Besik Kutateladze’s Journey from Kutaisi to Becoming a Professor at the University of Florida

Besik Kutateladze

“I am from Kutaisi and this is a big part of my identity. Being from Kutaisi can be felt very much in my way of speaking or thinking. But perhaps the biggest part of me is that I am the husband of an extraordinary person and the father of three extraordinary children” — this is how Besik Kutateladze begins to introduce himself to the readers of Aprili Media, adding that 80% of his existence is spent thinking about and taking care of his family.

46-year-old Besik Kutateladze has been living in the USA for 22 years. He is a professor of criminal justice and criminology at Florida International University. His experience and expertise is in prosecutorial reform in America, and he works with many prosecutors’ offices for this purpose. Besik helps prosecutors use statistical and social methods to introduce and implement reforms beyond legal analysis. Currently, he uses elements of artificial intelligence to simplify the work of prosecutors and to do routine tasks not by hand, but by machine. As a result, they can spend their time and intelligence on tasks where AI is not productive.

Childhood and Student Years in Kutaisi

Besik recalls that his childhood experiences are mostly positive — he had good parents, grandparents, friends. He also spent his student life in Kutaisi, and graduated from Akaki Tsereteli University.


“Society wants us all to think the same way, dress the same way, pray the same way, read the same book. In the part of people, anything that is different instinctively causes a negative feeling”.


“I had a pretty happy life in those years, despite the fact that there was financial hardship and crime. Now when I come to Tbilisi, I think that people were happier then. We all had the same problems and this equality created a sense of solidarity in the society. We shared what we had.”

Photo: Besik Kutateladze’s personal archive

He says that sexual orientation was such a taboo, that he probably realized this fact first, and only then that he was gay. He didn’t have enough information himself and he didn’t talk about it.

“It is impossible to erase people’s queerness. The more pressure there is, the more resistance there will be,” says Besik Kutateladze.

He remembers that he was probably different at the university, he had long hair and wore colorful clothes, when the “acceptable” colors for men were only black and dark blue, which caused irritation and ridicule from the Kutaisian mafioso-likes.

“Especially because I was walking to the university and had to pass 3-4 spots and take some comments. There were naive taunts: “Beso, write our physics homework”, they called him “pederast” and so on. He either pretended he did not hear it, or smiled and passed.”

He believes that this experience strengthened him, because he knew exactly what he wanted to achieve in life, and the opinion and comments of these people should not affect his goal.

“If these experiences don’t break you, they will make you stronger. In my case, all this made my skin thicker and in some ways helped me in my career in America, it is not easy to influence me. I have my goal, I know how to achieve this goal, I focus absolutely on it and block out the noise around me.”

 

“I knew I had to work hard, go abroad and continue my career there”

After finishing his bachelor’s degree, he continued his studies at Ivane Javakhishvili State University in Tbilisi. He recalls that scientific works were translated from Russian then, and Russians translated from Germans or Americans. He also emphasizes that he cannot generalize this to all professors.

“Basically, it was the level of science,” Besik says, adding that he always wanted to be a professor, but to do that you either had to be related to someone or you had to pay someone.

“I knew I had to work hard, go abroad and continue my career there. Perhaps, not being okay with bribery also helped me in my decision to leave. I looked at my career in America, I took positive steps in my education and my personal life.”


“We are descendants of primitive tribes where everything different was either eaten or destroyed. Despite evolution, this psychological mentality has remained with us. We think that everything that is different is against us and our family”.


He was able to accept himself only in America, where he saw that there was nothing wrong with queerness and that not accepting himself would hurt him the most. At first, he thought his sexual orientation was a psychological illness and was looking for ways to “cure”, but one of his professors explained that it was not so.

