Irakli (name has been changed at his request) is a 42-year-old transgender man from Tbilisi. He told OC Media his story of discovering his real gender identity and the struggle of living in Georgia as a trans person.
‘Since childhood, I had boyish habits, and at the age of six I realised that I was born in the wrong body.’
‘My childhood was peaceful, I used to run on roofs, fool around, and fall in love. But I did not make friends: I have always been a lone wolf.’
‘At the age of 16, my depression peaked, which was accompanied by self-destructive behaviour, alcohol, and pills. At the same age, I started cutting, and the scars are still visible. But I had no intention of committing suicide — it just calmed me down.'
'My arms are still in a bad way. When my mother saw the cuts, she panicked and wanted to take me to the doctor, but she didn’t succeed, I didn’t want to.'
'At the same age, I once swallowed a mouthful of pills, but my family still has no idea that even happened — my friends saved me back then.'
'I was upset with the whole world and especially myself. Meanwhile, you could easily access various tranquillisers which were in abundance in every house at that time.'
'At high school and college, my appearance, behaviour, and style certainly attracted unwanted attention from those around me. When all the girls were walking around in dresses, I wore pants, jeans, and suits.'
'By that time, I already had girlfriends, but keeping long term relationships did not work out. Meanwhile, 'one-night-stands' did not satisfy me either because I am a very emotional person. My depression was only getting worse.'
'On the day of my 18th birthday, I got tipsy and told my mother: “I know you don't like it, but I made a choice and I like girls.” I got a month of the silent treatment from her in return.’
'She did not speak to me all these days, although she cooked breakfast, looked after me, and did all her responsibilities as a mother. However, she did it all in silence. In a month, everything calmed down, and she just accepted it.'
'My family was sympathetic about my sexual orientation and gender identity. My mother, grandmother, and grandfather knew everything about me, whereas my brother and I had a strained relationship. He does not accept my choice, and now that we rarely see each other, there are no problems.'
‘At the age of 19, I had my first daughter’
'Throughout my life, I didn’t only have relationships with girls. I attempted to change something about myself and it was about then when my daughters were born — my biological daughters. The oldest one is 22 years old now, and the youngest is 18.'
'When I was 18-19, I noticed that people around me started to look at me in a different way. Then I realized that I needed to get married or have a child in order to shut everyone up.'
'At that time, I had a friend who had been in love with me for three years, though he knew my orientation towards girls.'
'He had been chasing me for a very long time, and after three years I just came up to him and said: “I need a child, if you are up for it. But you will have no claim to paternal rights.” Then I officially married him, but we lived together for three weeks at most.'
'At the age of 19, I had my first daughter, and when she was almost two years old, she told me that she wanted a baby sibling. Normally, people pity those who are only children, so I consciously decided to give birth to a second child.'
'The kids have one father. At that time, we no longer lived together. Then I called him and said that I wanted to have another child and that this is where our relationship was supposed to end. He agreed.'
‘Even after the birth of my daughters, the attitudes of people around me did not change. Another kind of tongue-lashing began. They said, 'why did she have the child when she just leaves the child with her grandmother and then disappears. It occurred to no one that since the age of 13 I have been “disappearing” to go to work.'
'I am a funny and noisy dad. I am short-tempered, but I also calm down quickly. There were never any problems or issues with the girls. The only time my youngest daughter threw a tantrum was when she found out that I started my transition. She thought that it would require surgery and she was afraid that something might happen to her dad.'
‘Just a crosswalk, nothing more’
'For a very long time, I had no idea that there were transgender people, and I thought that I was the only one. At that time, the Internet was not as accessible as it is now. I could not find any explanation for my condition anywhere.'
'In 2013, my friends suggested that I go to Ukraine and attend a seminar for transgender people, they said it was necessary. When I arrived, the seminar participants started talking to one another and some strange conversations about some transitions began. And I had no idea, I tell you, what that meant.'
'Everyone was shocked to learn that I did not take hormones, at that moment 'transition' was like a crosswalk for me, nothing more. Two weeks later, I brought the first dose of [the hormone] Omnadren from there [from Ukraine] and have been injecting it every 21-days since I was 33.'
'More than eight years have passed, but every time a few days before the injection I feel weak, my blood pressure starts to rise, and I feel down. After taking the hormone I always feel a surge of energy, but my mood is still unstable, it still changes often, and the aggression recedes only in three-four days.'
