I am Tamar Jakeli, a freehearted and spontaneous person that loves adventures.
The First Trip
For the most part, I had a happy childhood. The most intense memories from deep childhood are connected to various adventures I had while traveling with my parents. When I was born my parents were studying in Germany. When I was 3-4 years old, they brought me to Georgia by car. This was my first trip that changed the course of my life. My longing for adventures was born in that moment. I remember how I played with my mom with toy horses in the car; I remember a room full of colorful balls on the boat; I remember falling into a fountain as my father dragged me out of it… I remember few details from when I was living in Germany too. For example, sleeping on a mattress on the floor with my parents and singing a Georgian song before bed at night. I remember how my dad brought me with him to the university, how he fed me chocolate pastry, because of which I ran around dirty-faced in the streets of Hanover; I remember astounding carnival costumes and a man walking on a tightrope. After coming to Georgia, I remember how I went to the yard and saluted each flower, how I felt like I was in harmony with the universe. I was a freehearted, active, energetic kid.
My main hobby was reading. I could even say that my closest friends for the most of my life were the book characters that I encountered. I always preferred adventure fiction, and most of all I was in love with Dumas – I would imagine myself as D’artagnan or Graf Monte-Cristo. I wanted a life full of action.
The female role models in my childhood for me were Mulan and Jeanne D’arc. I would often dream of chivalry and having a dangerous life. At this moment the role models for me are the Ukrainian women, in all of those roles that they are in to save their country.
Homophobia, Its Damage and the Main Way of Coping with It
Fortunately, people around me either have a positive or a neutral attitude toward me, I rarely encounter homophobes in close relationships. If I know that someone is homophobic, it’ll be hard for me to communicate with them and I will avoid them.
However, I have also been subject to the social and psychological damage of homophobia. When I was 15-16-17, back when I thought I couldn’t share my feelings with anyone and I would have to suppress my feelings for the rest of my life, I often felt sadness, fear, despair. Then the 17 May of 2013 happened and my fear got even worse. I was watching the footage of how people like me were hated by the majority of the society, how they wanted to kill us, how they considered us worthless and weird. This was exacerbated by the fact that for the first time I was in love with a girl that didn’t reciprocate my feelings and started a relationship with a boy. This experience worsened my psychological state even further. Finally, such strong feelings forced me to start the process of coming out. Over the next few years I found support from those around me, experienced mutual love, accepted myself and now, at the age of 26, I am much stronger.
The events of July 5 certainly had a devastating effect on my hard-built happiness, but overall, I’m doing okay. I have to mention that both in 2013 and in 2021, living abroad is partially the reason that my mental health got better. In August of 2013 I went to study in America with a scholarship for 4 years. In August of 2021 I returned to Sweden, where I’m completing my master’s degree, also with a scholarship. It can be said that living abroad strengthened me and allowed me to accept myself, because while being in America or Sweden I don’t even have to think about my queerness. When I feel accepted, my sexuality is only one part of my identity, not the main one.
Switching environments was one of my main ways of coping. Especially the way that America allowed me to find new friends, opportunities, equipped me with skills and my first serious relationship. I was 16 when I went to America and I returned when I was 21. These 5 years were crucial to the formation and strengthening of my personality. As I came back, I got actively involved in feminism, queer and green activism and I did my best to join some progressive circles, contribute my fair share to help build a more democratic, equal and just state.
Equality, Equal Opportunities and Queer Women
I believe that equality means that various social groups have access to equal opportunities, as well as the lack of specific barriers. For example, women and men might theoretically have equal access to education, but specific circumstances might hinder women, such as housework obligations. Both women and men can have equal positions, but women might get payed less for the same amount of work. Additionally, women might not get promoted on the grounds that they can’t put as much effort into work because they also have their housework duties to complete. In short, equal rights do not mean that women do not face discrimination in their everyday lives.
The lives of queer women, in this case, are often even harder. Besides gender, sexuality becomes another reason for discrimination in many instances. Women, especially queer women, have heartbreaking experiences of domestic abuse, workplace discrimination and harassment, poverty, the tyranny of beauty standards, etc. In the case of queer women, all of this is often accompanied by being rejected by one’s family, constant fear and hiding, alienation and unacceptance of oneself, discrimination based on sexuality at work and school, and so on.
To women living in hostile environments, I would say that it’s possible to find inner strength and change one’s environment even during the worst times. Through this we can also serve as an example for others.
What Can the State Do for the Queer Community, and the Queers for a Better Environment
The state has an obligation to better the state of the queer community through tangible steps. This involves protecting the right to public expression and Pride March, as well as providing various needs, such as housing, medical services – including mental health, higher education, employment and eliminating workplace discrimination. The state should properly punish the organizers of the violence on July 5, restric Ultra-right groups. However, it’s hard to see the readiness for this, since the governing power itself encourages and protects the ultra-right groups.
Queer people, first of all, at the individual level, should accept themselves and speak openly about their experiences with the rest of the society. On the collective level, we should create support systems and strengthen each other as a community, engage in thoughtful and responsible dialogue with the society.
“I Have a Responsibility to Change My Country for the Better”
For me, freedom means having space to decide for myself the small and big steps of my life, at least for the most part. I believe that complete freedom is an illusion, because our society, our epoch, even our biology limit some possibilities, while giving way to others. Despite this, I always try to be in charge of my own life. To live it not just depending on my desires, but taking into account the fact that I am a member of this community and I have a responsibility to change my country for the better.
What gives me the power to not give up on myself? The desire to be exemplary for others and better the life of queer people (and not just queer people) in Georgia, which we desperately need. Once I’ve got my master’s degree, I’m planning on returning home, despite the fact that it is much more comfortable to live here, in Sweden, especially for a queer person.
Advice for Queers
To every person that has such an opportunity, I would advise to use it and leave Georgia, at least for a little bit. There are plenty of scholarships, exchange programs, volunteering opportunities. Living abroad and traveling is definitely a great way to accept oneself and acquire various important skills.
Generally, I would say that self-care is extremely important, both physical and psychological. From time to time I try to stay away from social media, news, that are an endless display of tragedies. I put my phone away and go for a walk, hiking, play the guitar, pet my dogs. I started working out while being in Sweden, which helps me stay in shape physically, but even more so – mentally.
We must accept ourselves and take more time taking care of us. We must create support systems to not only depends on ourselves, especially during hard times. We have to strengthen connections among the queer community and hold relationships despite varying political views, because in the end, all of us are fighting the same war. We have to love life, with all its flaws and hold onto simple feelings of joy in our everyday lives, such as talking with a favorite person, a cup of coffee, sunlight, sometimes rain, a glass of wine, exciting melody, tasty dessert. In a word, anything that can make us smile and our heart race, that will let us romantic our lives for at least a moment.
Interview was prepared with the support of Women’s Fund in Georgia (WFG)
Photos: Vakho Kareli