I met Monica, who I have not seen in a couple of years, in Antwerp. She gave me such detailed directions, that you could tell this city is already her home. I interviewed her in an open café, where she talked to the staff in a very vibrant, interesting Dutch. Sometimes she would forget words in Georgian and then would say it in English, which she later joked about.
Antwerp is a beautiful cozy small town in Belgium. On narrow streets, you will often see rainbow flags, queer bars and different LGBTI symbols displayed in shop windows.
Monica tells us that she decided to leave Georgia and sought asylum in Europe 4 years ago.
“As you know, the situation in Georgia regarding the rights of LGBTQI community is very complicated and many people are hostile towards the subject. Constantly fighting exhausted me and I realized it was about time I did something for myself. I came to Belgium 4 years ago and started from zero“ – Monica remembers.
While leaving in Georgia, Monica was an activist and a human rights defender. She tells us that she was trying her best to change things and do good for the community. She was a manager of the Telavi bureau of the Equality Movement.
“Living in Telavi was very challenging for a transgender woman. Everybody in the street knew me. They were not aggressive, but they would stare and say, “that’s her” and things like that, which was unpleasant“.
Source: Monica Tigishvili/Facebook
Self-examination and coming out
Monica tells us that she started examining herself from childhood, but she did not give it a name, because she did not know there was a name for it.
“You know everything even as a kid, you just don’t know what to call this state. You have questions: “why am I like this?“, “why do I feel like this?”, “why am I not like other kids?” But, I also have to say that this did not get in the way of me having a good childhood. I had very good friends and family. When I grew up and started to name things, I did not hide anything. As soon as I knew that I was a transgender woman, I came out publicly, in about a week“.
I gave my mother knowledge that was important for her to understand that her child is not sick, she is a normal person, a normal girl, and should be accepted as she is. All of this had results and now we are closer than ever. She calls me my girl.
Monica says that time passed very soon, and she still has the same emotions she did when she came out 6-7 years ago. She is still as proud of herself and feels joyful.
“It was a very important step in my life to say who I was in reality and to make effective changes for my rights and my life.“
She also tells us that her family’s reaction was very harsh in the first year, so she does not really remember this time because of being stressed.
“But I do not give up that easily, especially with the people I love” – she says. She remembers that she communicated a lot with her mother who lived in a different country then, and sent her links and literature about gender identity.
“I gave her knowledge that was important for her to understand that her child is not sick, she is a normal person, a normal girl, and should be accepted as she is. All of this had results and now we are closer than ever. She calls me my girl. I do not hide anything from her, try to tell her what’s going on in my private life, and ask for her advice. She has my back, like my sister and other members of my family“.
“It was so unfamiliar and new, that even the sky looked different, different from the one in Georgia“, – this is how Monica remembers the first day of emigration.
She says that this scared her, but she tries to focus on the positives more, so she did not feel like she could not handle something, that she had to give up and go back to Georgia.
When the arrived in Belgium, her friend met her at the airport who she lived with for 5 days. After that, she went to a reception for asylum seekers in Brussels.
First year is the most stressful. You feel bad and confused. It’s very complicated. It’s not like I came to Europe, so I have lot of money and everything is alright.
“I do not like Brussels. Probably because it’s associated with the memory of the reception. I went there at 5:00, and there were a ton of people in the line. I could not figure out what to do or how, I just followed along, and I was also ashamed of this many people. I had mixed emotions. This affected me so much, that it still gives me goosebumps to remember it.“
She also told us about the hardships, stress and uncertainty that comes with emigration.
“It’s a rocky road. Psychologically, it’s very hard to overcome. First year is the most stressful. You feel bad and confused. It’s very complicated. It’s not like I came to Europe, so I have lot of money and everything is alright. You have to fight for everything and prove that you can really do this and really want it. Many people think that it’s easy in Europe, it’s easy to make money here. If you do not work, and overcome your fears, nothing will come out of it. It’s certainly not easy.“
Monica says that she’s doing what she loves now. She works at the Read Cross and helps Ukrainians with the process of integrating in Belgium. She is also an activist and participates in different demonstrations with others, mostly to support Georgia’s approach towards west.
Source: Monica Tigishvili/Facebook
“We want to be a part of Europe – we want Georgian people to be provided with similar conditions that Europeans have. For us, Georgian immigrants, it’s very important that our voice reaches EU parliamentarians, the people, and other structures, so we can tell them that even though our government is pro-Russian, Georgian people want a European future.“
According to the law, Monica can become a citizen of Belgium in a year. Besides being in the country legally for 5 years, she also needs a two-year working experience, integration courses, and learning one of the state languages (Dutch, French, or German), which are taught at schools for migrants.
In a year, Monica will be able to travel, and also come to Georgia. I asked her if she is planning to go back. Her answer was very short and specific:
“No, I will never come back to Georgia.“
She says that she will come back for a month at most, to see her family members and friends who she misses a lot and has not seen since leaving the country.
“I definitely have to see my niece, who is a lot like me, physically and with her character. I have never seen her in real life. I want to hug and cuddle her.“
But she does not want to live here anymore. She says that in Belgium, she feels free and respected.
Life is not just the negatives. Something good will always come along.
“After I left Georgia, I started a new life. I worked and struggled a lot to achieve something that makes me happy. I don’t feel frail here. Law protects me, nobody insults me, and I can be who I am. This is what’s been important to me as a human, to live and be respected, without additional complications and pain“ – she says.
At the end of the interview, she also addressed Georgian queers:
“Be strong. Fighting is always meaningful. If you think that you are tired and don’t want to be fighting all the time, remember that we are only born once. You decide how you do what. I hope that all of you will be happier than you imagine it now. If you ever feel bad and see only the negative side of everything, remember that life is not just the negatives. Something good will always come along. Be strong and have courage.“