This project is a work in progress
Due to familial and societal pressure I rejected my true gender expression and adapted to normative femininity throughout my youth in Georgia. It had a considerable effect on the way I held myself and occupied space. When I moved to London and felt able to come out, I was also able to claim back the space that I felt had been denied to me– a metamorphosis that I thought was only granted to the somewhat privileged “queer runaways.”
In my previous work, I was able to document queer folks who, like me, identified as runaways. But as I have reconnected with the queer community of my hometown, I have found the need to subvert the framework I had previously engaged with. In this project, I photograph queer Georgians in the home that they were born into and in the home that they built for themselves.
I photograph each person in a space that is traditionally understood or culturally upheld as Georgian with their family members and then in a setting where they feel safe and comfortable in their queerness with their chosen/queer family.
The juxtaposition of these shots visually builds and reveals how Georgian queers have learned to navigate through the dichotomy at the heart of their identities. This project is a tribute to those who didn’t leave. Who couldn’t leave. And it hopes to achieve, if anything, the act of reclaiming our Georgian homes.
Nikita Mamardashvili, 22, a musician who identifies as non-binary and their partner, Haku Kukhianidze, 21, a 2D artist.
Elene Patchkoria, Nikitia’s mother, 47, a strong, independent, single mother and their four cats.
"We’ve been living together for two years. We met at our friend’s place, and we liked each other. Then Covid happened. The quarantine started. Living together was unintentional. We just started living together and then it changed to something else. It felt so easy to live with each other, and it formed a healthier relationship. I've had these short co-living periods with many people and it has always been unbearable with all of them, especially with men, in this heteronormative masculine culture.
But this one was very simple. During the lockdown we either stayed here or rented an apartment in Vashlijvari [neighborhood in the Georgian capital] and moved there. We were together all the time, and some things opened up slowly… We experienced the bad and the good together. We don't even have an exact date for our anniversary. Everything happened very naturally, and that's exactly what I like about our relationship. It was all very human, pure, and not over-romanticized.
I grew up in this house. Since Haku and I are together, I feel that I have a different family, that is, the family that you really choose, as my mother and father chose each other once. I realized that I had somehow become distant from my family. I've had relationships before, but now it feels like this is the last one. We chose a family, and it’s us and the cats – so queer!
I used to live in this house with my grandma, grandpa, dad and mom. Grandpa is alive, which is unfortunate. I don’t know what he is doing, probably sitting or laying down upstairs. My dad is on a business trip in Batumi and we don’t have any contact, which is fine by me. We had a big fight the last time we saw each other. I only communicate with my mom and sibling. My sibling is also queer. Anyway, we can’t choose our family… Or maybe our soul makes a choice before we are even born. I don’t know.
I feel completely at ease with my mother, but I’m still not comfortable here. I already have my family and we need a new space, both together and separately.
We don't want to stay here for a long time. If it were only Haku and I living in this house, it could be enough, but we want to have pets. We’d love to have goats and cats. When we have the money, we will get pets instead of a child. We’ll take care of them, and there will be fewer disappointments."
Bart, 49 – Nikolo Ghviniashvili, a transgender man, Daughter – Tiko, 30.
Portrait at the circus – Eto and Veronika
"I am a computer technician, I have a law degree, and I also work in the "Equality Movement", which my friends and I founded in 2011. We didn't have an office for four years. Today, they say, we are one of the largest LGBT organizations in the South Caucasus.
I grew up in this house. My mother, father, brother and I lived here. This room was my brother's bedroom.
I’ve never done that coming out thing. I have been like this since childhood. They used to take me to doctors, a psychiatrist, a sex pathologist... As I have observed, when you become financially independent they don’t oppress you as much anymore. I am both a parent and a son, and I have experienced it in some ways. It was very difficult for me to let my daughter go because I still have an Asian mentality in a way.
Tiko, my daughter, would have been 14-15 years old at the time. One of my friends told me that she sensed something, but I thought she was still too young. Then this friend told me that it would be better to tell her myself. That way she would trust me more.
