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As a teenager, Pasha realised himself as a transgender non-binary person, automatically joining the Belarusian ranks of white crows. He also changed three countries in a couple of years because of politics. “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” talked to Pasha about the life of a trans person in Poland, the Belarusian mentality and how to stay in harmony with yourself (and the world), when you are “queer to the maximum”.

Pasha, 24 years old

“For my relatives I was a “lesbian”, a “drug addict” and a “prostitute”…”

The realisation that I am outside the traditional gender paradigm has always been with me. When asked if I was a boy or a girl, I answered, “human.”

Gender is a spectrum. And I’m somewhere between a woman and a man (that’s how I want to see myself). I use the masculine pronouns “he”, “his”…. I’m certainly closer to “it” – but most languages are very gendered, people get confused and say “she”. I was against it, so I decided to go with masculine pronouns.

Yes, my relatives struggled with my identity. For them, I was a “lesbian”, a “drug addict” and a “prostitute”. There was total violence in the family. But I did not give up and in the end I still put them in front of the fact: I am transgender.

As it is common in Belarus, the problems with acceptance of dissent were not only within the family. I felt like a black sheep everywhere: people looked at me with big eyes, but for them I was a “queer to the maximum”. But if you’re in harmony with yourself (which is very important), things like that don’t really touch you.

Pasha, photo from Pasha’s personal archive

“In Poland I feel at the level of normality…”

I left for reasons understandable to all Belarusians: it was simply dangerous to stay at home. My migration path began with Georgia – although it is difficult for me to speak about the attitude towards LGBTQ+ people there, as I was in Georgia for a short time and more as a tourist. But personally I did not have to face any insults or any other degrading situations. On the contrary, Georgians were very nice and hospitable.

However, there was another problem, not related to gender: I did not know either Georgian or English. So I decided to move to Ukraine.

It was freer there: people were more accepting, my transgenderism did not surprise them, or at least did not bother them. I remember only one misunderstanding (by the way, this case made me laugh a lot). Pestered, then, a man came to me with this very thing: “are you a guy or a girl?” – “Man.” The man is indignant: “It’s important! It’s the only thing that matters in life!”. But such cases are the exception rather than the rule.

And then the war broke out and I ended up in Poland. Here I feel myself at the level of normality: nobody looks at me, nobody points fingers, nobody comments (almost). I can do anything I want with myself and everyone will be up to a blue star.

They laughed at me here only once. And it was migrants from post-Soviet countries.

My partner and I were walking through Warsaw, and we met a group of young Ukrainians. It’s a classic: we’re speaking Polish (my partner is Polish), and the guys think we don’t understand them. Well, they start actively discussing me, pointing fingers, laughing … I then say to my partner: “see, this is my reality, this is how I lived all my life – especially before I moved to Poland”.

After the last move, I really breathe better – even when confronted with state structures. Here is a recent example: I was applying for an integration program (after receiving international protection) and had dealings with social representatives. When I honestly told an employee about my mental diagnosis, that I was on the path to receiving a disability, about being transgender and the fear that I would not be accepted, she was at first very surprised and upset, and then asked how to address me correctly and why I didn’t say anything about it right away. It was a very touching moment.

Photo from Pasha’s personal archive

Yes, I don’t have a certificate of transgenderism yet – but the documents from migration and the psychiatry centre have two names in brackets. The one on my passport and the one I use myself.

This is impossible in Belarus. Imagine: I come to the executive committee and say that I’m Pasha….

But even in Poland they used to ask: “Are you applying for yourself? Is this your passport?”. The difference is that here it is enough to directly declare your transgender identity and all questions are cancelled.

In 2022, I found myself at the Warsaw Pride Parade. There were people with children, retirees, teenagers – people of different ages and statuses. It’s an unreal feeling. I walked in the Ukrainian column and saw a lot of people under the Belarusian, Ukrainian and rainbow flags – very cool.

I have a mixed attitude towards the Belarusian diaspora: at the moment my interaction with it is limited to 

advertising my hairdressing services and advertisements about finding an apartment. And yes, even here I was not without toxic comments: I wanted to find an inexpensive house and they almost sent me to Minsk. 

I am sure that such a toxic attitude towards Belarusian people is connected with migration: on the one hand, we seem to be braver and freer here, but on the other hand, there is a lack of resources. Now we are all going through a difficult path, and it breaks us. That’s why some people become more toxic, unfortunately (but, interestingly enough, only on the Internet, so everyone is nice). Such is the Belarusian mentality. That’s why I abstract myself, and even more so I don’t get into confrontations over my identity.

Ideally, I want to live in a country where there is a third marker in my passport, abortion rights (hello, Poland) and the possibility of official partnership in homosexual couples (at least). But, alas, I think we won’t see such a thing in Belarus. It’s a long process, at least two or three generations, and Belarusians are not yet ready to actively support LGBTQ+ agenda.

Of course, we don’t have (at first glance) such an impenetrable homophobia as in Russia, plus all these stereotypes about tolerance of the Belarusian people – but I think the matter is different. It’s just that our mentality is characterised by silence. And it’s not about tolerance and acceptance at all.

Pasha, photo from Pasha’s personal archive

“I will not return to Belarus…”

Even if Lukashenko’s regime falls, I probably won’t return to Belarus. I got to a European country, and yes, I desire values: good education for children, respect for my human rights. I am not going to rebuild the country at the cost of my life and health, but I respect those who are ready to devote their lives to it. And I, too, will do something for the good of Belarus and Ukraine, but in safety.

And what to do now? Some people will say, “It’s not the time for this,” but in my opinion, we should cover the LGBTQ+ agenda. The topic should not be kept silent, because now we are a vulnerable group in a vulnerable group: emigrants and emigrant women, and politically repressed in addition. It is necessary to speak loudly about our problems, to make information campaigns, to rock the media.

P.S. A year ago, I was making a brochure about the experiences of people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other neurodisabilities through the lens of interaction with a hairdresser. Each page had lines in the LGBTQ + flag colours. For me, it’s about visibility, community support, and being able to put a weighty part of my author identity into the material. Another reason for the flag: according to recent studies, neurodiverse people are more likely to identify with the LGBTQ + community (compared to neurotypical people). The brochure now has over 7,000 views – I trust that among them are people from the LGBTQ+ community who cared to see our flag. And for those who don’t belong to the community or are just learning about tolerance, it is at least useful.

The article was created within the framework of the scholarship program of the Free Belarus Center.