'I know this is self-medication, but visiting doctors is too expensive. Besides, I never found a good endocrinologist in Georgia' [Editor’s note: Experts advise transgender individuals to start hormone therapy only after consulting with an endocrinologist. Incorrectly dosed therapy may cause severe health problems.].
'Despite the fact that now my appearance is completely consistent with my gender, I seriously consider having a mammaplasty. The breasts are very disturbing. Last year, my girlfriend persuaded me to go to the seaside together, and it was a nightmare. I had to swim in a T-shirt that was sticking to my body, which drew even more attention to me. So I will definitely resolve this issue.'
'My friends and acquaintances respected my choice, and there were no problems after my appearance began to change. New acquaintances do not even know that I am a transgender man — but who cares?.'
‘Strange as it may seem, but I mostly faced aggression before my transition. I’ve been involved in feuds and fights and I’ve even been criminally charged. In my old life, I was tried for attempted murder’.
‘In 2001 I had a girlfriend who had broken up with her ex, a policeman, 8 months back, but he wouldn’t leave her alone’.
‘My girlfriend and I lived together back then. Her ex came to our place wasted, was pounding on the door, swearing, and so he and I started fighting each other. He had a service pistol on him. When he started to draw his gun, I managed to get my hands on a knife… I stabbed him four times. I don’t regret it and I said the same at the trial’.
‘I didn’t know then that I was pregnant with my second child.’
‘The examination established that I was pregnant when I cut him, and determined to be an irresistible impulse [actions for which the defendant cannot be held criminally liable]. During the investigation I was put into a preliminary detention cell, but then the court released me. [My girlfriend’s ex] is alive, though he still walks with a limp...’
‘The last time [I got into a fight] was 8 years ago, when four men beat me up so bad that I spent two weeks in bed. I had only just started my transition then and didn’t look the way I do today —I was walking down the street with a cigarette in my hand. Turns out, that was unacceptable for a drunken company of guys that I met on my way’.
‘It’s hard to say if my life was easier before or after transition. In terms of personal relationships it was easier then, and it was not difficult to start dating a woman when you looked like a woman.’
‘But in terms of everyday issues, my current appearance makes my life much easier. Although I do still deal with a fair share of difficulties. Six years ago I appealed to the Strasbourg court [ECHR] to change my gender on legal documents, as it’s very difficult to do in Georgia.’
‘In 2014, when my appearance began to change considerably, I also changed my name. Once, something interesting happened to me in the House of Justice — I went there to pick up the ready-made documents with my changed name and a “very attentive” operator, pointing at me, said that she wouldn’t help “this thing”, and then asked someone to do it for her.’
‘Most problems or unpleasant situations have something to do with documents. As for my appearance, at the moment I am pleased with it, it fully reflects my gender and name.’
‘It is precisely because of problems with documents that I have never officially worked anywhere — I learned to be a house painter and did repairs for 14 years, no one checks your documents on these kinds of jobs. But for the third year now I have been making fireplaces.’
‘Everyone knows we exist’
‘Tbilisi is a very small city, where everyone knows each other. I try my best to live quietly and peacefully to not bother anyone with my existence and to ensure a quiet life for myself.’
‘What will it change if queers speak up about their sexuality? They’ll be beaten up a couple of times, and then what? I always stayed away from activism, because I have to take care of my mom, my children and my significant other — why would I create problems for them?’
‘Rallies and aggressive behaviour by queer Georgian acitivists is unacceptable, because I know what problems they’ll create for themselves. Don’t we all remember the chair throwing during pride?’
[Read more on OC Media: Arrests in Tbilisi as queer rights activists and homophobic counter protesters face-off]
‘Today I live separately from my family, so nothing is stopping me from joining the activists. But why would you organize all these rallies, just to shout “we exist”? Everyone knows we exist, and the activists are just seeking additional humiliation’.
‘I support their initiatives, except such rallies. It’s odd to come out and shout, this is who I am, love me the way I am. First of all, love yourself — if you don’t want problems, don’t create them’.
‘I’ve never participated in a Pride event and not going to. Like I said, Tbilisi is very small and I don’t want to create problems for my children, my mom and my significant other. I’ve just started to build a relationship with her son, who doens’t know I’m transgender’.
‘I really hope to marry her soon, I don’t want to look for trouble’.