I am Pako Tabatadze, 36 years old. I’m funny, a little sad, positive and funny, but if I get angry, beware! It’s safer to play with fire than to play with me.
Despite the difficulties, I still say that I had a perfect childhood. I lacked nothing, whether it was holidays, circus or entertainment. My grandmother used to buy us clothes at thrift stores, and I was the first in kindergarten to wear “Jackson shoes” or Wrangler jeans. After a while, my father developed a drinking habit. Whenever he drank, there were beatings, throwing us out on the street and sleeping somewhere in the bushes, although it didn’t break me, on the contrary, it made me stronger. I don’t even remember that period. I think that you should get rid of negativity and always focus on good, bright memories.
“I asked my mother to watch “Prayers for Bobby”. The main character in the film is a believer and my mother is also a Jehovah’s Witness, so I made a connection. She cried a lot. When the movie was over, I asked her whether her son being alive was more important or what the neighbors would say.”
I knew who I was and wasn’t since the age of five. At first, it was difficult for me to accept myself and I kept asking the question – why me and not someone else? It took me a while to analyze everything. As a teenager, I had no one to talk to, I had to pretend that I liked girls, when in fact I didn’t. Somewhere at the age of 16, I stopped fighting with myself and said: Enough! You are like this, don’t think so much and accept yourself!
That was it.
Movies helped me a lot in this process. For example, “Prayers for Bobby”, which I just turned on and watched. Also, Pedro Almodovar’s films, especially “Bad Education” — when I saw it, I realized that there is no point in fighting with yourself. If you don’t accept yourself, no one else will.
I was never bullied in school, I still have a perfect relationship with my classmates. I think providing the information in the correct manner matters a lot, and by that, I mean you can not just dump everything altogether like-“Mother, I am gay!”. What did I do? I asked my mother to watch “Prayers for Bobby”. The main character in the film is a believer and my mother is also a Jehovah’s Witness, so I made a connection. She cried a lot. When the movie was over, I asked her whether her son being alive was more important or what the neighbors would say. I used to leave her little riddles that she would solve.
I haven’t felt anything negative from my mother. At a Tbilisi Pride meeting with parents, she said- “he is my son, I gave birth to him and I love him just the way he is”. She did have problems in her circle, but I went there and introduced myself. It is unacceptable to ask a mother to turn away from her child!
“I, Pavle Tabatadze, do not need to shout that I am gay. Why would I need or want that?! Who I am is already evident. Even in Belgium, where I live now, no one tells you that they are gay, here, you are just a human.”
I love the New Year very much, because it is colorful like me. If my mother is a Jehovah’s Witness, I shouldn’t put up a Christmas tree? I am very sorry, I also live in that house and we have equal rights.
I talk to my mother about everything, but I don’t like it when someone discusses their sexual experiences with their parents. My sexual identity is a matter of my personal intimacy. I, Pavle Tabatadze, do not need to shout that I am gay. Why would I need or want that?! Who I am is already evident. Even in Belgium, where I live now, no one tells you that they are gay, here, you are just a human.
That doesn’t mean I’m hiding myself. Coming out is necessary, first of all, because you yourself will feel relief, you will no longer be tense, you will not live in a lie, and this pain will go away. It feels like taking a deep breath. My coming out happened naturally. I will, once more, emphasize how important it is to present information step by step and in a correct manner. Television and other news outlets are quite harmful in that aspect, as they present information in a way that confuses parents. They don’t know what to do. They take their kids to psychologists, sexologists. No one tells them that people are just born that way. You can not become queer later on, it is impossible.
“I escaped death on July 5. The mob was chasing me to kill me on the Baratashvili bridge, and the only alternative I had was to jump into Mtkvari, if not for the taxi driver coming from Avlabari, whose car I jumped into.”
As far as activism goes, I was everywhere, my jas nearly fell off from talking. I was 19, when I publicly came out on a TV show called “Geobar”. The very next day, I was fired from the project, on the premises of breaching the contract. Inclusive took my case. They supported me a lot and tried really hard for me to get the compensation. Back then there was no other LGBT organization in Georgia.
Today, organizations operating in Georgia are very divided and they have to come to terms somehow. Some like the idea of Pride and some don’t. People found out what gay was from me, how could I not support the idea of Pride?! But you have to plan it carefully and not take unjustified risks. I get that the state must protect me, but if you are holding a rally, you tell me to come, that means I trust you. I know that the state will protect me, because you told me so a few days ago. In the end, it turned out that instead of protecting us, the State Security Service was hunting us. At the final Pride meeting I said that the violent groups were stoking up on metal pipes, I had valid information, yet I was told not to stress people. And we all saw what happened on the 5th of July.
I escaped death on July 5. The mob was chasing me to kill me on the Baratashvili bridge, and the only alternative I had was to jump into Mtkvari, if not for the taxi driver coming from Avlabari, whose car I jumped into. I was going to the Shame movement’s office, when I got a text not to go there, because it was being raided. I was moving towards Orbeliani square, trying to get on a bus, so I could go home, but they had found out that “faggots” where gathering at Dedaena park and came after us. They had bats with nails in them. If I had gone down the underground passage, I wouldn’t have survived.
It was partly thanks to this day that I left Georgia. I could not go out freely on the street; they recognized me. Unlike others, I could not afford to take a taxi, so I used public transport. I couldn’t even wear earrings anymore, I combed my hair and before leaving the house I asked my mother if I was wearing something that would get me beaten. My mother visited the office of Tbilisi Pride and we both cried when we watched the footage of the raid. Pride also helped me a lot and stood by me when I was being treated and had no money for medicine.
In general, I think that the queer community in Georgia lacks self-acceptance. When you do not accept your own identity, it will be difficult for you to accept others. There is also the problem of education, and by this I do not mean diploma and university. As a consequence, they keep bullying each other. I have seen nothing of this sort in Belgium. They are not the friendliest, but they do not bicker like we do in Georgia. When I say all this out loud, I am called a homophobe or a transphobe. People don’t like to be told that they are wrong.
Nobody likes the truth, especially Georgians.
“The hardest experience was the shelter. I was hungry, I couldn’t eat the food there, even the smell made me sick. Sleeping in the same room with five people, when the homophobic director calls you a “faggot refugee”. Before that, sleeping in the subway, waking up on the street…”
I first came to Belgium in December 2019, but due to some problems I had to go to Georgia. I was supposed to return in two weeks, but the pandemic started and I stayed in Georgia for two years. Asylum wrote to me that I had to return by December 2021 if I was not to be deported from Europe’s Schengen area. I was lucky,my mother was playing the lottery, so she gave me money and I left with 150 euros in my pockets.
The hardest experience was the shelter. I was hungry, I couldn’t eat the food there, even the smell made me sick. I had such a difficult time, my mother sent me sometimes 30 euros, sometimes 50 euros. Sleeping in the same room with five people, when the homophobic director calls you a “faggot refugee”. Before that, sleeping in the subway, waking up on the street… I had to go through daily challenges that ultimately made me stronger.
Now I am taking integration courses. I can’t work yet. If you want an official, good job, where you will be paid at least 2,000 euros, you must know the language at some level, either Dutch or French. I live in Brussels, which is more French speaking, but I’m learning Dutch because it’s preferred. Now I have the so-called “A” card and until I get “B” I can’t do anything, I’m not even allowed to leave the country.
As soon as you hear someone say “Georgian”, you know something bad is about to go down. To give a simple example – you come to Belgium because you are being persecuted and killed in your country; they impose certain conditions on you and tell you that you have to undergo integration process, you have to go to school, learn the language, then you have to work for a year, etc. And you go to social services and tell them -you know what; don’t oblige me to learn your language. Beg your pardon! Some say that they are not interested in integration courses, because they already know how to use traffic lights. Why should they pay you then? Sorry, but if you are paid 1,137 euros per month, you should show some determination to that country. Due to such attitudes, if you are Georgian, you are also looked at the wrong way and have to prove something. What did I do wrong?! I arrived and I am living honestly, calm and quiet.
“Do you think I’m happy to be here? I have not been happy for a year, because I am not where I’m supposed to be. My government did this to me.”
“I am not where I’m supposed to be. My government did this to me.”
My mother’s support means the most to me, we have a very close bond. It’s been a year since I left, and if I don’t talk to her three times a day, we both get sick. Me leaving felt like someone ripping a kid from their mother’s chest. Although she has two children and grandchildren besides me, she tells me that no one can take care of her like me. If my mother is no more, I don’t know how I will be able to continue my life. It is very hard when you have to leave the country in such a situation. Do you think I’m happy to be here? I have not been happy for a year, because I am not where I’m supposed to be. My government did this to me. There were moments when I was at the peak of my emotions, I was getting sick, and everything I had accumulated during this time was bursting out at once.
During the period of the previous rule, there was no anti-discrimination law. Yes, “Georgian Dream” adopted this law, but back then you had more hope for the police if someone called you a “faggot” on the street. Now they just gave us a piece of paper, they showed it to Europe and America; we adopted an anti-discrimination law, but what good does it do me? How does it protect me? When I said “Putin Huilo” at Gavrilov’s night rally, they arrested me, held me in detention for 24 hours, made me pay a fine, and you’re trying to tell me that my country’s protecting me?! I insulted the occupant and they arrested me. There are homophobes sitting in the parliament, deciding my fate. First of all, they should be removed. But what’s the point of talking about it when the first homophobe and bully is the Prime Minister himself?! On July 6, policemen were attacked with Molotov cocktails. The state is not up to par; they have opened the way for people with a steer mentality.
Even here, in Belgium, you have to protect yourself; it’s not quite the same as it seems from Georgia. There are also corrupt organizations here, pretending to do something for you. One organization turned me away because of my age. They said I was 35 years old and they couldn’t shelter me. What do you mean, I’m 35 years old and you can’t shelter me, when I’m on the street, sleeping in the subway?! I am very grateful to the Kingdom of Belgium, yet they are very much aware of the problems I am talking about. There are areas where you cannot walk at night. A few months ago, a Brazilian transgender woman was killed, and before that, a Georgian gay man was beaten so badly that he needed three jaw surgeries – such things happen here, too. Although the locals are not homophobic, it’s more a problem of immigrants. Here the law protects you, the vice president of Belgium is a transgender woman, queers are represented in the parliament, there are LGBTQ flags everywhere, and the local royal family are bid allies.
“I am a gay man and I am not afraid to admit it, I am not ashamed. I was born like this, I grew up like this, and I will die like this, and yes, I am proud to be who I am.”
This year I also went to Pride. I wore a denim jacket with the colors of the Pride flag and the flag of Georgia on the back. The word “GEORGIA” was also written on it.
What empowers me? The fact that I am a gay man and I am not afraid to admit it, I am not ashamed. I was born like this, I grew up like this, and I will die like this, and yes, I am proud to be who I am.
I would like to tell queer people to support each other, accept themselves, to say what they think, and after that everything is truly going to be ok, even though it is not easy. The universe gives both; good and bad. You must overcome the bad; there is no other way… and as the universe sees that you were able to live through it, you will be given more good.
I really miss my city where I was born and raised. I love it the most and really miss it the most. I stayed in this city, in Brussels, because Brussels has the same “vibe” as Tbilisi.
This is one of the things that helps me go through it all.