Helena's story

I am a feminist and a "political" lesbian

A lesbian from Kazakhstan - about how she was afraid of accepting herself and how it became easy when she did it, about the real situation of LGBT people in Kazakhstan and her own radical discourse

My name is Helen Norths, I am 25 years old, I live in Almaty and I am a lesbian.

I never fell for guys. Only once I was dating a guy. I tried to "follow the crowd." The attempt was unsuccessful. We had no intimacy. Basically we chated, sometimes walked in the evenings around the city. Once kissed. Talking to him was not particularly interesting, and in general we had no topics to discuss.

Our "relationship" lasted less than a month. Perhaps it was thanks to them that I finally realized that I was not drawn to the guys.
Lesbian
a homosexual woman, that is: experiencing sexual, erotic, romantic and/or emotional attraction to the people of her sex or/and gender
EVERYTHING FELL INTO A GROOVE
I met my future first girl at 21
I worked in a beauty salon as an administrator. A new employee came to us. She came out as a lesbian. I remember I took it absolutely easy. I had a lot of questions to her, and I was not ashamed to ask them, she answered openly and frankly.

Then I was completely unfamiliar with the topic of homosexuality, I still could not identify myself, and the questions were stupid. Something like "How do you do this?".

We started to be friends. And then I realized that I had feelings to her. I did not want to call it something, it was very fearful. I thought: "The society is homophobic, the friends and girlfriends will turn away, my mom wants to have grandchildren: she would definitely kick me out of the house. I will be alone, alone with my lesbian nature." Then I didn't even suspect that there is a community, there are people who are ready to support, accept, share experience.

Yes, most of all I was afraid of being left alone, misunderstood and unaccepted, at worst - beaten or killed. I even had thoughts about suicide. Then I wanted to move somewhere in America. And then I decided to merely understand how to live with it.

It was a difficult process. It was a constant challenge of my own opinion and experience, internal disputes about whether I need it. I started seeking information. I read various publications in social networks, surveys, articles, notes, personal stories. This helped to admit the very idea that I was a lesbian. Plus, the internal deviant rebel played its role: I wanted to realize myself as soon as possible and shout what I were and who I were.

Finally, I myself "sold" the idea of how important it is to call a spade a spade. And everything fell into place. I began to say that I was "in the family." Fears have gone. Except for those associated with violence from homophobes - they can beat in any case, whether I accept myself or not.
Coming out
a process of open and voluntary disclosure by a person of own sexual orientation or gender identity and/or the result of it. The expression comes from the well-established English-language expression "coming out", which in its turn comes from "coming out of the closet" (literally "to come out of the closet", the meaning is "get out of the dark, to open").
Homosexuality
sexual, erotic, romantic and/or emotional attraction to the members of their sex or/and gender
Homophobia
irrational fear of homosexual thoughts, feelings, behavior and people, hostility towards homosexual people. Lesbian-, trans-, and biphobia are defined in the same way
Be in family
colloquial, allegorical designation of LGBT + and belonging to the LGBT community in Russia and the CIS countries
Now I think that sexual orientation can change, can be flexible, fluid
I admit that I can meet and fall in love with a man who does not identify himself/herself as a woman. For example, my partner can make coming out as a trans-man, and then I should decide how I should identify myself: bisexual, pan-sexual, heterosexual?

I am for non-binarity, but in the context of the present, in the context of our country, I say that I am a "political" lesbian and a feminist woman. This is important not to depreciate my partner and clearly identify the position. I am "political" because I want to increase the visibility of questions, challenges, problems, successes and everything related to lesbians.
Transgender
a person whose gender identity and/or gender presentation does not correspond to cultural and social expectations associated with sex attributed at birth. The term is used to designate a wide range of gender identities.
Bisexuality
sexual, erotic, romantic and/or emotional attraction to the representatives of both sexes and/or genders, not necessarily equally and not necessarily at the same time
Pansexuality
sexual, erotic, romantic and/or emotional attraction to people regardless of biological sex and/or gender identity
Heterosexuality
sexual, erotic, romantic and/or emotional attraction to the members of the opposite sex or/and gender
Gender non-binarity
denial of the division into two separate and opposite gender categories - men and women
Feminism
a spectrum of ideologies, political and social movements aimed at achieving equality of political, economic, personal and social rights for women or overcoming sexism.
NOTHING FOR US WITHOUT US
I was carried away with the idea of LGBT activism in 2016
I began attending events and lectures. At the events I often argued. The activists saw the potential in me, offered to speak.

