Mima's story

When we come out, we add truth and authenticity to society

A lesbian from Croatia - about the difficulties encountered in a deeply religious society, and about coming out as a daily mission

My name is Mima Simic, I am 43-year-old lesbian from Zadar, Croatia, currently living in Berlin, Germany. Coming out as a queer person – or lesbian, in my case – was quite a challenge in the (post)war Croatia of the 1990s.

This socio-political climate was not particularly beneficial for any kind of difference – particularly not the kind that went directly against the new Croatian Catholic and heteropatriarchal subjecthood.
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"). Possible spellings: coming-out, coming out.
Queer
a collective term used to designate the people of different sexual orientations and gender identities who do not correspond to heterosexual or cisgender identity. Also it is often used to describe anti-heteronormative and anti-homonormative identities and beliefs.
Lesbian
a homosexual woman, that is: experiencing sexual, erotic, romantic and/or emotional attraction to the people of her sex or/and gender
TIME OF COMPLETE SILENCE
This was the time of linguistic, social and political denial of non-reproductive sexualities
My favorite example, best illustrative of the context I was growing up in, was when the Croatian national TV abruptly and mid-episode cut the award-winning BBC series Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit off air – only because of a (rather mild, I must say) lesbian scene. The way this televised coming-of-age coming out story was ferociously censored and cut on Croatian TV was pretty much how I felt growing up in Croatia at the time – silenced and censored, even to my own self.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
Semi-autobiographical, dramatic, three-part mini-series on lesbian topics.
So, like many other queers, or misfits and maladjusted folks, I had to leave my home in order to arrive to myself
Indeed, it took moving to the U. K. which produced, rather than suppressed, a variety of LGBT friendly content and contexts, and which gave me language to myself, my desires and emotional (and – why not! – sexual) needs. The moment I came to this awareness, and came out to myself, I was immensely relieved as well as overwhelmed with anger at what I had had to go through to start feeling normal and natural with myself…

And so I swore to myself that as soon as I got back to Croatia, I would be breaking the silence at every step – in every micro- and macro-social context, in every frame and format. And since then, and it has been almost 25 years now, I haven't stopped.
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.
EVERYDAY LIFE AS A BATTLE FIELD
First I came out to all my family (grandmothers included)
I came out to all friends, to colleagues and professors at the University, if the chance was presented; and when I started publishing, I came out to newspapers and magazines – as a writer and film critic who happens to be a lesbian; and then to make it more fun and more effective, I decided it's a great idea to come out on cooking shows, quiz shows, daily political and crypto-political shows, right-leaning dailies, in popular women's magazines…
Meanwhile, of course, not forgetting to keep coming out in the streets, in the elevators, at the gynecologist, to taxi drivers, at the pharmacy… Indeed, when you have a same-sex partner, each small step of your daily life, like taking a stroll, walking the dog, grocery shopping, going to the movies, sitting at a café, etc. becomes a prospective political battlefield.
Will someone find you kissing or holding hands provocative – insulting? Will they decide they have the right to curse at you, spit at you, slap you?
This is, unfortunately, the reality and the flipside of love for queer people; love is always mixed with fear – of rejection, or of violence. To be sure, straight people have their own struggles when their partners are of the "wrong" skin color, ethnicity, religion, or ability… In this sense, the crucial thing is to awaken the need for solidarity and understanding for all the coming outs we all have to do to be true to ourselves, and be proud of how by coming out we all add to the truthfulness and authenticity of the societies and communities we take part in, or belong to.

Homogeneity and national unity that new post-Yugoslav states have been so violently insisting on, and still are, forces all the difference into the closet and turns us all into liars, hypocrites and bullies – and that kind of climate just spells war. And to me, having to live through one was more than enough.
FACT COMPOSITION
I have to stress that my take on the act of coming out has always been ambiguous, to say the least
The scene in which you anxiously prepare to approach someone – be they your parents, peers, or society at large – and eagerly await their affirmative response has always been terribly problematic to me. In this sense I never really came out to anyone.
I never uttered the formulaic phrase: "Mom, dad, there's something I've got to tell you…" No. This would have been just plain humiliating. This framework of "confession" would imply that there was something I needed to repent for and this I find ludicrous and unacceptable. That's why the formulation of "coming out to" for me has always been "coming out at".
Coming out for me was about presenting the facts, without the underlying need for permission or a blessing
"Mom, dad, I have a girlfriend – she is from Norway, studies psychology, and I will come with her to Zadar for a couple of months." Same thing with grandma: "Grandma, I'll come visit you with my girlfriend – we love each other very much but I'm not moving to Romania for her." … Or when the friendly pharmacist, giving me the antibiotics for infection says: "These pills are for you, and these for your boyfriend", I always make sure to correct them: "…girlfriend."

As you can see, to me coming out has always been, and continues to be, a fun and exciting activity – I particularly like doing it in every-day situations, where people don't expect it. I know, it is kind of sad that merely mentioning you have a girlfriend is still the ultimate political act in our territories, but at least I can feel useful to society with very little effort.
WHO WANTS TO BE A… LESBIAN?
When I decided to go on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" show it was exactly this, most pragmatic, activist mission
I wanted to get to as many people as possible in the context that nobody expects to serve as platform for social change or awareness-raising. I don't want to flatter myself too much, but if you come out on the most popular show, on the ultimate Catholic holiday, Easter – you are basically being the first lesbian millions of people of Croatia and the ex-Yu region have ever seen. (in 2011 the Zagreb Pride Committee named me the Croatian LGBT person of the decade).

To be fair, with that hairdo I wasn't much of an advertisement for the lesbian subculture, but I won a lot of money and thus also the respect of the audiences, so I think it was a quite successful activist mission that I'm still terribly proud of.
Mima on the show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"
Zagreb Pride Committee
is a non-hierarchical group of individuals and it is logistically supported by Zagreb Pride Organization, founded in 2008 as a non-governmental organization. Pride receives funding from the City of Zagreb and a number of international human rights organizations and embassies. The Zagreb Pride Organization is a member of InterPride, EPOA, IGLYO, ILGA-Europe and in 2010, together with Lesbian Organization Rijeka and Queer Zagreb, it was the founding member of Croatian first national LGBT association - Center for LGBT Equality.
And I always like to say that even if I wasn't a lesbian, I would want to be a lesbian.This kind of difference, which makes you come into friction with your surroundings pretty much on a daily basis is the ultimate litmus test for the people in your life.

Incredibly enough, I never lost a single friend (I have 5000 on facebook, and not even all of them are lesbians!), or a member of the family, to coming out. If anything, it has brought us closer together and more appreciative of each other's differences and uniqueness. I am only afraid that, if one day I fall in love with a guy, I would have to stay in the closet, because right now I am probably the most visible lesbian in Croatia – and as long as I hold that title, I will have to lie about not fancying men at all.
Currently I live between Zagreb and Berlin. Berlin is a vegan paradise, and since my life is mostly about food and cats right now, this is a good spot to work from. The rise of neo-conservatism and new forms of fascism across Europe, Croatia as well, forces me to step away and recharge a bit before I go back to the front lines. At my age most activists are already burnt out – but to me humour and fun have been the ultimate formula for activist longevity. So right now I'm planning on winning the European Song Contest with a lesbian love song, and I am hereby inviting Jelena Rozga (famous Croatian pop singer) to join me on back vocals. I hope she is reading this.
Jelena Rozga
popular Croatian singer
Now Mima is a candidate for the European Parliament, representing a new political platform in Croatia, called "We Can!" – a part of a "Green Left" coalition. And she now feels that all of the work she has put into activism, can be transferred in politics too, and that "we all need to be politicians, to participate in and to shape" our societies. Basically she says that she is tired of "the politics shaping her, and now she wants to shape the politics".

She campaigns by riding a bicycle across Croatia and discussing with voters – which is around 2000 km. She also wants to motivate Croatians to vote, since the turnout for the European elections in the country is pretty low. She wants to change the perception that politics as something abstract, and wants to convince people that politics does have a role and influences their everyday lives. She will also strive to create a safe environment where LGBT people can willingly "come out" and not be afraid anymore.
Text, photo, translation: Mare Knezhevich. Editing: Boyan Stojkovski, Anastasiia Sechina. Illustration: Natalia Makarikhina. Translation into Russian: Irina Galina
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