this without harming each other. Together we will be much stronger — you may not agree with me, but that should not stop you from cooperating with me. We must work together to help others.
We have been preparing for July 5 for a very long time. Back then I was an active member of the Shame Movement, so I was involved in organizing it from day one, when Tbilisi Pride came to us and offered to collaborate on pride week. The series of events started on June 1 and we were the happiest on June 4th. Everything was going great.
I remember every detail of June 5. I had an exam at 10am. I finished it in 20 minutes and was very pleased with myself. I left Digomi and went to Rustaveli. I met a lot of “marshutkas’’ on the way. They were clearly filled with people brought from different parts of Georgia. When I got to Rustaveli, there was already a traffic jam, and the way to Freedom Square had already been closed. Turns out the counter action had started in front of the parliament. Our headquarters was behind the parliament, so I had to go there.
We’d been preparing for so long that I couldn’t wait until July 5th. I got dressed up in pride shoes, socks, watch, phone case; I had pride pins and flag on my bag. I was very colorful, that is how I chose to express myself, and not for a second did I think that it could be dangerous. Anyways, that is how I dress already, why do I need so much stuff with pride plays if I don’t use them. Suddenly a man stuck his head out of a huge jeep and yelled: “you are going down today”. I approached the police car nearby and told them that a man in a car had just threatened me. I wanted the first case of homophobia towards me on that day to be punished. Police didn’t arrive for 40 minutes. It was impossible to identify the culprit, as he had left.
“When I see that I might be oppressed because of something in a certain space, I say out loud what I don’t like so that others don’t have to go through the same thing.”
I managed to get to the headquarters, by that time they had occupied the whole Rustaveli. I remember watching events happening outside on TV. We were anxious. Soon after our arrival we got a call and were told to run, as they had found out our location and were moving this way. It was horrible. Ana Subeliani and I went out to save her moped; it is when they saw us. Someone yelled that we were there and they ran towards us. Everything happened really fast after that. We rolled the moped into the hallway, and right after I locked the door Dato Kutaladze started breaking the glass windows with bare hands. We ran out through a backdoor. It was like a movie scene, as they chased up the street like rabid dogs, dressed in all black. We hid in a random hallway and knocked on someone’s door, begging to let us in, saying- please, let us in, they are trying to kill us. The reply was- get out, or I will call them myself. It was awful.
I suddenly remembered that my moped, which I could barely afford to buy, was parked in front of the headquarters, covered in pride stickers. The thought of it being destroyed made me sick to my stomach. I took off all the pride accessories and headed that way. When I got there, I saw my friend, first I asked them how they got there safely, and then to help me get my moped out of there. My old moped was very bad, it would barely get started on normal days, but that day it took 20 minutes to get it going.
While I was trying to start my moped, one of the orcs approached me and asked if I needed help. But he was checking me out with such suspicion, that I knew, he knew I wanted one of them. I don’t know how my brain managed to organize my actions, but I lowered my tone and answered- “no bro, the carburetor is broken so it struggles sometimes”. He didn’t expect such a lively answer, so he left me alone. As soon as I shook him off, the moped’s engine started and I drove off. I could finally breathe out.
The state was clearly cooperating with the violent groups. Many facts lead to this conclusion. A representative of SSG (State Security Service Of Georgia) was present at all of our meetings, so they knew all about our whereabouts and where we were headed next. After headquarters, we ran to the UN office, and what happened there is both terribly traumatic and funny for me. We were in the UN office, discussing what to do. All of us were very nervous; after all there were more of us than just the shame movement and Tbilisi pride; other organizations and supporters were also present. As we were writing a statement to cancel the march, we were told we had to leave as it was no longer safe there.
Imagine you are at the United Nations and they tell you – “You are not safe here, you should leave”. It was terrible, I felt very weak and bitter. I don’t blame the UN for anything; on the contrary, I am very grateful that they sheltered us, even for those 40 minutes, we really needed it. It’s just that the orcs were already at the round garden and we were there too. Anh here it is the SSG trail, they found us at every location we went to. There was an incident at the UN office. Radio Tavisupleba’s journalist Tornike Mandaria was attacked and Giorgi Tabagari barely survived. The organizers of this attack were not punished. Running out of the UN office and angry, I shouted in the traffic jam at Heroes’ Square – “Even if I am alone, I will still walk, I will still walk and I will walk alone”. I remember that shot in my mind. I could see my reflection in the bus window and I remember people looking at me with surprised faces. Why did I have to run away? Just because I’m me?! Why should I run away? What have I done wrong to you?!
The third location had a bunker and there were about 30 of us in that bunker. At some point we went out to the yard to smoke a cigarette, which was followed by the sound of an explosion and smoke. Before we ran into the building, I felt something hit my stomach, lifted my shirt and saw blood. My first reaction was to scream, “Somebody take a picture of me for Twitter!” I thought that the only salvation was to reach the international community.
After that, we changed the location again. A terrible thing happened at the third location, and in general, a lot of terrible things happened that day. In the end, I was so emotionally tired, I returned to headquarters, lay on the couch. I remember, I had no energy left, I was lost.
The next morning was completely hopeless. Then Japara made a video appeal and called on people to come out. Before the rally, it was raining and a big rainbow appeared – nothing much, but it was such a spark of hope for us that we were jumping, squealing, and happy. It was raining and we were all standing on the balcony because we could see rainbows. Then, just like before every rally, I took whistles, flags, everything we needed, and we went to parliament. That day, the police saw and felt the real face of the orcs – they were hitting them with sticks and throwing glass bottles filled with iron. Before all this reached us, they got to the policemen first. I think that day the police saw who we were and who stood on the other side.
July 6 gave us strength, but then it was July 11 when Lekso died. I remember that I couldn’t cry anymore. I also saw Lekso on the 5th; he was with us in the morning. As we ran out of headquarters, Lekso and Miranda were the last to come out. Lekso even said that they were journalists and they wouldn’t do anything to them…
July 5 left me with many phobias. Among them, the fact that when I don’t have a moped nearby, I get sick. I’m sure there will be many more that I haven’t figured out yet.
We should not have to go through this; we should live a different life. I shouldn’t have to worry about being gay. Why should I have to explain that I am doing nothing wrong?! I want us to do and create things that will help people and animals. Things that will make the world a better place, stuff like a TV remote control. Life would be easier if we were all focused on that, and not on who is sleeping with whom, and would anyone be worried about it by chance.
I just want us to be who we are and live as we want to, and no one should f**k our brains for that.