In May 2017, I participated in the lecture course "IDAHOLBIT", timed to the Day of the fight against homophobia, biphobia, lesbophobia and transphobia, I told about lesbophobia. Then I was a co-host of the event timed to the Day of Remembrance of the dead transgender people and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It was a large-scale event, we did lectures, a plastic theater, launched an online campaign, shared live stories. I participated in various fem events, for example, marches on the central Arbat.
LGBT (LGBT+, LGBTIQ, LGBTIQ, LGBTQIA)
The abbreviation "LGBT" stands for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender". The term "LGBT +" is now considered more correct, because it includes by default all possible orientations and identities that cannot be covered by one abbreviation. Also there are abbreviations LGBTI, LGBTIQ, LGBTQIA, where I is intersex people, Q is queer, A is asexuals.
IDAHOLBIT
an International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia
We have an unspoken rule: "Nothing for us without us." This means, for example, that activism aimed at solving the problems of lesbians can only be from the side of lesbians, because it is they who live through this experience. And in public space I "sank" for lesbophobia — I said that it was a separate type of oppression. Their problems remain unnoticed, since they are considered to be either solved, or similar to gay problems, or insignificant.

In my opinion, gay problems were and remain as visible as possible. All over the world they say "gay parade", "gay club", "gay marriage", "gay party", everything is focused on gays. There are gays who have a dislike for feminine gays - that is, gays who look lightheaded and soft. Trans men oppress less than trans women because they choose the male gender role (and she is a priori more privileged), but at the same time less masculine trans men can be subjected to corrective rapes ("Now I will make a woman out of you!").
Gay (homosexual)
A homosexual man who is experiencing sexual, erotic, romantic or/and emotional attraction to the members of his sex or/and gender
Gender role
a set of social norms that determine what kinds of behavior are considered acceptable, suitable or desirable for a person, depending on his gender
Trans women are beaten for abandoning their masculinity, which supposedly "must be" - since you were born with such a set of genitals
Since 2016 I gave interviews many times, the topics have always been associated with feminism and lesbians. I wrote a great article about lesbophobia, it was published on the Central Asian portals Step-Unicorn and Kok.team. There were many offers to participate in various events. All this led to the fact that at the end of 2017 my girlfriend and I founded the initiative pro-feminist group FemPoint.
FemPoint
a group 18+ for LBT*-women with a feminist agenda. "Banned: sexism, misogyny, lesbophobia, biphobia, transphobia (and all other types of phobias), lookism, ageism, bullying, all types of shaming," – is said on the group's page in Vkontakte.
WHY SHOULD YOU BE AFRAID OF US?
All started with the training of one LGBT organization
At this training I realized that we can unite into the initiative group and start small. I shared my thoughts with my girlfriend, and we immediately began inventing a name. We decided that the name should include a "fem" particle in order to show that we solely support women. Lesbians, bisexuals, trans women.

Yes, there is a very narrow and very radical discourse in my head, but I sincerely believe that women of our society are much more depressed than men. Since last year we have been organizing the events, support groups, organizing creative evenings.
One of the recent meetings was when our activists gathered in a city park by the lake, we chatted, shared opinions about various current issues. Everything was cute: pladies, cookies. The main purpose of the meetings was the creation of communication, solidarization, the identification of some problem or aspect, the expression of opinions, consent and non-consent, the conduct of various discussions. In the end all this leads to the unification of the community.

I really wanted and I still want that LGBT people in Almaty and Kazakhstan would come and assert themselves with pride, not hiding and not being afraid. But in the meantime we cannot speak about any freedom, especially in legal issues. Our legislation does not want to protect LGBT people, in the global legal space it is acknowledged as discriminating. Kazakhstan has received some UN recommendations aimed at observance of rights and ensuring the protection of LGBT people, but we clearly see how the authorities reacted to these recommendations.
You don't have to go far: the deputy of the Kazakhstan Parliament Aldan Smayyl, is convinced that it is necessary to adopt a law that will allow to consider us criminals
It would be extremely unsafe for all of us to go to the pride now. The society is mostly xenophobic and homophobic, standing "for traditional values, morality and "normal" families." If you go out into the street holding your girlfriend's hand, they would already boo you, they can spit at your feet, push. And imagine how the society would be "surprised" of the pride! They could also throw stones. But even in this damn building, where I work, I personally know five people who are "in the subject." We are no different from others. Why should you be afraid of us and kill us?

We must, however, recognize that the attitude towards LGBT is heterogeneous. Almaty in this sense is very different from the rest of Kazakhstan. And even in different parts of the capital the level of tolerance is different. I cannot explain this logically, but I constantly see this. In the downtown the people seem to be more advanced. You can even kiss in front of everyone – no one around you would matter. And in the business center where I work, the meetings about feminism, LGBT and human rights are frequently held.
Pride
the tactful name of the gay parades. The action aimed at demonstrating the existence of LGBT people in the society, supporting tolerant attitudes towards them, protecting human rights and civil equality for all people regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
"THIS IS LENA, SHE IS A LESBIAN"
After accepting myself I never concealed my orientation
This was known wherever I worked and I was treated okay. At one job I was once asked: "You speak so much about LGBT, are you a lesbian?". I answered: "Yes." This caused a slight shock, but I did not feel any homophobia; all employees accepted the information adequately.

At another job the colleagues once directly introduced me to a new employee (my internal "radar" identified her as a person from LGBT-community): "And this is Lena, she is a lesbian." The girl said that this was "cool", she did not make an emphasis on this, but she acquainted me with her girlfriends who were also from community. It was through her that I began to meet communities and organizations that were engaged in supporting the LGBT community in Almaty.
Recently I came out at a new job. There are nine people in my department, and only one girl was very surprised, scared and asked: "Are you going to pester me?" I said: "No, I am not interested in you", and she asked a question: "And why?". In general, it is very interesting to observe the reaction when they say: "She's a lesbian!" And all are: "Well, okay".

I told my mother about my orientation a year and a half ago. I have been preparing her for this for two years, threw up all sorts of movies, magazines. Finally I confessed: "Mom, I have a girlfriend, I'm a lesbian." She replied: "Oh, yes, I have known this for a long time." With no questions asked and any negative reactions.

As for the other relatives, their attitude is normal in general.
They are commenting, however, with some sort of condescension, like: "Well, you will play enough, a young girl." This undoubtedly hurts. I would not like to have this attitude to my choice. This is me, this is my essence
In the society I did not face serious problems relating to my orientation. But I think that I was just lucky. Once there was a fight near the LGBT club: a taxi driver was beating a girl. I rushed to set them apart, and also got. When we came to the police to make an application, we were asked like: "What did you do there? Do you know what the club there is? Are you also from them?" It was "light" to us, we were not pressed. But I know the cases when the police did not want to take the applications from my girlfriends, they openly insulted them, they said: "And you, are you also lesbians? And we will not take anything from you, you had your fight with each other, this has nothing to do with us."

Another case: two my friends were kissing in the mall, they were filmed and uploaded to the network. The one who was filming in every way condemned the girls. They sued. The judge first sided with the girls because their right to privacy was violated. And then the decision was changed in favor of the operator. The judge referred to the need to protect the institution of the family, and such as we, destroy it.
The most visible stories are violence against trans women. They are absolutely real, I know these people, their cases are handed over to the police. I know the cases when trans women were robbed, raped, beaten, cut, tortured, something was burnt on their body, they were beaten with kamtcha. As I said, I personally did not come across this, but I do well realize - I was just lucky. No others. Others are beaten, kicked out of the house, subjected to corrective rape. These are all egregious cases, but women are afraid to disclose them, and therefore everyone thinks that there are no problems. And when we go out to shout at all sorts of actions with posters, people ask: "Why are you yelling? Everything is okay!" It may seem that everything is fine, but - no, it is not.

I will keep on supporting the community. Some kind of environment has already been formed, which constantly comes to events, and I want it to grow. I want growth, scale. That not only Almaty was involved, but also other cities of Kazakhstan. That activists would appear, with whom we would change something in our country. Everyone can say "Everything is bad, we need to get out." But my point of view is: if you do not like something - let's change it together.
Kamtcha
a whip, lash, scourge
Corrective rape
a rape committed because of the victim's supposed sexual orientation or gender identity. The goal, from the criminal's point of view, is to "correct" the victim's orientation, to make the victim heterosexual, or to make him/her to behave in accordance with gender stereotypes.
Text: Danil Zhigalin. Photo: Yuna Korosteleva. Illustration: Natalia Makarikhina. Translation into English: Irina Galina. Editing: Anastasia Sechina
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