So, I took her to "Inclusive" [the first LGBT organization in Georgia] once or twice, and then I told her who I really was. She told me that she actually guessed something, and she loved me the way I was. It felt like I was born a second time. When you don't have to hide from your loved one, you feel completely free.
In 2011, I changed my name, and in 2012, during the elections, the ballot arrived at my father’s house. He called me to say that he didn’t have a child with that name. I tried to explain for half an hour that I was still his child, nothing had changed, and it was just more comfortable for me. I explained that they would no longer look at me like I was an exotic animal in banks and other institutions, and people would not stare at me in line anymore.
We talked for a long time. I explained to him that if he took a glass and called it a basin, its functions would not change, and both its shape and meaning would remain the same. It was September or October. In December, he called me to congratulate me on St. Nicholas Day. It was a great day for me.
In fact, I changed my name for official reasons, everyone already called me Bart anyways. No one knows my old name.
The circus girls are my second family because I’m transgender. There’s what we call “Pleshka,” where sex workers work. They earn their living here. If they don’t, they will starve and live on the street.
Three or four years ago, I was there almost every night. There was always something going on there, like a fight or something. At least 15-20 girls used to stand there then. We used to celebrate our birthdays there, and actually it was where we gathered and celebrated. When they are at home, they mostly sleep. I call them ‘my girls’, and they call me ‘daddy’, or ‘husband’.
I was never there because of work–and was never required to bring firewood, coffee or tea. When they were attacked, I would run to them and spend the night by their side in the hospital or in the police station. We, trans people, are a minority of a minority, so I used to be there as a transgender activist.
Most of the girls left the country. The new girls mostly work at home. It seems that no one remains at the circus. Many are in Belgium or Germany. Eto and Veronika are the "old" ones. Transgender women in Georgia are mainly sex workers, although the tendency seems to be changing now. Temida is a trans-organization that helps them find a job and they also have the opportunity to get an education. When their parents threw them out of the house, some people only had a third grade education, and therefore could not find a job. If you don't have your family’s support, it's very difficult. You cannot study and work at the same time. This is a big problem in our community.
Marika Kochiashvili, 36, photographer/artist, her mom and her older sister
Marika and her partner May
My sisters and I grew up in this house. My parents slept in one bedroom and all three of us in the other. I haven't been here for 12 years. Now my folks moved back in and it coincided with my arrival. I remember so many things. I have even drawn this house. That drawing looks like an architectural plan. I remember every room and each cranny and corner, and I have some associations with all of them. Love and my teenage passions - it all started here. My secret queer life also happened here, no one knew and no one noticed. Today, it's unbelievable that I did it here, under one roof with my family. Sex? What sex, when your mom is sleeping in the next room?
I never had personal space in this house. Even the door to the toilet did not lock, and anyone could open it and enter at any time. In addition, three sisters slept in one room. My lovemaking and texting took place secretly, under the blanket, so that no one could hear anything.
This house was “baptized” queer even before I realized my sexuality; long before being queer was cool, haha. This house was heaven for my gay friends. How many queer tears have been shed, and how many queer orgasms have been experienced here… If only my family knew... How many queer secrets we shared in this house... There were no gay bars then, except Success Bar, I guess. So, this house has a big queer history, and that's why I love it so much. It was a house full of secret queer stories, but only when everyone was asleep or not at home. Things change when the adults are home.
Space doesn’t matter in the relationship May and I have. What matters is to be geographically there, where we won’t be stoned for being lesbians. This year, by the way, when I was coming back to London, it felt like coming home for the first time. And that was largely because I knew I was coming home to May. So, here in London, I care less about the house as a physical space. I have something else here. I don't need to hide beneath a blanket to make love, and not just because I am no longer a teenager, or I have nothing to hide. There are no ghosts of Jesus, my mom, dad and Grandma Natela over my head. This is the family I choose – far, far away from my childhood home.
Discmlaimer: This photo story is a part of a project developed by Kulbroan and Chai Khana with support from the New Democracy Fund.