On my way back, I was pondered with amusement the fact that I would be the only transgender woman in Tbilisi with a saint’s name.
I became an adult in Istanbul – I was sixteen when I arrived there and twenty when I returned. People don’t believe me when I say that the Virgin Mary gives me all I ask. Before her I adored my mother. I just saw her the last time when I was thirteen. I remember three police officers were dragging me out of our yard. We were passing through the gawking crowd outside, when I heard her screaming: “Get him the hell outta here! I wish you were dead”, she cried. She was screaming from the balcony. One of the police officers even shot in the air to make the people step aside. The whole village and all my relatives were there.
I grew up in that house. I only started speaking when I turned three. The kindergarten teacher used to tell my mother it was no use trying to teach me speak. The only words I could say were “mchadi” (‘cornbread’ in Georgian), “ghomi” (millet porridge) and “aduda” or “don’t want” (I would slap my hand on something when saying that). So, they advised my parents to take me to the cowshed. They tied a cord round my hand, led me to the cowshed and tied me there. They put some straw a trough and told me: “eat it if you’re an animal, speak up if you’re a man”. Now they regret it, “we’d rather have him dumb” they say. They would only tie me there for an hour, not more.
My sister was a few months old when my mother became pregnant with me. She was planning to have an abortion, but my grandfather was really against this – he convinced her to have me and promised he would help her raise me. He said he wanted someone to look after him in his old age. I actually shouted at him: “Well, you’re not really keeping your promise, grandpa!”
He still doesn’t speak to me. My sister was telling me that he saw me on TV. Suddenly his eyes swelled and he ran straight out to his greenhouses. We have a little farm there. My room is still locked – it’s the best room in the house. To this day, he doesn’t let anyone inside, saying it belongs to the grandchild he saved from abortion. One day I came back from school. I was a good student. I wanted to take an exam as an external candidate to apply at the Interregional Academy of Management in Kiev. I was in the 6th grade. My grandfather’s sister-in-law was my school’s principal. Her name is Marina, she’s a very nice woman. She said she’d help me.
I already had relationships with some guys, and they soon found out about it. Marina saw how a guy picked me up in his car. I was really small then, only 12, but I was already crazy for boys and I was quite tall for my age. Nobody would suspect I was only 12. My mother was in Istanbul at that time, so I came back from school and asked my grandfather to cook some dinner for me. He would always bring coffee and cakes to my room, he really looked after me, but I felt there was something wrong with him. He was unusually rude to me. I looked at my sister, asking what was going on. I thought maybe they’d found out about my earring – I would wear an earring whenever I went to the city, but at home I would put a sticking plaster over my earlobe as if I had a cut there. Nobody said anything to me. I thought it must be something else, so I went to bed.
In the morning when I woke up I saw my mother. I was very happy to see her and jumped out of the bed. I embraced her, but she pushed me away. I looked out of the window and my heart almost burst. All my relatives were there. Marina entered the room and asked me in front of everyone: “Who did you go out with? Who?” “Are you that type of guy?” my mother asked me. I denied it several times, but then my cousin said he saw me wearing an earring. They had also found out about my relationship with the boy. My mother hit me on the head, my grandmother pulled me by the hair. My sister spat on me and I said right away: “Yes, I’m “that type!” I got fed up with it; I was looking for my grandfather, hoping he would back me up. But he had gone to the house next door saying: “I’m not going to throw him out, but if you’re going to do it, do it quickly, or I’m gonna die”.
My mother went after me with a knife. I ran and locked myself inside a room, pushed a wardrobe against the door. They were pushing it from the other side. “What is going on? Mom, what’s happening with you?” – I shouted, as they were destroying everything. “I don’t want a son like that. Die or I’m going to kill you!” – she screamed. People were shouting on all three floors. Some of them were saying “let’s leave him and try to cure him, he’s still a kid, we should pity him.” Then my mother fainted and they tried to bring her round. Everybody forgot about me. I stood there like a fool.
When the police came, I saw my mother’s face I got scared to death. That was a moment when I saw her true self. Oh, God she was a monster of all monsters. And she was sacrificing me, but for what? I couldn’t tell.
Police officers surrounded me on all sides. We barely passed through the yard, but couldn’t reach the gates - people there wouldn’t let us pass. The police officers finally cut the wire fence and we got out from there. My mother no longer screamed, instead my grandmother saw me off till the end shouting behind me: “Die, you faggot! You cocksucker! Get out! Die!”
I remember it was really cold on that New Year’s Eve. I would turn 13 on January 12th.
They had a sofa in the police station and I slept there. They couldn’t figure out what to do with me. A week passed. They really looked after me. Sometimes the policeman would ask me to compromise and forgive my family, but how could I compromise? They couldn’t understand what I was, it couldn’t be helped. They would ask each other whether somebody from my family had inquired after me. “This kid will die if he’s left alone, how long can we keep him here?” they would say. I was in a stupor that whole week. I don’t remember if I thought about anything. Finally they told me I was going to Tbilisi, and that an organization would help me there. I didn’t ask them anything when they put me in the car. They just pointed to the end of the street. One of the policeman said somebody wanted to see me from afar, so they told me which direction to look when we approached that place. I kind of expected my sister or my mother, but I saw my grandfather standing under the tree. One of the police officers said: “This man loves you very much”. Another said he saw him standing there every day. They told me my grandfather brought things and food to me. He would ask the police officers if everything would be OK with me.
I wonder what they answered him.
They took me to Tbilisi by car. I didn’t know what I was going to do there. When I thought about it, my mouth would go dry with fear. I asked the police officers to leave me in the street. I didn’t want to go to Gldani Crisis Center. But they would say they couldn’t do that, they told me ”You know what that Center is like, it’s always open. Kids can come and go whenever they want”.
There were awful kids in there; one of them was a real animal, an idiot. When he found out who I was, he treated me terribly. I ran away from there after a few days and went straight to Station Square. I met Bianca there. She was really tall, you couldn’t miss her. She would walk around in her white boots. I looked at her with doubt. There are open stalls in that area and that’s where I saw her for the first time. She asked me: “What’s the problem? Are you cold?” I said I was hungry. She nodded and took me to her apartment. I didn’t know what ‘transgender’ meant back then, so when she took off her coat and I saw that she didn’t have any breasts I couldn’t believe it, I thought she was a woman. “If you’re a boy then be like a boy. What do you need these women’s clothes for?” I asked. “That’s is life, dear” she would say. “If you want to be a woman, you can wear these clothes, or you’re just gay”. I couldn’t understand that psychology back then, I just liked her. “You’re a faggot in a skirt” I told her. We almost died laughing. She helped me a lot. She helped me sell my gold watch, the only thing I took from home. I don’t even know how I remembered to take it with me. I needed money for food and I bought a coat. I still have that coat in Istanbul. I never threw it away. I paid 6 GEL for it in a second-hand clothes store.
I stayed at Bianca’s apartment for a few weeks, and then another girl took me in. Her name was Nino. She had an apartment in Bagebi. Bianca introduced me to a lawyer, who took me to this NGO for LGBT rights.
I roamed Tbilisi for a year, while that organization (Identoba) was looking after me. I don’t know what would have happened to me if it weren’t for them. Then the government sent me to a shelter in Batumi for victims of domestic violence. It was the best place, we had such fun there, you know? I danced, I cleaned the place, I ran in the corridor wearing dresses. Grandma Mary called me Niniko. She said nobody was as close to them as I was. I called the director of the shelter Uncle. They prolonged my stay there three times, but they couldn’t keep me there longer than that. I cried for a few days, I had nowhere else to go. My aunt, my uncle and his friends sent word saying I should leave the country if I wanted to stay alive. My lawyer asked the state to either help me get back to my family or else give her permission to take me out of the country. They didn’t know what to do.
It took six months for the court to issue the power of attorney; the official story was that I was supposed to give myself up to an LGBT organization abroad. I told my lawyer the same thing. I lied, and as soon as we left the organization in Istanbul, I forgot about that place. The whole team of the consulate was looking for me for two months after that.
The lawyer had left me $300. I roamed Taksim Square, not knowing what to do. I didn’t speak the language back then.
I observed the transgender people, first I didn’t actually guess that that’s what they were. I was looking at them from afar and so I thought they were girls. Then they called me over. I finally managed to make them understand that I was from ‘Gurjistan’, they decided to call me Maxim. A Georgian transgender woman came at that moment. Her name was Ana. I said nobody knew where I was, the whole town was looking for me. She took me to her apartment, where her clients often were. Adult men. They looked at me strangely and I didn’t like it. Turks like small kids. I was frightened and I ran away. It’s easy to talk about it now, but I was constantly under enormous stress back then. That Georgian transgender woman gave me 200 lira. I bought some sunflowers with that money and ran around Taksim Square trying to sell them. I would jump from one corner to the other and finally I panicked. Five days passed and I still didn’t know where to go. I would spend the night in various places and that’s when I met Aileen. I was sitting somewhere crying. She dried my tears and asked me what was wrong. I didn’t know any Turkish so she translated my reply with Google Translate and that’s how we managed to communicate. That Georgian transgender woman also helped me with translation, but she told me Aileen was a police officer and warned me to beware of getting deported. Fortunately I didn’t follow her advice. Aileen taught me everything, how to look after myself, how to make money. She still tells me that if my mother didn’t want me, she’s there for me.
I had to come back to Georgia for documents. But when I tried to go back to Turkey they wouldn’t let me cross the border. I paid a bribe (620 liras) and then they let me pass. I hitchhiked back to Istanbul and made some money on the road.
Aileen told me: “You’re a foreigner, you don’t have money. Start working, save some money and then, if you want, you can go back to your old life”. But when I put on my clothes the first day and went outside I completely lost my mind, I was so happy. I ran like crazy, I thought I was the most beautiful person in the world. I don’t know how many selfies I took in my small compartment-sized room, where I had a bed and a small table. I stood in front of the mirror and looked at my face, thinking what to reform there. Aileen also advised me, she taught me some things, she taught me what being a real transsexual meant.
I sent my photos to everyone, many of them cursed me, but I didn’t care. I only cared about my family. My relatives discovered my Turkish number. My mother called me and told me I could come back if I changed my ways. She then told me they could put up with me being gay, but they would never accept me as a transgender woman. I answered: “You have already abandoned me, now I will live as I like”. I would hang up on them.
That’s when I told myself that I would live just like that. I was sixteen.
In short, I stayed with Aileen. You should never stand outside in Istanbul until after midnight. After that, you can walk around naked if you want. Of course, it’s not officially allowed, but they say nothing. The night schools let out at 11 p.m. there, so after midnight you can go out and spend the whole night in the streets. I used to stand in the streets for 7-8 hours at a time. I was crazy with myself - I had longer hair and wore a new dress. Somebody came and slapped me on my back. I said I was talking to my client and I’d get back to them shortly. He said he was a police officer and he took me by the arm. When they showed up in cars we could recognize them and run away, so they would mingle with the crowd and then just grab you by the arm.
They took me to the police station together with other transgender people. I said I didn’t have a passport. They said they would take my fingerprints and find out where I was from. When they found out I was Georgian, one of them hit me on the arm with a huge ruler. “You faggot, what are you doing here?” he shouted. I pleaded with them to not deport me. They told me to get into a car.
I could already speak some Turkish, since I’d been there for four months. We were on the road to the airport and one of them asked me why I had come to Turkey. I told them my story. The driver was a real snake. He looked about two meters tall and when we saw him we would shiver with fear. He was really heavy-handed and I still tremble when I remember him. “Why are you interested why he came here?” he said. “He came here because he likes dick!” The second one winked at me and told me to continue my story. So I told them that I didn’t have a mother, that I didn’t have any relatives and that I was 16. All of a sudden he made a u-turn in the middle of the road. He said he’d left my documents at the police station by mistake. He took me to the station, signed my papers and threw them in my face. “Get out of here and don’t ever let me see you standing in the street again”, he said, “or else I’ll shoot you in the legs.”
After a year or so I was able to spot a police car from a kilometer away. We learnt a special whistle and as soon as I saw a police car from afar I would whistle to my friends in another district. They would whistle to their friends in another and finally somebody would light a bulb or something. That’s how we warned each other that the police were coming. We would hide wherever we could - mingle with the crowd, step into shops, hide behind dumpsters. When the police car would pass by, we would wave at them from the shop windows. I have narrowly escaped the police many times. Two or three years later, when I would encounter police on foot, they would tell me to hide because their colleagues were on their way. After midnight they would sometimes even come and offer us coffee. Nobody is really after us. They have a different attitude towards the transgender people over there. They hate gays though, I don’t know why.
