The bitter life of an "other"

Photographer: Sofi Mdivnishvili

Edition: Other
Topic: Minorities

I was born in Georgia’s central Mtskheta-Mtianeti region in the 1980s and grew up in a traditional, large family. Throughout my life, my sense of social obligations have always been in conflict with my identity, so I have never felt like I have the freedom to choose the life I wanted. 

I grew up in eastern Georgia, in Kakheti, where I came across a lot of stereotypes, pseudo-traditions and clichés. In the small community where I lived, the only thing that mattered to anyone was what people would say about them. It was impossible to explain something to my family because, like everyone else, they prioritized public opinion over my needs.

I do not judge my parents, but I have never felt free from their judgement: the principles that are accepted by most of society turned out to be stronger for them than their love for me.

In the community where I grew up, gang violence, drinking, gambling, women’s oppression and severe domestic violence were common—and were largely viewed as “manly behavior.”

I have always felt better with girls. For me it was always easier to form closer relationships with them than with other boys and their world was much more familiar to me than the street life that was acceptable for boys. But I never felt any feelings of romance or desire with them. Quite the opposite.  I wanted to be as beautiful as a woman. I dreamed about it, but my fear overshadowed everything. I felt shame about my desires, which I also disapproved of. I felt guilty and troubled. I tried to kill these passions. I tried to suppress the woman in me.

My parents used to work all day, and I stayed with my grandma. Once, when I thought I was alone, I put on my mother's tights and dress. At that moment, my grandma came into the room. She began laughing. Then she told me that she understood what I was experiencing and she warned me that if other people found out, they would treat me badly. Grandma promised that she would say nothing about it because my father would kill me. 

I knew that my father would hurt me if he ever found out. He once learned that I had smoked a cigarette and he beat me with an electric cable. 

My grandma’s words caused me concern for another reason: I began to fear I was doing something wrong. I was not mature enough and I didn’t know anything about transgender identities. I thought that maybe I hurt someone, and I considered myself an evil person. Even now, however, I think that my grandma believed in freedom of choice. But she died not long after our conversation and I decided to completely hide my personality.  

Little by little, I felt how I was alone in this heartless world where I could not be my true self. I did not dare to run away from home and live on the street; I preferred to adapt to such an existence and be patient. I began trying to get used to being a man and that was why I could not refuse when my father wanted me to join the army. 

I spent a year studying the disassembly of weapons, and that helped me forget my troubles. I had a great relationship with the nurses in the army. I befriended only them. I am sure many of them still remember me. 

When I returned home from the army, I wanted to enter law school. But I knew my family could not afford it, so I did not put up much resistance when my father sent me to military service.

At work, I learned how to form relationships with other people, but I have never made any real friends there.  When I started a job, my co-workers said that I was a little boy and they had to teach me everything. They used to order me around and made me wash the dishes. At school, boys treated girls with respect but at work the men seemed to go out of their way to speak badly about women. They were always rude and spent their time gossiping about others and mocking each other.

After I started my job, I began to hate masculinity.  The ugly reality at work distressed me and often used to say I had to leave my job, which infuriated my father. So I tried my best to fulfill everyone else’s expectations. I fought against my true self with all my strength and, as a result, all I felt was unbearable pain, as if my soul and body were being torn into pieces.

Starting in the 2000s, newspapers and talk shows started to spread disinformation about the trans community. There were stories about men who transitioned to become women. They accused some men of raping them but no one believed them. In reality, I didn’t know anything about the LGBT community until 2007, when I first noticed a transgender woman on TV and I realized I needed to understand more.

Two years ago, I tried to change my appearance slightly and removed the hair from my hands. Homophobic hysteria did not linger in the neighborhood and at work either. "Why have you removed hair? Aren't you ashamed to look like a woman? Have you become a member of the LGBT community?" – they were mocking me.

In 2012, I shared my story with a friend, telling her that I saw myself as a woman and did not care about masculinity. I told her about my fears and my belief that what I had suppressed in the past would reveal in the future. She lived in Tbilisi, and I used to go there with her. Initially, she saw me as a man. Once we were walking, she bought a dress for herself, and I asked him to lend it to me. She was kind, but she warned me that if I wanted to live as a transgender woman, everyone would vilify me. 

When I returned to work, everyone knew everything about me: where I had been, what I had been doing, who I spent time with. 

Soon after that, I moved to Tbilisi. First, I went to the Office of Equality Movement and then to the Women's Initiatives Supportive Group (WISG). I really wanted to meet other transgender women. 

I also created an account on a social network as a woman. In March 2018, I openly told a small group of people about myself, and I am grateful to WISG for helping me find the courage to do that. WISG has rescued many lives. Today, I feel like my real self and that is thanks to them.  I made friends at WISG, and that has given me strength. I feel like I am fighting for the right to exist because this government does not want to support people like me. I also want to find my place under this sky, walk proudly with other people, have a profession, and not live one day at a time in such a transient world. I want to be grateful for this world. However, I still have to fight, and I know it will be a long process.

In 2019, I met a transgender woman and, for a month, we lived together. The idea was to share costs but in the end, everything seemed to be my responsibility. She didn’t even go to the store.

In addition, she started to tell me that I was too masculine to ever be a woman. Eventually, I decided it was better to return home. She told me that I was a coward and could not stand up to my family. Not long after I left, she told me that she had pitched all my belongings, which I could not take home with me. I didn’t know if that was true or not, but in any case, I lost everything. 

For a long time, I seemed to only notice the rude and offensive comments about the trans community on social media. However, at some point I started to pay more attention to the people who offered support. That is how I became acquainted with my close friend. After we met, I discovered that she was in my district and, not long after we met, she was forced to take her son and leave her family. She moved even closer to me. She has become my hope. I keep my belongings at her home. When I long to be a woman,  I go with her and wear my dresses and wigs for a few hours and, for a few hours, I manage to feel like myself. I can say that she has rescued me. She is the only bright point in my life.

I don’t believe that my family will ever realize or accept that I am transgender. I sometimes try to mention the LGBT community to see how they respond, but their homophobia never changes. My family members are right-wing radicals. Belief does not allow them to realize absolute freedom and become more receptive to who I am. 

This article was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) South Caucasus Regional Office. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of FES or Chai Khana.

We are a non-profit media organization covering the topics and groups of people that are frequently ignored by mainstream media. Our work would not be possible without support from our community and readers like you. Your donations enable us to support journalists who cover underrepresented stories across the region. donation.stories.donate-text