I am Maria Jvartava. I’m 24-years old, an ex-biologist, a barista at the time. I’m a bit introverted, however, because of my profession, I have to be social.
Childhood and bullying
I don’t exactly know why, but I don’t remember my childhood well. Those highlights that I do have, unfortunately, are related to traumatic experiences, such as trauma. Good memories are associated with summertime, when I would go to the countryside – I interacted with other children, animals, and the nature. As for the rest of it, it’s almost like none of it happened, I can’t remember anything.
I have been bullied since kindergarten for various reasons. Sometimes its appearance, the way I speak, my worldviews, behavior, my style, and friend group. I was always mocked because of my nose – how big it is, how ugly it looks, etc. I have participated in many nude photoshoots, and I have taken many great photos, but people always find ways to make fun of me, as if I’m doing something shameful.
The first time I liked a girl was when I was 5. Those emotions were so vivid that I can still recall them after so many years. Of course, back then I had no idea about what LGBTQI+ community was, what lesbian and gay meant, etc. However, throughout the years I slowly realized that this wasn’t a “normal” thing in the society. We live in a heteronormative society and this is what we see all around us – even in movies and advertisements. I had never seen a relationship between girls even on TV. No one talked to me about this. An additional thing was that I studied in a theological gymnasium, in which this topic was tabooed. We even skipped the topic of menstruation in biology. Despite this, I didn’t feel like I was doing something wrong. I only felt as if everything was different.
I was 17 when I had my first serious relationship with a woman. I told my friend at the time about it and she completely cut me off. The nowadays Mariam understands it all, that we lived in such a period that this was to be expected. Plus, she was my classmate and she was also influenced by strong religious beliefs. Another friend of mine told me that it was a phase I was going through, that I was just exploring and that in a few years I would forget all about it. However, by that time, I was aware that I wasn’t attracted to men and I was so sure about it I didn’t even doubt it at all.
She was the person that told my mother about everything. As she told me, she had only good intentions. My mom was very upset about it. She is a conservative woman. Despite the fact that she supports me in many ways today, at that time it was extremely hard for her to accept things. She even punished me for it. After some time, when I broke up with my girlfriend, she was really happy about it, she thought that I had “survived”. After a while, we started talking about it. I listen to her and I share my opinions too. However, if I brought a girlfriend home, I’m sure that she would react poorly. If I brought a boyfriend, on the other hand, she would be very happy about it.
I’m independent now. This might sound wrong, but it is completely up to me who I want to be with, I’m not going to hide it.
Feminism, lifestyle and gender equality
I have always loved animals. That’s the reason I loved going to the countryside so much. I thought it was normal to eat meat. As a kid, I never thought – here I am, petting a cow, and in an hour I will be eating its meat. This was so normalized back then, and now it’s hard to even talk about it. The first step was vegetarianism, as I stopped eating meat. Then I took out dairy products from my diet as well. The idea of a vegan lifestyle is that we shouldn’t feel pleasure from torturing live organisms. I think feminism and veganism are very closely related. Generally, female animals are the most tortured in the meat, egg and dairy industry. I think feminism shouldn’t be limited to humans, it should apply to all living things.
I became a feminist at age 21, when I joined a very important Facebook group of women in Georgia. I got a lot of important information from it, I realized that I was under much societal influence. At first I only read other people’s posts, then I became quite active myself as well. I asked questions, shared my experience. This group was the push I needed to see things more clearly, view the world, and more importantly – myself, in a different way.
On a daily basis I am a victim of gender inequality. Sometimes just because I menstruate and people think that it’s a topic to joke about. For example, they ask me – why are you in a bad mood, are you on your period? This makes me feel horrible. It is already a tabooed topic in our country, and now some people have turned it into a joke.
“You’re a woman and you wouldn’t get it. This is not a woman’s business.” – why not? Why can’t I have an opinion on a particular subject?! What does a man’s and a woman’s business mean?! If you can do something, if I wish to, I can do it just as well.
I am also quite active on social media. I mostly share content on Tiktok, where I talk about feminism and mental health. This is how I stay active, sharing and receiving information.
The first non-public coming out was with my mom. I wanted to be close with her. I didn’t want to have to hide something from her. As basic as it might sound, I publicly came out to avoid the annoying questions – when are you getting married? How are your relationships going? Even though my circle of friends already knew what was happening in my life. I wanted this to be known on a larger scale, for people not to have false conceptions about me. I wanted to tell the society that I’m an LGBTQI+ community member, that I am among them, I am around them in restaurants, malls, shops, jobs…
People don’t think about the fact that all of us live in the same space. If they start to think about it, they will view this subject in a different light.
Queer women and biphobia.
I haven’t had any obstacles because of my queerness. I have worked in a few jobs and my employers knew about my orientation. It has never been something that would get in the way. I might have been very lucky to have ended up in such pleasant environments. However, I have had a few instances in homophobic environments that I would recall.
Thinking about it, I sometimes believe that it’s because in Georgia people view men with men as “bad” and women being with women doesn’t cause as much disgust. I would also note that in case of lesbians, when one looks more feminine and the other one is more masculine, there is more aggression. People ask questions like – which one of you is the man? As I can see, people are less aggressive when it comes to 2 feminine women. Maybe for some it’s more “aesthetic” to look at and it’s more associated with female pornography.
It makes me very upset that there is stigma toward bisexual women. Because of this even I have told myself – decide on what you want, make up your mind! Here again, I want to mention that Facebook group and how big of a role the information I gathered from there did for me. It helped me realize that I am a bisexual woman – that doesn’t mean that I have to choose between a man and a woman. I also dislike it when people say that they’re 50-50%, or 70-30% and so on. I don’t think that’s okay. When I was in a relationship with a woman, I was in a relationship with her a 100%.
Still, being with a woman is more comfortable for me, because we have more things in common. More importantly, I feel safe with women. The things we see around us – cases of rape, abuse, brutalism – it is much more common with men. I also have experience with rape, physical and psychological violence, and in my life, such things have always been related to men. Yes, there are some abusive women out there, but the percentage difference is so dramatic…
“Family support before anything else!”
It’s very hard to be a queer person in this country. I can’t think of any particular advice that I would give to queer people – what works for me might not work for anyone else.
I have more things to say to the parents of queer people – no matter how difficult, you have to support your children. Have close relationships with them, be friendlier. Family support comes first and a parent should always show love for their child, no matter what.
The interview was prepared with the support of Women’s Fund Georgia (WFG)
Photos: Vakho Kareli