My name is Ela Jamagidze. I am a 25-year-old transgender woman and queer activist.
Childhood — discrimination in family and school
I was born in Tbilisi. Since childhood, I have felt that I was different from other boys my age because I was more sensitive, emotional and warm. This difference of mine was easily noticeable to the people around me, because I lived in such a gray society where everyone was similar to each other, and the appearance of a person different from the mass in such a society was quite noticeable. This difference of mine was not accepted positively by conservative society.
I was abused by family members, teachers, and my peers from an early age. Everyone I came in contact with told me that my behavior was not masculine enough and encouraged me to change. But I was never able to suppress the girl living within me, and despite all the efforts, I could never hide my identity. I had to go through a lot of pain because of this.
“I lived with family members until I was 16 years old. I don’t remember a single happy moment from this life. I remember only negativity, pain, humiliation, underestimation, non-acceptance, and lack of understanding.”
My parents told me since I was a child that I had to either change or they would throw me out of the house and into the street, because I was shameful. My younger sister was also ashamed of me. We went to the same school, so she was also bullied because of my different behaviors and manners. She was told that her brother was a sissy. My little sister felt very depressed and ashamed. My parents told me that with my feminine behavior, I was ruining not only my future, but also my sister’s, because in our society, the stigma would extend not only to me, but also to family members.
My relatives thought I was just sick and needed treatment. That’s why my parents urged me to go to the doctor and have sexological treatment, in order to modify my behavior.
I lived with family members until I was 16 years old. I don’t remember a single happy moment from this life. I remember only negativity, pain, humiliation, underestimation, non-acceptance, and lack of understanding.
I knew what my identity was from early childhood. I knew that there were boys who liked other boys, but I didn’t consider myself as such. I wanted to be a girl. A beautiful, small, golden-haired, blue-eyed girl always lived in my subconscious, who always dictated how I should act, always pushed me to become like her, not only externally, but also internally, because she was perfect, innocent, kind, gentle and tender. I could not tell anyone about this. I could not reveal to anyone that another person was growing inside me, because no one had heard of it then. Neither did I know what “transgender” was, nor did anyone around me. So I kept it inside me. I created another fictional world inside myself and lived in that world as a girl.
“I encourage every queer person not to run away from their identity, because only by loving their true selves will they find the path to happiness.”
My difference was so obvious to everyone that there was no need for a verbal coming out. I started discussing this with my family after they discovered that I’d fallen in love with a man. I was 16 years old. For the first time in my life, I met a person who loved the girl inside me that others could not see. I was happy that I found the only person in the world who loved me for who I really was. I had secret meetings with him, but some people saw us together and told my family. I was forced to tell my parents that I was in love with a man.
As I reflect on my life before transitioning, I understand that I was unhappy. I didn’t want to look in the mirror because I didn’t recognize the image that was looking at me from the reflection. I was not able to sincerely love someone. I think I honestly couldn’t love anyone back then, including my family, because I hated myself. After discovering myself and creating a persona that was organic to me, I saw that there are people who can love me the way I love myself. That is why I encourage every queer person not to run away from their identity, because only by loving their true selves will they find the path to happiness.
Family- cutting off one child in the name of the other.
I received more aggression from my parents than from my relatives after coming out, so, at the age of 16 I was forced to leave my house. They told me that I brought shame on them and I could no longer live with them, as they had another child and didn’t want to cast a shadow on her future.
In a way, I also felt guilty towards my family members, because of having a transgender child; obviously they were also bullied by society. The pain of my little sister, who was ashamed of me, was especially hard. I remember when I appeared on television for the first time at the age of 18 and spoke to a large audience about my identity as a woman, it really affected her. She didn’t even want to go to school because her classmates and teachers knew who I was.
“Most of all I miss the human connections, which I more or less had in Georgia. Despite a transphobic society, I was always able to find people who loved me the way I am. “
Even though I was more or less able to integrate into society and was never afraid to appear in crowded places during the day, and also often used public transport, I could not find a way to develop in my country. Being transgender in Georgia automatically means that you are cut off from getting education, creating a career, and most importantly, integrating into society. Although I ignore people’s negative attitudes towards me, I eventually left the country because I wanted to achieve something more than commercial sex work. In order to survive, I was actively engaged in such a line of work, which had caused me both physical and mental harm many times.
Emigration and life in Belgium
Being an immigrant is not easy because you are surrounded by people you don’t know at all and they don’t know you. At such a time, a great sadness arises in a person’s heart, because you live in a society that does not persecute you, but, at the same time, you do not mean anything to them, and this society is not important to you either. You love no one and no one loves you, you just have business relations with each other and they often talk to you without even looking at you, because you are uninteresting to them.
Fortunately, I had the prospect of taking care of my education and career in Europe. I am going through this stage now, but deep down I feel that even if I do succeed, it will not be a success for my people. Everything I do, I do for a foreign community, for which I feel nothing emotionally, and they feel nothing for me.
Gaining friends as an immigrant is not easy, because Europeans are so focused on business relationships that human relationships and feelings are pushed to the background. Most of all I miss the human connections, which I more or less had in Georgia. Despite a transphobic society, I was always able to find people, who loved me the way I am
Living in Europe for 5 years made me feel like a normal person, who is no different from others. I couldn’t feel it in Georgia. There were people who liked me. And there were those who didn’t, but I was always considered special, and I always got different treatment.
“As long as I see the sunrise, I realize that every next day can be a new opportunity and I must use it to find happiness.”
Being queer in Belgium means being an average, statistical citizen, who is no different from others. This attitude makes me feel safe, because here I do not fear being attacked for standing out, as in this society I am not considered as different.
I actively monitor the homophobic and transphobic situation in Georgia through digital media, and unfortunately, I think that in the 5 years since I left Georgia, nothing has improved in this respect. This is most clearly demonstrated by the events of July 5. Therefore, I am very afraid to return to my homeland, because I know that I will face the same difficulties that I had 5 years ago – I will not have any other source of income except sex work, I will not have education and employment prospects, it will be difficult for me to rent an apartment and most importantly, I will be at risk of violent aggression when I go out on the street.
The faith and hope in inevitably finding my happiness strengthens me. Unfortunately, life is full of disappointments. When you struggle to create something and fail, you get negative emotions. I have also experienced this, but as long as I see the sunrise, I realize that every next day can be a new opportunity and I must use it to find happiness.
I am afraid to predict where or who I will be in 10 years. Although I am a very goal-oriented person and I try to plan each phase of life in advance, unpredictable events can always happen. For example, 5 or 10 years ago, I would not have imagined that I would be living in an European city, surrounded by completely different people, and that I would leave behind those, without whom I couldn’t even imagine my life.
I dream of many things. I want to find my soulmate, someone who will never let me feel lonely. I also dream of leaving my mark on this world. I don’t want my life to be empty. I want to create something of value that will immortalize my persona in society. This is a very ambitious request, but I want it and I will try to take appropriate steps.
I would advise all queer people who are going through the process of self-determination right now, not to be afraid of their identities, not to give up on themselves for fear of mass aggression. If they accept and love themselves, they will be able to love others and will surely find those who will love them for who they are.