“I didn’t want to be gay, it was unacceptable to me, because society directly or indirectly instilled it in me. Society does not care whether it will happen at the expense of your misfortune or not. Society wants us all to think the same way, dress the same way, pray the same way, read the same book. In the part of people, anything that is different instinctively causes a negative feeling. We are descendants of primitive tribes where everything different was either eaten or destroyed. Despite evolution, this psychological mentality has remained with us. We think that everything that is different is against us and our family. Perhaps this is the explanation for this level of homophobia,” Besik says.

Family

He talked to his parents about his sexual orientation after he met Glenn and decided to get married. According to Besik, it was a matter of respecting Glenn, and besides, his love should have outweighed the fear and discomfort of talking to his parents about it.


“No matter how much I claim that I am strong and I know what is good for me and other people’s opinion is secondary, family support is important for all people, we are social creatures.”


“I found the strength to tell my family. Everyone was shocked. I said, I am marrying this person, I love him. This upset many people and it took time to sort out relationships. By the way, even after that I could not get them to say that they knew about it. I still can’t believe that you cannot see this in your own son. My mother still says that she was in absolute shock, she couldn’t believe it. Maybe she didn’t want to believe and was convincing herself like me. I still remember my mother telling me that my father’s son could not be impotent. For her, being gay meant not being able to have an erection. She couldn’t understand why you would be gay if you had an erection. Do you understand how little information there was?”.

He says that he had relationships before, but not in such a way that providing information to the family was considered necessary. Despite this, it was heartbreaking when his partners’ families did everything to support them, and he didn’t have the support system he wanted.

“I can’t say that it doesn’t matter. No matter how much I claim that I’m strong and I know what’s good for me and other people’s opinion is secondary, family support is important for all people, we are social creatures,” says Besik.

He tells us that he first talked to his sister, and then to his mother. He says it was very difficult, but the first step is always the hardest.

“My family was not happy or excited about it, but they love me and ultimately accepted me for who I am. We may not talk about this topic every day, but we talk about my husband and children almost every day, and it has become a part of their lives. Everyone adapts to everything. Ultimately, a parent wants their child to be successful and happy, this is a stronger instinct than “I am so ashamed of my neighbors”. A parent will find the strength to overcome this moral dilemma and think less about neighbors and relatives. I hope for this. My parents did it. You know what they will say in Kutaisi – “Beso became a wife”. It is easier for me, I am here, and more difficult for them, they are there. People probably walk around on tiptoe and ask questions like that, but over time everything normalized,” says Besik.

He says that his whole family idolizes his husband, and as a person and a professional, he thinks his mother likes Glenn better than him.


“It is impossible to erase people’s queerness. The greater the pressure, the greater the resistance.”


“Over time, all this was sorted out. Perhaps they had no other choice, but they found the strength themselves and see that this will not change. Maybe they don’t even see a relationship like ours among the heterosexual couples around them and think that it doesn’t matter what happens in our bedroom, the main thing is that we love and respect each other”.

Besik and her husband, Glenn, have three children. After the birth of the children, Besik’s parents went to America.

ბესიკის მშობლები ბესიკისა და გლენის შვილებთან ერთადBesik’s parents with children of Besik and Glenn. Photo: Besik Kutateladze’s personal archive

Everyone tries to communicate with each other frequently. Children also know Georgian. Besik tells us that after arriving in Georgia, they improve their language, but when they return to America, they forget it. He is thinking of bringing his children to a Georgian school for a year so that they don’t lose their connection with Georgia. However, he is worried about possible awkward questions, the possibility of bullying.

He tells us that in some matters they are more conservative parents than many families in Georgia. He shares their methods of raising children: healthy food, no computer games, joint entertainment activities for parents and children, only half an hour of TV during the day, and programs that are appropriate for the specific age of the children.


“Ultimately, a parent wants their child to be successful and happy, this is a stronger instinct than “I am so ashamed of my neighbors”. A parent will find the strength to overcome this moral dilemma and think less about neighbors and relatives. I hope for this. My parents managed did it.”


“I see that children in Georgia have phones. I understand that it is difficult to entertain children with something all day, parents do not have the opportunity to create something productive for the children for 10 hours. The state does not care about it. Which parent in Georgia has the means to keep their children busy during the summer with productive activities? Why is the government not thinking about this? This should be a priority,” Besik says.

