Ana Subeliani, 31 years old, Tbilisi
“I’ve thought many times that my whole personality and life path were determined by my own childhood traumas. I was a talented, open-minded, and curious child. I could absorb everything in the world and shine a bright light in return. I stood on the stage with professional actors; I sang, danced, was an exceptionally good pupil; I was a delightful and happy child. Later, I lost some of my family, there was mourning, poverty, and my mother’s health problems. I was held captive by all this. My social environment was limited to two alternative spaces – school and home, where nobody could see me, nobody noticed my needs, my pains, and in return very often damaged me. I remember suddenly feeling bad, without any reason, and it happened very often. Then I realized it was a psychosomatic reaction to my anxieties, fears, and pain. Being small or dressing poorly often became a source of my humiliation. No one in the family chose to give me love or friendship. And beating a child became a common form of parenting.
I stopped studying, I just couldn’t handle it anymore – I focused all my energy on saving myself. I had to handle everyone, I had to fight completely alone. I left my house very often and wandered outside in the freezing cold for hours. In this way, I felt much safer. Adding to that, I struggled to get passing grades in some subjects in school, but I was winning the national math Olympics, and it was the only thing that I could effortlessly achieve. When I had a chance, I’d lock myself in my room and instead of studying, dance to low-volume music for hours, dreaming about the reality I wanted. I have imagined scenes in detail where I was recognized and welcomed, where I got a lot of love, where they were proud of me. This strengthened me, made me decide to step out of my own shadow to defend myself and fight as hard as I could.
In senior classes, I used to become a rebel, often, I screamed and cursed at boy bullies and in this way, I was protecting myself and others from them. I openly confronted teachers, which treated us without love and injustice – meanwhile, they didn’t mind abusive attitudes from others. But my attitude and wording were upsetting them and they were not sure about me, because I was a good girl. It was heartbreaking for me, that I had to talk for everyone; I would say clearly, but politely, what bothered everybody, and at the same time girls from my class would judge me for arguing with teachers. Instead of being on the side of justice, they always asked me to defend the hierarchy, sometimes with the boys and sometimes with the elders, but I never gave up. In the eighth grade, I sent a letter to the Ministry of education, describing the reality in my school; I was describing facts of injustice and corruption and as a result, within a month the director of the school was fired. If I did this openly, obviously, I’d get labeled as a snitch, and the school itself was actually a small model of the conformist society without values. However I still got my first big win and that was the start of my activism, I guess.
In contrast to school, I have never seen the difference in attitude towards women and men in my family. I found out quite later, that brothers had a lot of privileges compared to sisters; that husbands oppressed wives, that women were forbidden to do many things. I’m very grateful for not seeing such things in my family. I’m very thankful that when I was a little kid, I always heard from my parents, that I was a strong, brave girl, and a fighter, and it was amazing to hear that. My father used to tell me fairy tales before I got to sleep, where I was the main character – “Anuki The Iron-Cutter’’, who was doing heroic things. Probably, such episodes also gave me self-confidence and the ability to get out of any crisis.
So, this already strong and fighter teenager decided, without anyone’s help, to become a student independently and study only if nobody had to spend a single penny for my education. And that’s exactly how it happened. I forced the school teachers to really conduct the lessons well because everyone else was preparing for exams with private teachers. I wasn’t doing it consciously. I became a student with the best scores, with full funding. It was one big step toward independence. From here started a much interesting part of my life – a new chapter, big and interesting connections, I found people who have the same values as I do, and most important – I discovered, that I was not alone. I realized that I had to choose a profession focused on helping people. At first, I was planning to study psychology, then I became interested in social work, and thanks to this I found myself where I most wanted to be. I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to protect children and taking care of them to avoid the pains I was familiar with. By doing so, I seemed to be compensating for my own loss and gave meaning and importance to my own experience. It’s a little bit selfish, but not in a bad way.
I got pregnant when I was 19 years old. Even though this had nothing to do with my plans and dreams, I quickly adapted to the new reality, I immediately fell in love with the creature in me and fell in love with the mother in me. My boyfriend and I were happy to announce to everyone that we were becoming parents, we were so happy with this news. That’s how I suddenly became a wife and a mother at the same time.