This spring I’m going back to Turkey again and I’m going to work with Aileen. You need some protection, so that a neighbor doesn’t call the police. If you have a conflict, you need somebody to protect you, right? Even if they catch me without my passport, Aileen will help me. There are about fifteen madams on Taksim Square, and they all have their deals with the police.
They mainly rent rooms and make money from that. I would take the client to the madam’s room where I actually also lived. It’s better for me that way. If I rented an apartment somewhere else, then Aileen would get really upset. She might even get angry with me, so, why would I want that?
Sometimes I call my family. Mostly I speak to my sister. On holidays I always call my grandmother’s sister, I love her like crazy. I’d say “Happy holidays! Be well!” and then I would hang up.
I can have some form of contact with all of them separately, but not together. I have also sworn that I will go to each and every one of them and make up with them, but I will never forgive my grandmother. I may see her and kiss her, but I will not forgive her.
She once told her sister “I wish I had just thrown him out and never said what I said”.
I sometimes imagine what my meeting with my mother would be like. It would be very cold I guess. She will be cold and I think I’ll be cold too. I think my mother will have a hard time meeting me. She often tells my sister she thinks she would die if she saw me.
Sometimes I forget the pain. I’ll never be able to forgive, but sometimes I’m afraid that when I see them, anything could happen to me. I have to be ready. I’m constantly preparing myself for that meeting.
My mother is also working in Turkey. She’s been living with a family for years now, she’s like a family member to them. She’s coming back this spring. She wants to buy an apartment here and register it in my name, if I don’t change it. But I’m Maria Kasenko now. That’s how people know me.
I’m actually tired of living here. I want to go somewhere and have a bit of a rest. People are not loyal here too. I can’t take this whispering behind each other’s back all the time. They sometimes blame you for saying something you never actually said. Whenever I say something, I know that one of the other transgender women will twist it some other way to another and then they’ll all come after me. You get tired of all of this. I want to be alone now. Yes, I go wherever I want, I have good relations with everyone, but I’m still not completely open. This Tbilisi is still foreign to me.
Sometimes I imagine an ideal situation where I’m alone over there too, you know? I imagine I have two houses, a car. I do whatever I want, but only because I want to be seen by people.
I don’t trust everything that people tell me. I always have my doubts. I nod, but I keep thinking. I say some things, but not everything. I always leave something that nobody should find out. I guess it’s because I know: humans create with their own hands and also kill with their own hands. I saw it that day when they threw me out of my house. I haven’t learnt anything new after that. I trusted my mother. Now I don’t trust anyone.
Last year I visited my sister in the village. I rented two SUVs in Batumi and took a patrol police car with me, and that’s how I arrived in the village, with a whole motorcade. The whole village was in shock. We even had fireworks at the gate. My sister knows me well and she whispered in my ear: “Just tell me what this whole show cost you.” I had brought a lot of gifts for her and her kid. She later told me that the whole village spoke only about me for three months after that. I don’t know why I did it, I just wanted them to know that they lost a lot. I didn’t, they did, when they denied me. I find that warmth and love in others, I have many friends and my mother will never find her child’s love anywhere.
That was my first meeting with my sister after years. I was heartless to her. She asked me to forgive her. “Please forgive us for everything we did to you” she said. She apologized on behalf of the others too; everybody wants to get out of it through my sister’s apologies. All my relatives knew that I was coming, so I stayed for a couple of days in case they wanted to see me.
That last day I asked my sister to tell everyone that I had already left. As soon as she told one of them they started to call her one after the other. “Who did he come with? What did he wear? What did he say? Did he mention me?” That was all they were interested in. My sister would tell them that I was absolutely different, that I had changed a lot. “His nose is the same though” she would say. I even heard my mother’s voice saying “He’s of the kind of person that would outlive everyone and still be all right”. Good, at least they know me.
A month ago, my appendix burst and I had emergency surgery. Before they took me to the operating room, they said I needed to call a family member so that they could sign a paper. Nobody was waiting for me outside. I just stared at those papers and didn’t say a word. I didn’t want to pour out tears of anguish in front of them.
Even when I knew I had to go back to living in the street again, I didn’t think about making up with them, about calling them mother or grandmother again. After the words they said to me it wouldn’t make any sense.