As one of his relatives would say, Glenn and Besik are “people with an address”. This means the love of planning everything in advance. Both were informed from the beginning what to expect from their relationship. Besik tells us that they made the decision of parenthood very thoughtfully and they are more prepared for problems. It took them a lot of thinking, emotional maturation, planning, thinking about finances and what is best in terms of education and health. According to Besik, the life of the couple changed radically after the children.

Besik and Glenn with their children. Photo: Besik Kutateladze’s personal archive

“When you become a parent, you are left with 5% of your personality and identity, but I am extremely happy and grateful to have them. The time spent with them is the most important. They are extraordinary. Once you get to know them, it’s impossible not to fall in love with them. Probably every parent thinks this way about their child, and I am no exception”.

He also says that raising children is not only buying food, taking them to school, etc. It is actively, emotionally and physically involved in their daily life.

Environment in Georgia and Environment in America

He tells us that the life of a gay person in Georgia and America is different because the state protects them in America.

“There will always be people who want to hate someone and refuse to gather information. But here I consider myself safe,” Besik says, adding that the most important difference is that in the US he does not have to talk about his sexual orientation at all, neither at work, nor at his children’s school, nor anywhere else.


“The main question that remains towards my family is: “Don’t these children want a mother?!” Interestingly, women who ask this question mostly have husbands who are not involved in raising children. They imagine that two people like her husband are raising children. Based on their experience, they cannot believe that the father can provide parenthood, take care of health care, nutrition, hygiene, education, sports, physical development”.


“We will have to talk about this topic in Georgia until everything is settled and people are able to live with dignity. Everyone wants to focus on other factors, entertainment, education, travel, love, beauty, career, and not on LGBT activism, but this should not the case in Georgia now.”

He recalls that in previous years, before he spoke publicly about his orientation in Georgia, when he arrived in the country, when bringing his children to entertainment events or various circles, he refrained from saying that they have gay parents. He says he never lied that he had a wife, because it would be insulting to Glenn, but he avoided answering the questions.

“Then I started talking about it and the news that these children have two fathers spread very quickly.”

He tells us that there was a break of about a week from the parents of the other children, and then they invited us to a birthday party.

“This party was a big coming out, bigger than I’ve ever done anywhere. We walk into a party with maybe 100 people. Everyone tries not to look at us, but it feels like this topic has already been discussed. Everyone received us exceptionally well. Maybe a few people refrained from commenting, coming, etc., I don’t know, but those who were there were in a very positive mood. This continued in other meetings as well. However, I realize that this is a bubble and it doesn’t always happen like that”.

Besik with his children. Photo: Besik Kutateladze’s personal archive

He also says that when the drivers ask Glenn about who his foreign guest is while traveling by taxi in Georgia, he answers that it is his husband. Mostly confusion or silence, but never a negative incident.

“People who have made homophobic statements about me send me messages. For them, there is my orientation on one side and my family and children on the other side. These two aspects are somehow separated from each other”.

He tells us one example, when his close relative, who praised Besik’s family, went to the “Family Purity Day” march the next day.

“He is an extraordinary, good person. I haven’t heard anything bad from him and I’m very surprised by the two opposing positions you can take in 24 hours – express admiration for our family, our relationship and love, and on the other hand, march to defend the “sanctity of the family” against families like mine. I wrote him, is it really you? He began to convince me that he does not have any discriminatory attitudes towards LGBT people, but he must protect the sanctity of the family.”

Speaking on this topic, he also mentions that he has many friends in different political parties in Georgia who contact him personally, although they refrain from public activities on his Facebook page, because they are well-known and probably do not want to lose voters.

He wants to help Georgia in the reform of the prosecutor’s office, but he says that inclusion of a person like him in these processes, from a political point of view, can be “disastrous”.

Activism

We asked Besik what made him decide to speak publicly, to which he briefly answered: “a sense of responsibility”. Then he added that when he found out what kind of negative attitude there was towards LGBTQIA+ people in Georgia, he felt obliged to do something to change the reality, to stand by the other members of the community.


“If these experiences [insulting, ridicule] do not break you, they will make you stronger. In my case, all this made my skin thicker and helped me in my career in America.”


“Glenn and I are quite private people and that’s how we prefer to live. Before we made the decision to go public, we talked about it a lot: should I make Facebook account, should I give interviews, etc. The next big step was thinking about whether or not to post photos of the kids. This was a step taken as a result of three months of discussion. It’s one thing to make yourself the object of insults, but you don’t want your children to experience insults because of you,” Besik says, adding that the audience’s reactions were much more positive than negative or even neutral, especially for their children.

He recalls that when he spoke with his sister Tamta in a video interview before Pride Week, some users, mostly trolls, wrote negative comments, but “such awful things were written, if you pay attention to that, you are not ready for this, i.e. And it doesn’t matter to me. Who wants to hear abuse? But it has no effect on me”.

He says he know that speaking up increases the risks and someone may insult him ​​or even touch him on the street, but he is aware of these risks.

“I wanted to show a positive model that gay relationships are not what stereotypes exist in Georgia, that there is no stability, we don’t know love, we do all this just for sex, etc. I wanted to break these stereotypes. I don’t know how successful I was, but I think some people saw another option for LGBT people to live together.”

Myths and reality

We also talked to Besik about the common myths that are sometimes part of the homophobic campaign.

“The most important question that remains for my family is: “Don’t these children want a mother?!” Interestingly, those women who ask this question mostly have husbands who are not involved in raising children. They think that if they leave their children with their husbands for a week, they will not find them alive. Imagine that two people like her husband are raising children. Based on their experience, they cannot understand that the father can provide parenting, take care of health care, nutrition, hygiene, education, sports, physical development. They generalize their experiences to gay couples,” Besik says, stressing that just because you’re gay doesn’t automatically mean you want to have or not have children, and it depends on the person, not the sexual orientation.


“Life is short and often difficult. We all need each other to get through the difficulies. Especially since we are such a small nation. We all need to support each other and treat each other with kindness.”


Photo: Besik Kutateladze’s personal archive

Recently, false information was shared on social networks that an Australian couple adopted a child in Russia and turned them into a sex worker. The post had dozens of comments from Georgia.

“When I read the comments, I was shocked that people can imagine such things. These people do not think about the sexual violence that actually exists in Georgia. I am amazed. There are so many opinions on some mythical issue when children in front of you are being abused and you are not actively fighting against it. For me, a 15-year-old girl is a child and the most at risk in Georgia. If we don’t talk about this topic, how do we choose priorities?! It is clear that these topics are brought in and are of political interest, but still. If we explain all this to people, won’t they change their focus? They are angry about some made-up story. Maybe some stories are not invented, but is this a priority in Georgia now? When our children are dying, when violence against women is a daily and every-minute reality?!”.

We also asked about the homophobic opinion that queer couples raise children in a “perverted way” and “backwards”. After a few seconds of pause, Besik told us that he was trying to understand what is meant by depravity and he could not understand it.

“If they will tell me what exactly they mean, I will answer. If they mean that children will read Oscar Wilde, listen to Tchaikovsky or Freddie Mercury, I don’t consider this perverted,” Besik told us, with anger in his voice. He explained there that the question does not bother him, the existence of such an opinion does.

Another myth is that gay people are only interested in sex. According to Besik, this is both a myth and a reality, because if a person grows up in an environment where sexual relations are such a taboo, when they find a way to express themselves, they may have more partners and have sexual experiences than a person who has not experienced stigmatization of this issue for years.

“Life is short and often difficult. We all need each other to get through the difficulies. Especially since we are such a small nation. We all need to support each other and treat each other with kindness”, – adds Besik Kutateladze.