As activists, we often talk about sexuality and gender being fluid, and I think our characters are fluid as well. As humans, we grow up and experience change- something that will let me see myself in a completely different light might happen anytime.
I think that the only constant in my life is my sense of responsibility, both at work and in my personal relationships. It often requires so much energy that I’d rather not take up certain responsibilities at all.
A bad side of a good kid
I spent most of my childhood in a region.
It somehow came about that after coming out I only focused on the negative aspects of my childhood- be it bullying caused by homophobia, the absence of a support network, or the complete vacuum regarding information on queer issues. I let negative experiences consume my entire childhood, which didn’t reflect well on my overall condition. But lately I’ve been focusing on memories that are pleasant and bring a hot of happiness into my life.
“At the age of 15, I was baptized of my own free will on a class field trip. At that time, I believed that if I was baptized, it would change everything, and I would also fit into the standards set by the people around me. To this day, I remember very well how I waited for dawn, so I could wake up without any queer thoughts or feelings. However, as you can see, I am still here today.”
Among the things that made me happy was my grandpa taking me fishing. I can remember my grandmother’s beautiful garden, full of flowers. My little garden also brought me joy, it was my tiny autonomy, where I grew vegetables- the feeling of growing something and taking care of it was outstanding… There are a lot of memories that are sentimental.
It was very difficult to accept myself. I had hidden my queerness so much that I didn’t even reveal it to myself. I can’t remember the exact age when I first started thinking about it, but I was so young I still couldn’t put a name to it all. Although I never spoke about it, people decided I was queer based on my characteristics and expressed this with insulting phrases. I had these dual, mixed feelings- on one hand, I was the best student, with outstanding grades. And on the other hand, was my queerness, only expressed through insults by people around me. I couldn’t fathom how these two things could co-exist. Maybe this is why, at the age of 15, I was baptized of my own free will on a class field trip. At that time, I believed that if I was baptized, it would change everything, and I would also fit into the standards set by the people around me. To this day, I remember very well how I waited for dawn, so I could wake up without any queer thoughts or feelings.
However, as you can see, I am still here today.
“… and you?”
After moving to Tbilisi, I proceeded with my life, just as it was before. It is worth mentioning that at that stage of my life, I had sexist attitudes, was a bit of a nationalist, and a refined homophobe. I stated that violence based on sexual or gender identity was unacceptable, yet I always clarified that I was against same sex couples adopting children. However, in the end, I was receptive to these topics, and perhaps this was due to being involved in non-formal education activities from school age.
“Despite the many challenges, it is entirely possible to be queer and be happy.”
My student years coincided with a period when LGBTQI issues were actively discussed on social networks. I always supported the members of the community in such discussions , yet I spoke in the third person. This led me to accepting myself, and it has a funny story attached to it: I was a sophomore, when my close friend, who was a man, told me about his new love and added that his love interest was also a man. This was a turning point for me- he was the first gay person I had met who was not hiding it. After that, he asked me a question that changed my life- “and you?”. I decided that this person had put so much trust in me, I just couldn’t hide anything from him, so I answered very honestly. I said I had certain interests, yet didn’t know how to meet people like me.
This is how my coming out began. From that day on, I gradually met a lot of queer people, and among them I found those whom I knew before. These people were successful in their fields in different ways; probably the main discovery was seeing that, despite the many challenges, it is possible to be queer and be happy.
As for the coming out process, it wasn’t like I committed any crime and I have to admit, it happened very naturally with everyone. Most of my friends accepted it adequately. Of course, there were times when a few people just turned pale — I can’t say that we broke up amid conflicts, but our paths diverged, and I think that’s natural too. I can say that coming out with the family was not easy, although I believed that everything would be sorted out. My partner at the time, my friends, and especially my sister, who played an important role, made this path very easy for me, and now I can say that everything is fine.
Pride as an idea
A few months after coming out, I went to Germany with a volunteer program. That period played an important role in my development – after one year of work, there was an offer to stay. But I had such a strong desire to return to Georgia and do work here, so I came and started working in the equality movement. I knew from the beginning that the main target group for me as a social worker would be the LGBTQI community, and at the same time, it was important to do more and participate in the process of systemic change.