Dada was 2 months old when I had the first opportunity to start working with my profession. Before that, one organization, which is focused on human rights, refused to hire me because of my pregnancy. Then I thought that if I missed this chance, then it would be even more difficult for me to establish myself in a professional circle and compete with my colleagues. I knew for a fact that success and financial independence would be the only way for me and for my son to live with dignity. With a two-month-old baby, I spent four days a week in the region, working all day in the field, at the same time I was calming down Levan on the phone and gave advice about taking care of the baby. He was also a first-time father like me. When I got home, I still had to work; the child was on my knees, I held him and at the same time writing reports. I was suffering every minute that I didn’t spend with my baby and I was trying to make it up and sacrifice, which now I think was completely wrong – I was sacrificing myself and didn’t sleep at night. I was waking up at least 3-4 times during the night and at the same time with breastfeeding, I was taking out milk from the other breast to leave, while I would be at work. On the other hand, this process also required constant running between the bedroom and the refrigerator. From the left three days, I spent one to work in the Tbilisi office and two days to study. There was not a single second for myself, nor for pleasure, or relaxation. That’s how started years, full of responsibilities. If my friends were caring about their own development and fun, which is also a crucial need, my baggage would just get heavier and heavier. I always tried to prove that despite the fact that I had a small child, I wouldn’t do the job any less than anyone else and usually I had exceptionally good results everywhere. Each next job was more interesting and responsible than the previous one. I was developing very fast. I did everything I could so that my husband and child didn’t lack anything so that we could have vacations in winter and in summer, our own house, but, of course, I couldn’t do the last one alone. In society, it still looked like, that because all of this, I wasn’t a good enough mother. But Dada’s father was considered as a hero, because he accompanied me on business trips, took the child for a walk, and “helped me’’.
I even worked in the prosecutor’s office for several months, I left that place with protest and conflict, because I was clearly told, that being a woman was my weakness. yes, I came out ahead facing very hard and big competition to get the place in 14 people and also was the best between them. The agreement was this – the one who received the highest score in the most difficult exams would become the head of the newly created department. So, it happened, I was the best one. The Chief Prosecutor and his deputy called me and congratulated me. And then, the guy who took the second place got the position. Nobody would explain to me anything. This guy was also fine with it and adapted quickly to the wrongly obtained position. When I asked for an answer from a female superior, she explained, that although it was true that I met all the conditions, ”in this system, female superiors aren’t welcomed”, she said. I was shocked, I slammed the door and left immediately. Because of my protest, they canceled my week-long study visit to New York and replaced me with another person. Well, in this extremely masculine system, female leaders have suppressed me because of being a woman. Probably, back then I still didn’t have enough experience and strength to protest that in public. I just decided to leave the job, even though I had to stay unemployed with a child.
I told this story to the head of the administration of the Ministry of Justice, who knew me as a professional and I knew him as a public servant with exceptionally right values. I remember his sincere worry, in a few days, he apologized to me instead of others and offered me to join his team. By that time, I got an offer for a much lower salary but an opportunity for a more interesting and proud job. So, I happily accepted the offer. I got involved in the management of the diversion and mediation program together with Tamaz Akhobadze, and we had amazing results in a short time together and our program gained international recognition. Meanwhile, I was leading the grant program and implementing other crime prevention projects. I used to go home when the child was already sleeping and it was the only available opportunity for me to spend time with him. Although, I wasn’t always able to do that. I didn’t use weekends, nor could I use my vacation fully, and even when I did, I was still working remotely. It was hard, but this difficulty was compensated with the sense of satisfaction caused by the great results I got.
Later we, a few like-minded people, set up a Crime Prevention Center and we continued to run programs from there. Already under the new government, we’ve set up a team and program to help released prisoners to return back to society. We worked with Tea Tsulukiani for a year. We constantly had to fight to keep the most important initiatives prioritized, as was the plan. The main conflict appeared when I was asked to hire people from election activists at the Mediation House and I refused. Later, the director of the center was unfairly fired and Tsulukiani’s chief of staff got the position. Tsulukiani declared a personal vendetta to me and Tazo. We were harassed for a month to leave our positions ourselves, but we chose to fight for it. Before we were fired, we made any updates public and then continued our five-year war in court. We won all three instances, we prepared the lawsuit ourselves, questioned the witnesses ourselves, and forced them to confirm Tsulukiani’s actions in court, which wasn’t really comfortable for them. It was torture for us for a long time until we won the case, but we endured everything because we were right and had each other. We have been disobedient, public servants loyal to our principles from day one. We were fortunate to be together in doing an amazingly great job and then win an unprecedented battle.
