Lesbians struggling to survive in Azerbaijan
W e found a place in a crowded downtown café in a shopping centre. Nigar is rather short and makes brusque movements like a teenager, but well-kept hair and neat make-up reveals a girl who takes care of her external appearance. Her eyes were downcast and she looked uneasy. Her answers were short and succinct, but she agreed to say her real name and the school she studies at saying ‘no problem!’. She has an open profile on Facebook, with her real name and surname.
As I look at her, I recall a story I watched on a local channel a few years ago. Journalists were interviewing a lesbian girl in her home. The questions and answers given during the interview had disappeared from my memory, but I vividly remember the scene: how she tried to bury her face into her hair, how she looked sideways and her answers were short and sullen.
Nigar doesn’t appear to be hiding anything. Her answers are brief not because she is cautious; rather, she looks at some things light-heartedly.
Nigar is 19 years old. She is a second-year student studying translating at the Odlar Yurdu University. She came out to her cousins and some of her group mates.
“Everybody accepted it as something normal,” she said firmly.
Nigar was only 8 years old when she realised she was attracted to girls. “When I saw kissing scenes in movies, I noticed that I liked girls more.
” She had her first girlfriend when she was 12. “We met online, in a chat room. She was 18 years old. We often talked on the phone, and she would come to pick me up. I missed my classes in the seventh grade all through May, as I was dating her: we spent all our days together. There was no love between us: it was probably just attraction. Mom suspected something and made a big deal over it, and soon the entire school found out. It was clear that no one accepted it; I lost all of my friends.”
That’s when Nigar made her first attempt to come out – she tried to explain to her mother that she was attracted to girls. “Apparently, she did not understand it fully,” said Nigar. “That conversation has been forgotten for good.”
Nigar was not scared when she realised that she was different, and instead maintained a positive self-image: “Since I was 12 I have been reading about homosexual relations online – I learned everything about them. I realised I was not weird or a bad person.
“I think that that feeling of being abnormal mostly comes from your family. My family members do not pressure me, mainly because they know nothing about it.” Nigar is not happy about it though. “I do not want to hide. Yes, I plan to leave after I graduate, but it would be easier for me if my mother knew that I was a lesbian.”
Nigar said her mother has a hostile attitude towards all homosexuals:
“If she sees a report on homosexuals being beaten or killed on TV, she enthusiastically approves: “I would also kill them!” I think if she finds out about my orientation, she will definitely reject me.”
Nigar suspects that her mom knows ‘something is wrong’ with her daughter. “She carefully watches over my communication with girls, but she doesn’t object to my interaction with guys.”
Nigar has tried having relationships with men: “Our neighbour came from England recently to attend his brother’s engagement. We started to talk and were dating for a month or so, but nothing happened. It did not go anywhere. I went out on a date with him, and looked at the girls passing by. He did not understand what the matter was.”
“Where do you meet girls?” I asked Nigar. “Mostly on the internet,” she replied. “But these relationships do not always go very far. Sometimes it’s just kissing. Now I’m single. My previous relationship lasted 7 months – it was also the longest one – and ended two years ago. I still love that girl, but she doesn’t want to come back to me.”
Nigar is not always impressed with the Facebook community:
“The girls from that community sleep with almost anyone and take drugs. That seems disgusting to me.”
Otherwise, Nigar is just an ordinary girl. She studies at university, walks with friends and goes to the cinema.
U nlike Nigar, Narmina had to face discrimination and unfair attitudes in society: “I was a member of the Organization of Young Students in College. One of my good acquaintances was also a part of it. Then gossip started circulating that she was in a relationship with me. The girl wanted to stand for the chairman of the organization, but the rumors reached the tutors. She was not allowed to become chairman. Their argument was the following: “We will not allow a lesbian to become chairman in this college.” The thing is that she wasn’t even a lesbian.
“I did not wait for them to force me out of the organization and left myself. They did not even listen to me when I tried to explain my friend was not a lesbian.
“They learned about my orientation in college. I stopped relations with everyone. All were gossiping about me behind my back and laughing in my face.
“Soon many guys did not allow their girlfriends to communicate with me. Now I have a job, and if they find out about my sexual orientation at my workplace I will be fired. About 90 per cent of those working here are homophobes.”
When an employee is fired, they rarely write the real reason for their dismissal. Most often the reason is far-fetched. Although Narmina can go to court and challenge the decision, she does not want more problems. “If they find out at my workplace, I’ll leave, I will not fight.”
The director often calls Narmina into his room and asks: “Do you have gay friends?” “We are friends on Facebook, he sees my posts and comments supportive of the LGBT community. I have not been accused of being a lesbian directly. They probably assume that I’m just a humanist and tolerant towards homosexuals.” He calls Narmina to his office and talks for hours, trying to liberate her from “dangerous thinking”.
Narmina’s family does not know she is into girls:
“My parents are religious and will never accept it. I remember how my mother once said: ‘It’s better to die than to learn that one of your children is gay.’ Therefore, I am silent and do not think about the future – I would like to live today.”
Narmina is very attached to her mother: “I wanted to tell her so many times:
‘Mom, your beloved daughter is not what you think.’ But it feels to me that after these words I would just die. I was close to suicide.” Although she is not financially dependent on her family, her attachment to her mother prevents her from moving to a more “tolerant” country.
Narmina went to a popular therapist once. Among his patients are many celebrities. He graduated from Moscow State University. During the therapy sessions the “psychologist” began to molest the girl. “He assured me that he would arouse my interest in men. He said that I would not even lose my virginity. It’s good that I did not meet with him, we just corresponded, and he wasn’t going to charge me for consultations, as I was supposed to pay back with my body.”
D inara is an overt ‘dyke’ – that’s how she talks about herself. ‘Dyke’ is a slang word used to describe assertive lesbian girls of more masculine behavior, though it is often offensive. She has a short haircut and wears sportswear. In general she is one of those with her orientation ‘written on her face’.
Dinara has her father’s support, which is not typical for Azerbaijani men.
“My mother on the other hand is very aggressive and insults me often. She says that I bring unhappiness to girls.”
Her mother forced her to part with her girlfriend. “She found me while I was talking to her on the phone, grabbed the phone from me, scolded and beat me. Then she invited the girl home to talk. As a result, my girlfriend became disinterested in me, and one day I received a wedding invitation from her [she was getting married to someone else].”
“Yes, although I am a ‘popular subject’ to talk about, although I am a ‘dyke’, I live here, I am a Muslim and I take part in the ‘oruj’ fasting. People often tell me: “Why do you fast? It will not be counted, God does not tolerate a lesbian lifestyle.” Maybe I commit sins, but I try to fast and do good deeds, so that Allah will forgive my sin. Recently, one person told me that I am a shiitan (demon), I was so hurt.”
Dinara believes that ‘excessive passion’ damages the LGBT community. Dinara says that if lesbian girls were not so temperamental, did not show their feelings in public, there would be more pure love, and attitudes towards them would be better.
Dinara has been in a relationship with her girlfriend for more than four years. “We are not allowed to meet or communicate, they try to interfere in every possible way but we like each other very much. When we both turn 18 we will leave. She is only sixteen at the moment. I have to remain silent for her sake.”