Before I decided to get involved in activism, I was fully aware and many friends warned me that it would not be easy. I was ready for it. I was aware that there would be many challenges from outside forces. But the only thing I was not prepared for was the division within the community, and more so, between the activists. Constant tensions and hurting each other willingly or unwillingly. In 2016, when I got involved in activism, there were already so many layers of conflicts existing before I ever started, which are discussed up until today. I said that no matter what happened, I would not get involved in these conflicts, but this system is arranged in such a way that it somehow eats you up and sucks you in.
“We are human rights defenders and it is important not to forget the meaning of this word. Here the goal does not justify the means. I dream of a time when we will not be so divided; we will be diverse, yet not divided.”
There may be many reasons for this division, but I think that very often in Georgian activism we find it difficult to put personal relationships behind us. We as activists bear more responsibility. We must put our personal disagreements aside and widen our views about what is more strategically acceptable for a common goal. It is very natural that we cannot love everyone, we cannot be close to everyone, but if we take up the responsibility to do this work, we should find ways to cooperate as much as possible. Some might say that I talk as if I have never done anything wrong-obviously, I was in this process and I have committed some crimes, especially considering all the stress that we have gone through.
I’ve been observing LGBTQI activism since 2016, and I’ve noticed that there is always someone on the receiving end of the most criticism. This object varies with time. Back then I was working in the Equality Movement, which was heavily criticized, time has passed, and the new target of all this is Tbilisi Pride, an organization founded by me and few others in 2019. The reason for criticizing Tbilisi Pride was that visibility politics leads to aggression, as if specific political forces are behind it, and all of this was aimed at covering up the current political processes in the country. There was no Tbilisi Pride, when three transgender women were killed, and those murders did not happen after Pride was announced. Yes, hate-motivated homophobic crimes are on the rise, but even here it is unthinkable and unacceptable to hold Tbilisi Pride responsible. When on the other side you have a state that is obliged to ensure civil order and people’s safety, you have a group of perpetrators, as well as many other interested parties, including the church. At the same time, it is very interesting that the anti-LGBT movement in Georgia has a longer history than the LGBT movement. Certain forces began to manipulate the LGBT community even before the LGBT community even appeared in public spaces.
Hiding doesn’t get the job done and doesn’t solve the problem. On the contrary, surveys also confirm that visibility is important because some people really think that queer community is something otherworldly. Visibility is important for society to understand that we are part of them, we live next to them, not only in the central districts of Tbilisi, or in the suburbs and big cities, but also in villages and regions. This is a normal phenomenon and we are not dealing with something special; a queer person can be born and raised anywhere, in any family. When the education system is completely broken and we are not able to include this topic in textbooks and learning space, when a large number of teachers are homophobic and in both, regions and in Tbilisi, young, queer teenagers do not have any support systems at all, the only weapon we have in giving a voice to these people and letting them know that they are not alone, that they deserve a dignified and equal life and rights, is the politics of visibility.
You may not agree with all of this, but you can’t kick people who are trying to make a difference down and label them murderers.
“When children come out, so do their parents; they have to walk the same path and face the same difficulties.”
I have said it many times- we are human rights defenders, and it is important not to forget the meaning of this word. Here the goal does not justify the means. I dream of a time when we will not be so divided; we will be diverse, yet not divided.
Even if I am no longer a member of Tbilisi Pride, for me pride is an idea I will always support.
Sparks of pride
My main source of energy has always been that I am close with so many members of the queer community and I’ve always felt their trust; we’ve had small victories and that’s been very motivating.
There were also very emotional episodes, but what I am most proud of is the out-of-town gathering of LGBTQ parents during my stay in Tbilisi Pride. We have been preparing for this day for a long time and I remember how nervous the team members were that we had to meet completely different people, with whom we were not familiar. Many members of the community have stated, and I also agree with them, that when children come out, so do their parents; they have to walk the same path and face the same difficulties. This was the most important day of my life. The people who attended had felt alone their whole lives. One of the participants, a mother of a lesbian woman, recalled that she asked her child if any other attendant would ridicule her. Not a single person left this meeting without tears. When we returned to Tbilisi, mothers used to gather with us in the office space. Many queer mothers blame themselves that if they hadn’t done something wrong, their child wouldn’t be queer, which of course isn’t true. The project was called “Proud Families” and I could see how these feelings of guilt and shame gradually transformed into sparks of pride.
“We are all members of the same society, the majority of which are diverse people, different groups, that have to learn to respect one another, and live with one another.”
Watching this process was a special feeling, I will always remember it and I’m glad I was a part of it.
State politics that cause harm
It is very important to constantly hear positive statements from civil servants and government representatives. They should not promote the division of the society, but should be focused on reconciliation, because we are one society, which consists of many different people, different groups, and we must learn to respect each other and live together. The state must have an appropriate response to anti-state and criminal offenses by radical violent groups — instead of holding them accountable, we see how these groups are being encouraged by the state’s statements. We must not forget the amount of damage these unlawful and uncontrollable groups can cause. Let’s recall last year’s July 5 as an example – if the state cannot control and contain 5000 wild people who are politically motivated, have specific tasks and attack journalists and queer activists, then what gives the people leading this political party any rights to have ambitions of governing the country?! All of this was meticulously planned, and is aligned with their interests, so the participants of July 5 are still free. According to the rhetoric of the ruling team, there is always someone who threatens Georgian national interests. The narrative of the state should be conciliatory and not always confrontational, it hurts the country, it hurts the people. I think that the war in Ukraine showed the general public very well which force poses a threat to the statehood of Georgia, and this was also made clear by the protests held in the regions against alt-info.
“Fighting and working for human rights is full of many obstacles, challenges and injustices, so we must not forget to take care of ourselves and each other in this process.”
The role of the field of education is also very important, where we can single out the problem of homophobic bullying in schools. There is no national strategy for how schools can deal with this, and many young queer students are struggling with this problem. It is essential for schools to be a safe space for every child and it should be free from bullying, including homophobic bullying. There should be legal recognition of gender for trans people, which would not solve all problems, but would remove many important barriers. It does not require a lot of resources and is easily possible to do, but the state does not do it nevertheless. Tea Tsulukiani, who was the Minister of Justice for years, used this topic to mobilize her voters and instrumentalized transphobia for her own political gain.
It’s important to talk about health services as well, because queer people have specific health care needs and access to health care is a fundamental human right. It is the duty of the state to eliminate all barriers that prevent access to quality health care.
In 2016, when I was returning to Georgia, I had an idea of what I wanted to do and what I would do. I have come so far to “do” more than I could have imagined, although this has its negative sides – for 5 years my life was consumed by activism and I had no other life. Activism has always been above personal life, family, friends, self and needs, above everyone and everything. This finally led me to very difficult results – I burned out. Fortunately, the timing coincided very well with the fact that I got a scholarship and went to study in Sweden; otherwise it would be difficult for me to imagine continuing my activism in that situation and energy level. It’s hard for me to let go, but I try to balance activism, work, study, time for rest and fun as much as possible. It is much easier in Sweden than in Georgia; therefore, moving here to study has a positive impact on my mental and physical health, as well as productivity and quality of life.
Despite the hard activist experience, even at this stage of my life, I do not want to continue working in another field. I really enjoy and am happy with this work, and it may be unnoticed by the general public, but I make my small contribution to the improvement of even the microenvironment. The ideal place for this is Queer.ge, which gives me the opportunity to serve this purpose without being in the epicenter. Queer is neutral and allows all sides—be it different ideologies, organizations, groups, initiatives—to speak, even to people I disagree with. This will never affect the work, we will not refuse cooperation with anyone – we are activists, this is our obligation and I believe in it.
Things you don’t think about in Sweden
I am studying in the second year of the human rights and social work master’s program in Sweden. Life is very different for a queer person in Sweden and Georgia.
Sweden has a long history of LGBTQI rights, although most of the population cannot even pronounce the term – they do not know, but they know that a person, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, has their own life and no one has the right to interfere in their lives. Most of us know by heart what “LGBT” means, but very few understand that you should respect another person, regardless of differences.
Sweden does not use LGBTQI community as an anime portrait, people here live freely, this country lets you realize the full your full potential. Hundreds of people are leaving Georgia, and not just queer people- due to hate and limited perspectives, people no longer wish to stay there.
Here the environment is molded to the needs of different people and you can feel it in everyday life. I no longer look in the mirror before leaving the house, thinking of all the verbal or physical harassment cases I might encounter that day.
There is so much that one no longer has to think about here.
I think everyone has their mission. I found my mission in improving even the micro societies, even just by a little bit. Doing this is like treating the symptoms, because the system is what needs to be changed, of how the world functions. However, I see that it is possible to cause changes at the micro level and at the same time have a way to overturn this system – there must be hope for that somewhere.
I also saw that fighting and working for human rights is full of many obstacles, challenges and injustices, and we must not forget to take care of ourselves and each other in this process.
What would you tell queer people?
I would tell them to read Queer!