I always say that I’m grateful to Tsulukiani. If she didn’t fire me, I wouldn’t be able to easily leave the job I loved like my own child. However, after her decision, I started doing no less interesting things and spent my free time taking care of my life. At this time, ”I got time” to divorce my husband. I knew how many obstacles I would have to overcome. I knew no one would support me. And, so it happened – I went through the most difficult process, which led me to health problems and even police involvement. I overcame this and later, I was even able to befriend my son’s father.
After that, there were several years, which probably compensated for previously missed or devoted responsibilities. I started a whole new life with all my might. Dancing turned out to be the main source of release again, as it was when I was 12-13 years old. But in this case, I wasn’t locked in a room, I danced with others, tirelessly, with all my energy! It was time to understand and research myself, time to have adventures, time of merging myself with the world, time of liberation, the liberation of everything, and everyone. Part of this research was also the study of my own sexuality, observation of my desires, and as a result, the love and acceptance of my own body. Probably during this time, I helped the most people, I had the most resources to do so. I fought to save women, children, and to help the LGBT community, and I did that with enthusiasm and full of energy. I liked the fact that this fight wasn’t related to my job at that time and I had complete freedom, no obligations, only internal motivation. Also, without any obligations, I joined different movements and I had the feeling that I was very powerful, that I had many fighters with me and I was with them. I thought, that we all loved freedom equally and all these fights were, in fact, a struggle for freedom. But the incident of 2018 took the biggest pillar from me. I haven’t been overwhelmed by the aggression of homophobes, or by the aggression of young people and people who hate the progress – the most painful for me was to realize that those I thought were with me, were ready to kick me, when I fell down. Because of my dancing, three frightened men decided to apologize in public for me and brought the tulips to the memorial. How false and cruel was their move. They tried to save themselves to be apart from me when the orcs threatened to kill and torture me.
On the evening of 13th May, we returned home disappointed, and plus to this background, they also tried to take from us the 17th of May. It was clear that this would be an unprecedentedly huge activity of May 17th and we were all in the same battle and the motivation was still high. Clearly, the government didn’t like the reversal of the protest and did everything to create a rift within the community. Despite the officially canceled demonstration, several activists still decided to go to the territory of the chancellery. Others joined us as well and we still celebrated the day against Homophobia and Transphobia. There was complete chaos and madness happening in those days. At work, where I just started for several months and I was full of all this accumulated enthusiasm, I went through unbearable bullying. I no longer had the strength to fight and to be honest, I didn’t want to fight against them either. I got accusations that I was politically engaged and that I for some reason, don’t have the right to fight against this. It’s ridiculous, but then it was painful and touching for me.
At this time, I received a lot of disgust and boundless love from complete strangers. It was very confusing. In such a case, the mind works hysterically. You think that you’re the hero and the victim at the same time. You get additional responsibilities that you can simply no longer carry on. In addition to this, I destroyed relationships with close people and survived the first physical attack on the festival, with all its accompanying brutally traumatic experiences. Everything in my life fell down like dominos and turned into depression and anxiety disorder. I could probably talk the most about this period in my life, but it’s still fresh and difficult for me. I know that I haven’t overcome it yet and maybe I will one day, but it will still leave horrible scars on me.
I received more scars over and over again, both spiritual and physical. I had chaos in personal relationships as if I was finding something special and real and then there was destruction. I’m overly sensitive and emotional. Or rather, I was and probably will never be the same. I’ve made huge compromises for love. But the problem, often was my freedom and strength, my activism, my honesty, the number of my ex-partners, and even my motherhood – everything that is part of my life and makes my own history and that I’ll never be ashamed of.
I also have a real scar on my eyebrow. I followed a few queer people according to their request to the cinema ‘’Amiran’’, I could protect them and other people there, but I couldn’t save myself from danger. My relatives saw me in blood in live broadcasts. I remember the terrible pain, thinking that I had lost my eye and that this was the beginning of my torture. I went through that too and stood on my feet again.
Today I am already a big girl, or rather, a woman. I’m a completely independent, strong woman with weaknesses, that I finally accepted in myself. I love my life. If I had a chance to go back, I wouldn’t change anything. I know now, that I’ll be able to stand up after any fall. I know that I have to take care of myself and love completely in order to be able to do good things and also, that I simply feel good.’’
Author: Anna Subeliani
Photo: Salome Tsopurashvili
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili