Loving yourself, activism and music – Anri Kereselidze’s experience

“Now that I think about it, I’ve always known about my sexual orientation, there were different signs that I was gay. However, due to the lack of information, it was difficult to define things, and what reached me was mostly framed in insulting terms, as something wrong,” recalls Anri Kereselidze, an aspiring musician and queer activist. Even as a child, he realized that it was dangerous to talk about it openly with others.

“Even as children while playing and having similar experiences a lot of you may have had, I wanted to share some things, say things out loud, but even as a child I knew many would get it wrong. This was the time I first shut myself in and even labeled things I needed to talk about openly as wrong.”- says Anri. 

Anri Kereselidze went through the tough road of battling himself, which was followed by a conversation with a friend about his sexual orientation, then going to the events of LGBTQI organizations and finally led to learning how to love himself in the underground scene. And just like that, one day that road ended up on a path of an activist. 

Battling oneself, first love and coming out

Because of the stigma, I did not want to socialize with LGBTQI organizations. I didn’t want to have anything to do with people who openly talked about their sexual orientation.

Because the environment was such that even asking questions about identity and sexual orientation was considered wrong, I started to fight with myself. I tried different ways and used all the resources I had at that time. I started going to church, even became an altar boy and hoped to overshadow certain things by doing so. 

Struggling with myself continued into adulthood, and after entering university, things changed. Until then, I didn’t talk about my identity with anyone, I had an anonymous Facebook account and only there I dared to write about things, and I shared these thoughts with other anonymous accounts. This anonymous space became the first means of self-expression.

I met my first boyfriend through anonymous Facebook. At that time, I realized that this was the situation in which I found myself. I used to tall myself that I am a bisexual, it was something i used to cling on to. Due to many questions I had for myself, my first sexual experience was with a woman, which further convinced me that I was gay. 

I first talked about my sexual orientation with a friend who came out to me before that. He became the most important person for me, because we helped each other, we could talk openly. This person made it possible for me to talk about topics that I could not talk about openly before. That is why he is an especially important friend to this day.

I didn’t want to socialize with LGBTQI organizations, because I didn’t want to have anything to do with people who openly talked about their sexual orientation because of the stigma. After breaking up with my girlfriend, I had a hard time and out of necessity I contacted a social worker.

At the same time, I attended WISG meetings, which I heard about from a lesbian friend, but I was still in conflict with myself. We are so accustomed from a young age that we should not express ourselves openly, that I was afraid and embarrassed. At the meetings, they talked about identity and many other important topics, which I had no idea about until then. Then I learned that gender and sexuality are different concepts and I started to build myself like a puzzle. I realized that I am cisgender (a person whose gender identity aligns with their biological sex) for whom masculinity is comfortable.

Underground spaces that made self-love possible

It is important to receive information, to have the courage to receive new information, because fear makes the process of accepting oneself and others significantly more difficult.

I went to my first HOROOM Night (a series of monthly queer music nights hosted by Club BASSIANI) alone and saw a beautiful scene, a drag show that blew me away. It was a relief. There I realized for the first time that I am not alone. It was a space that allowed me to love myself, embrace myself, see myself. For many, this is a difficult process and they cannot do it all their life, but at that moment somehow it became easier for me.

At the same time, there were Gallery events, later Success, and more and more, I took myself through these spaces and found many people. No matter what you ask, no matter how much you know about gender identity and sexual orientation, if you don’t have personal experience with people, it’s hard to fully understand things. You’re constantly bombarded with misconceptions about queer people, and breaking down stigmas is difficult without these socializing spaces. Until then, I was a transphobe and a homophobe. It is no less important to receive information, to have the courage to receive news, because fear makes the process of accepting oneself and others significantly more difficult.

I used to go to Success and leave quickly. Then I opened up more and started communicating with people, expressing myself openly, I made friends who understood me. Socialization, the ability to self-realize, which is especially important for any person, is limited to these spaces for us.

I found myself in the underground space with the love of music, I was a musical person since childhood, then I started writing music. Listening to new, quality music and socializing were linked. Music and identity somehow brought me together. Then I attended all meetings, activities of organizations – about identity, sexually transmitted diseases or activism.

First attempts to help others and heartbreak

It is a long process – first you hide it from yourself, then you accept it. You will love yourself and try to show others who you really are, why it is unjustified not to be accepted just because of orientation. 

I realized that if I had not written to the support center employee at the most necessary moment, if I had not had this opportunity, it would have been much more difficult for me to leave that period of my life behind. This made me realize how important the work of activists is.

What I heard at meetings, I shared with everyone – during correspondence or meetings, and this is no less a necessary chain. Then I just thought that if you have a sense of responsibility and want to be a good citizen, you should let others know what you have learned and accepted. I thought it was my responsibility. At that time, I had a date with one of the priests, who came to this decision because he could not accept himself. It was hard for me to understand it then, I couldn’t understand why a person should make such a decision for his own happiness. It saddened me that others couldn’t do what I could. Now I know that pressure makes it all harder and we have to try to understand people’s experiences.

I also attended the Equality moveman camp, later I also did research, worked with doctors and social workers and saw first hand how wrong their attitudes were. I couldn’t show my reactions during the surveys and yet, I sat there listening to attitudes that were hard to imagine. 

I used to work at Success so I had to face homophobia quite often. This was also very sentimental, as I had already accepted myself and couldn’t understand the aggression that was coming my way.  

It is a long process- first you hide from yourself, then you accept it. You start to love yourself and try to show others who you really are and why it is unacceptable to be judged just because of your sexual orientation. During that time, I started to explain constantly, in every space, to any person, that the fact that I am gay does not necessarily mean that I am a bad person. Moreover, it often happened that I talked to many people who had a conversation with Gay for the first time. They asked me a lot of questions and I answered them, realizing that unlike many people, I had the “luxury” of socializing. People formed attitudes based on unrealistic representations from various television shows. You find yourself face to face and they tell you that you are good, but others are not. I explained that in the same way some heterosexuals are good, others less so, and one should not base one’s attitude on this absurd opinion. I am a fair person, I can’t let anyone disturb my truth, that’s probably why I spent a lot of time explaining it.

Working in TBILISI PRIDE and the discord in the LGBTQ community

Pro-Russian forces are trying to survive by fighting LGBTQ people. This politics of hate, when my existence is the object of manipulation for someone, is disgusting.

I went to Tbilisi Pride and found myself on the side of what I once thought was unimaginable. Coming to Pride was determined by the desire to increase visibility, that’s why I got involved in campaign initiatives. I believe that I have gone through difficult experiences – I still struggle with misconceptions accumulated since childhood, so it is necessary to create an environment for others, young people, in which they can express themselves much more freely. It is often very difficult even to admit to yourself that you are queer. It is necessary to talk openly, every day, and to show to people who are aggressive or neutral that we want to talk to them.

While working at Pride, I directly encountered the fact that there are two poles in the LGBTQI community – those who fight with the politics of visibility and those who are separated from the politics of openness. I think that the work of people with different opinions is equally important and we should be able to find common points.

I often think, what have we learned from the experience of 2013, from last July 5th?

July 5, 2021 brought two results – we passed sad days and at the same time, we openly saw that the violent group is small and organized by the state, they are supported by the church. It can be said that we are going through a war and we should not lose ourselves in this process.

Alt-info is connected with Russia, but people seem to have forgotten the experience of Russia-Georgia and Russian aggression. Now Ukraine is going through the same thing, and the patriarch of the Russian Church named queer people as the reason for the start of the war. It’s the same with us — pro-Russian forces are trying to survive by fighting LGBTQ people. This politics of hate, when my existence is the object of manipulation for someone, is disgusting.

And on July 6, it turned out that there are more of us than I thought until then, and there are many more like-minded people. However, the lack of support from the government makes it difficult for people with the idea of equality to openly state their position.

I feel the shifts and the change of views and it is thanks to every organization, every person who speaks openly; Of all the people working in the underground who have explained to even one person that hate is not justified.

After July 5th, I started having PTSD, but in those days I was stable, angry, and with an attitude. We want to go out with bare hands, peacefully and talk openly about the problems we face, but on the other side we see violence.

After July 5, I had a date with a guy and it turned out that he stood against us then – the reason for this is fear, self-defense, maybe even blackmail from the state agencies.

Future plans related to music and leaving the country as a way to take care of yourself

At the end of September, the first album of Anri Kereselidze (stage name Henry Keller) will be released. The album cover is made by artificial intelligence.

Activism and music go hand in hand for me and I want to find better opportunities from which I can more powerfully attack misconceptions.

I want to make music since childhood. As I found myself in music, I couldn’t find it anywhere else, but in Georgia it is hard to imagine earning an income from it, and you don’t have enough time to think about protecting your rights, strengthening yourself, and daily challenges. However, for me, music is also a powerful way to openly talk about things, to protest. I often lose motivation, but then somehow I manage to restart. Now I’m at the point where I have a turning point, I was able to record the album Glitters and Pain, which will be presented at the end of September. I have already prepared the second album, which will premiere later on the Spanish channel. My career goals will definitely develop further, but I think in another country.

What is missing in Georgia is caring for each other and justice. No one tries to see a resource in a person, it is difficult for us to give opportunities, and often only hard work is not enough to achieve results – you have to constantly be in a position of assertion. It is difficult for us to see each other, give motivation, and appreciate each other. I want to find a place where I will feel good, I will find opportunities.

Looking back, of course, I still think the struggle is worth it, but I’m losing motivation and I feel like my interests are always being sacrificed and I’m wasting time in the meantime, so I want to go and try things. I’m under no illusions that I’m going to go somewhere and everything will be easy, especially for queer people there is no perfect place. There are people everywhere who will call you something when you are holding hands with your boyfriend on the street, but the difference is that the legal situation is sometimes better.

Leaving does not mean that I will ever leave activism, and I have already mentioned that activism and music are connected to each other for me, and I want to find better opportunities from which I can more strongly attack the misconceptions that took my childhood and mental health and left me with many scars.

I recommend people who are in the process of self-discovery to connect with other queer people, because it is much easier to change perceptions by talking. to go to gathering places, trainings, meetings. There are often very wrong myths, as if going to educational meetings in different spaces is a danger to a person and someone may share your orientation with others, which is not the case, we can provide great support to queer people.

Our opponents want queer people to be pitted against each other, but we would be much stronger if we could do things together, talk more openly.

And yet, it would be ideal if we weren’t labeled, if we didn’t have to explain, if people didn’t have prejudices, and unlike heterosexual people, we didn’t have to constantly prove something.

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