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‘It would be better if you died’: queer Daghestanis on coming out

17 May 2017
Makhachkala at night (Timur Agirov/timag82.livejournal.com)

In the North Caucasus, queer people often feel the need to hide their sexual orientation, even fearing for their lives. Many move to other parts of Russia, to avoid the pressures of society and to live in relative freedom. OC Media spoke to three queer Daghestanis about life as a queer person from Daghestan, and coming out to friends and family. Their names have been changed.

Rustam, 22

‘I decided to come out because I was sick of lying to my family; tired of inventing some alternative reality and telling them about events happening in it. I am also very concerned about homophobia in Russia, and I believe in the power of coming out. I believe that if people admit it, it can affect the overall level of homophobia in the country.’

‘I came back from Moscow, where I lived at the time, to Daghestan to come out. After my confession, a nightmare began at home. You speak with your family, but they are not ready to accept any arguments. I consulted with a psychologist in advance. He told me that it would be so, and that there is no need to try to explain anything, that the main thing is to tell your family that you still love them.’

‘Then I left for Moscow, and my father and three older brothers tricked me into coming back to Daghestan twice. First, they told me that my mother was in hospital from worry — this was a lie. The next time, they said that mother was crying all the time, that she couldn’t sleep. “Come, soothe her and then you can leave”, they said.’

‘On the second visit, my father took my passport and refused to return it to me. I was telling him that I had to go back to Moscow on Monday because I had to do an annual report at work, they certainly did not believe me. They began to repeat that I had just got into bad company, that I did not have proper friends.’

‘Father returned my passport only after several long conversations and on condition that I move into my brother’s place. I agreed, but I ran away from my brother at the airport in Moscow.’

‘Then I began to receive unpleasant messages from my relatives — threats. One of my brothers wrote: “it would be better if you died”, another brother: “I never respected these types of people, and I’m not planning to. Either you stop being like that or there won’t be a ‘you’ anymore”. My father messaged me demanding that I change my name, surname, and patronymic, and to forgot where I come from. He gave me a month to do this.’

‘After this I didn't feel safe even in Moscow. The threats were not only against me, but my boyfriend as well. My father can determine the location of any person in Russia by their phone number.’

‘I decided it was necessary to leave the country before the situation reached a critical point. My boyfriend and I have now lived in New York for several months. Despite all this, I don’t regret that I came out. I feel better because I told truth to my family about myself. I appeared to them the way I am in reality. Now they have the choice: accept me with my homosexuality or forget about my existence.’

Said, 29

‘Mum kicked me out of the house when she found out that I had relationships with guys. I didn’t tell her and wasn’t planning to. One of my friends told her about me. I still have no idea who that was, but I cut off communication with almost everyone who used to be my friend back then.’

‘I already lived away from my mother that year. I rented a flat with my boyfriend, however my stuff remained at my parents’ house. Mother threw it into the street yelling at me to get out.’

‘I went to Krasnodar. Of course she was worried about me, called me, was interested in how I lived. She would cry and ask me to reconsider things and come back.’

‘After some time, my mother faced problems with her business. She suffered a stroke from the worry, and I returned to Makhachkala. In order to make up with her I had to tell her that she was right and that I was wrong, deluded. I deceived her, but she calmed down after that. Time had to pass for her to accept me.’

‘I even got married. No, no one forced me, or could force me to marry. I was in love with her. However, complications in our relationship began even before the wedding. I remember my mother offered to cancel the wedding a week in advance. I agreed, but then she changed her mind saying that it was awkward for our relatives.’

‘I divorced her three months after the wedding. Now I live with my boyfriend and my mother knows that we are together. They have a good relationship. Sometimes I think that she loves him more than me.’

‘Sometimes I think that my mother would be more at peace if she did not know the truth about me. But then again, it’s easier for me that there is no barrier between us, that there is no secret that used to disturb me very much.’

‘I noticed that in recent years it has become a little more free in the republic. Young people are now less radical than, for example, in my generation. Maybe it is because they often now go abroad and see other people? They dress modernly, for many of them, their main interests are not religious. A few years ago, when I had a haircut atypical for Makhachkala, I would hear various jokes in my neighbourhood from the local rabble, but now it doesn’t happen much. Sometimes it even seems that the degree of homophobia in Dagestani society has decreased.’

‘I live with my boyfriend, but we hide our relationship. Only a narrow circle of people close to us know about us. I would really love for the degree of homophobia in our society to decrease, but I am afraid that this could bring severe consequences for those who are “in the know”. I am afraid that if people relax, they could suffer as a result of some kind of set-up.’

Mareta, 32

‘I am afraid to come out to my family. None of my family members are aware. A year ago I told my close friends. Last month I was shocked by the news from Chechnya. I was reading about the gay persecutions there every day; I was really worried. One evening I could no longer bear the whole wave of homophobia — I came out on my Facebook page as a lesbian. I wrote that if someone didn’t like it, they could delete me from their friends list. Several people sent me private messages of support or asking me questions, but no one deleted me.’

‘My parents wouldn’t understand me, my sisters would say that I have gone mad. Homophobia is very strong in Daghestan. For fairness, it should be noted that compared to people from some other North Caucasian republics, Daghestanis seem like liberals. I know guys and girls who live here as couples and no one sticks their nose into their relationships. Even if they guess what’s going on, they do not poison these people, do not threaten them, do not kill.’

‘According to what I’ve seen, the attitude towards homosexual girls in the republic is milder than towards guys. Of course people do not excuse girls either, but they are more severe towards guys. The majority, obviously, try to leave the republic in order to be more free, and not be afraid that someone will see something somewhere and then tell everything to their relatives.’

‘I would love for the degree of homophobia to decrease in Daghestan. Not so that people can talk about who is with whom, and in what kind of relationship, but because attitudes towards queer people really changed. It is painful for me to hear of cases of suicide because relatives did not accept a person the way they are; or cases when girls are forced to marry to avoid “shaming” the family; or cases when homosexual men and women are in fake marriages with each other to show relatives — “here, I got married”. I have goosebumps from these stories. How many shattered fates?!’

‘I think that we need to work with parents when their children are young. We should prepare parents from early years that their child may not become what they would love them to become. Once many people understand this, homosexuality will not become a nightmare for mothers and fathers. The most important thing for a family is love. It is important that parents understand that their child will remain theirs; their relationship to their parents won’t change regardless of their preferences, they still love them and will always love them, and they really need parental support.’

[Read also on OC Media, the story of a Daghestani transgender woman: Adam’s apple of discord]

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