Ana Kovalenko, 35 years old, Tbilisi
I’m considered a first-generation trans. Imagine, in time of Edika (Eduard Shevardnadze) I already had my identity. In 90’s Georgia (I was still a child back then), I came out of the omnipresent street gang period alive and survived. I don’t know exactly why; probably partly because of my personality and also because people didn’t know transience and aggression wasn’t prevalent either. I didn’t know any other trans people. During this time I thought only I alone in the world was so different and I was afraid to talk to other people. I remember, ‘’Italian’’ and ‘’french’’ style shoes were in vogue and I always wore those. When I went to a party, people were coming just to see me – I was such an exotic item for that time. Still, it was difficult to survive. Support from my family helped me a lot. When they found out about my identity, they didn’t kick me out of the house, in the opposite—they took me as I am and stood by my side. Also, thanks to them I grew up without stress and always had a healthy psyche. I have fully embraced my identity and now I’m exactly who I always wanted to be. I’m a woman and Ana Sophia Kovalenko is written on my ID card.
We live in a country where it’s difficult for trans people to survive. Many young trans women didn’t even have support from their own families. As soon as their identities went public, their families disowned them and they weren’t able to finish school and had to leave their homes. Part of them, living in regions, had to leave their land to come to Tbilisi to survive. Imagine if you didn’t even get school education; you had a stressful childhood and saw no acceptance of your identity, and the only thing left to do was to adapt to the market’s demands and save yourself by sex-work. There is an enormous demand for trans on the market, even more for trans than for women. I can say for sure that in Georgia 70% are bisexual, they just don’t recognize it.
Sex work is not our choice. This is an extreme form of self-preservation and a perilous job. First, when I leave the house, I never know if I’m coming back alive or not. I’m certain that if I’m threatened or killed, no one will investigate my case. The government doesn’t protect us and doesn’t care about our existence. Secondly, having an intimate relationship with more than 3 partners per day is devastating for the psyche.
I studied in college and have a profession—I work on hair extensions and have regular customers. That’s because I was lucky having brilliant friends encourage me; in the face of incessant bullying, there wouldn’t even be any talks of education. Even though both my appearance and attire are organic to me and it doesn’t cause much aggression in others, it still hinders my employment. I tried several times to find an office job—everything went perfectly; the interview was successful, but as soon as I had to write down my sex in a form, I was refused for unknown reasons. I haven’t tried since then. By the way, a few days ago, it was the first time that a trans woman was officially hired as a housekeeper in one hospital. There must be many more opportunities like this to revive hope in others. There are myths like trans people don’t want to work. That’s plain wrong – every trans wants to be employed, but because the anti-discrimination law fails to protect us and employers are afraid of us, they leave us with the only risky job that I talked about.
The pandemic was the final straw. I had my income and never bothered anyone for help; I even helped others with clothes and food, but now I’m hopeless. I ran out of my savings a long time ago. I could no longer pay rent and had to vacate the place. Now I temporarily live with my friend, who has a family. She explained my situation to her husband, and they accepted me. I feel embarrassed and try my best not to bother anyone. I can’t live like that much longer.
The government has distributed products as a one-time aid. But I burned through them a long time ago. A friend told me, that they provided this help through citizens’ donations. I couldn’t register as socially vulnerable because I don’t have a residence. Obviously, I didn’t get pandemic help for the self-employed. They require bringing clients with you to prove employment but imagine a trans person doing that. It’s absurd. Everyone betrayed us, everyone left us alone.
Before that well-known story of a trans woman burning herself in front of the City hall happened, we had a meeting. This person was there too. We told each other how difficult it was. She also had a problem with her apartment, she had to leave it and had nowhere to go. In the evening, I heard this, and it pained me. It hurt me as much as it did to her. This was her extreme protest—people are protesting, when they are in a hopeless situation and this protest is a signal to the government to see us and recognize us as human beings. But it turns out that it was more difficult to read the comments below the video footage. They hate us as much as they can. How heartless can a person be to make fun of you in such a difficult time and say that it was a staged show? Will it not be awkward for you, if I explain that we are human beings too, that we read, think, and that it hurts that you hate us so much, for no reason? It’s probably the oppressed people in the shadows, who can’t talk out about their pain and are moving aggression to someone else. Most of them are trolls. Despite so much disgust, there are still many kind people. We are now surviving on private donations—there is an account number for helping trans people and those who take our struggle to the heart are transferring money. Some people are really short of money but still, help us. Can you believe that some of them even transferred one GEL – everyone is doing whatever they can. We are grateful for that. Thanks for recognizing us as human beings and for feeling our pain.
Before this protest, the state blocked us on every channel. They were blinding and defending themselves. We never bothered the state, we didn’t interfere and took care of ourselves as much as we could. We are at a dead end now. We previously also provided information to the government, that many trans people had attempted suicide because of the financial situation, but they didn’t have a reaction. Die—that was the message.
After the protest, Gakharia’s advisor on gender issues has contacted us on the same evening. It scared them. They realized that protest could be contagious and that other trans would appear on the streets the next day. Also, Georgia’s international reputation would be threatened. There were promises, but we received nothing so far.
What do we need? Employment, any kind of employment. Solving the problem of studying and education—knowledge of English is a dream for many. And the guarantee of physical safety. Is it a lot to ask?’’
Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo: Nina Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili