Sanjar's story

"You may no longer whisper. This is Sanjar, our son"

The Executive Director of LGBT organization in Bishkek — about how he overcame his transphobia and then made himself a transition, became a transgender man and an LGBT activist
My name is Sanjar Kurmanov, I am 29, currently I live in Bishkek, and I am a transgender person. For about 10 years I am engaged in LGBT activism in Kyrgyzstan. Our organization "Labrys" protects LGBT individuals from violence and discrimination.

I began realizing my sexual orientation at the age of 19. Before that I I thought that I should live like everyone else. And if everyone goes out with the opposite sex, then I need to do this as well. But I didn't like living like that. When I went for study I began to think about my preferences. At that time I was still a woman, I was digging in myself and clearly began realizing: I like women, not men.
Трансгендерность
состояние, при котором гендерная идентичность и/или гендерная презентация человека не соответствует культурным и социальным ожиданиям, связанным с полом, приписанным при рождении. Термин используется для обозначения широкого спектра гендерных идентичностей
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.
"Labrys"
"LGBTIQA organization "Labrys" — is a grassroots platform for advancement and protection of the human rights of LGBTIQA people in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia equipped with advocacy instruments moved by different generations of activists", — is said on the organization's website.
IN THE KNOW
I was "digging in myself" for one year
Gradually I accepted my orientation and began identifying myself as a lesbian. But then it seemed to me that it was impossible to find a mate for myself. I remember looking at people and thinking all the time: "I wonder if they are part of the community or not?"

Then I met a girl from the community, she studied with me at the same department. Through someone I found her phone number, began writing secret sms. She agreed to the meeting and told about "Labrys". I remember the first time I was going to the community center of the organization. I felt uncomfortable, but at the same time there was a feeling of inner protest and excitement of what I was doing. In 2008 there was not so much information about LGBT in the Internet, and "Labrys" had a great film collection and a library. I came, said that I wanted to take the film, chose "Gia", and quickly left.

Later in summer I was in a special camp for lesbian and bisexual women. They talked about rights, personal acceptance, leadership and activism. The camp inspired me, it was after this trip that I began to volunteer at Labrys events. I wanted to help this organization in everything. It has become a part of my life.

Since 2011 I began applying for vacancies at Labrys. When I was not taken for the first time, I was terribly offended. Then I tried for the second time and they didn't take me again, but they invited me without competition for the position of an outreach worker - a person who becomes a bridge between the organization and the people who still don't know about it. This is a dangerous profession, it was important to monitor the security. You can always accidentally meet a homophobic-minded people. Then they can beat you or start to pursue.
Lesbian
a homosexual woman, that is: experiencing sexual, erotic, romantic and/or emotional attraction to the people of her sex or/and gender
Be in family"
colloquial, allegorical designation of LGBT + and belonging to the LGBT community in Russia and the CIS countries
"Gia"
is a biographical drama about the life and death of the fashion model Gia Marie Carangi. Gia was one of the first women whose cause of death - immunodeficiency virus - was publicly announced. There is an alternative video version, where love scenes between Gia and her mistress preserved.
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
Homophobia
irrational fear of homosexual thoughts, feelings, behavior and people, hostility towards homosexual people. Lesbian-, trans-, and biphobia are defined in the same way
STRUGGLE AGAINST TRANSPHOBIA
When I started working at Labrys I discovered transphobia in myself
I looked at transgender people and could laugh at how they looked. I absolutely did not understand the trans-gay men. I thought, "What was the point of doing transition?" In general, I behaved like the society usually behaves, though I belonged to LGBT community.

I began to wonder why I allowed myself all this? Where did I get a feeling of hate? I started reading more about trans in general and transgender people. My personal processes went in parallel. I began to realize that I feel uncomfortable with the sex registered at birth, I began to think about my own gender identity. I walked self-absorbed. It was in a terrible depression - so focused on thoughts, experiences and sensations. Probably I was not very productive at work. I wanted no love, no care, no sex. I was on the hook.

Those days the stupid information that after hormone therapy or surgical corrections I can live only five years "walked" in the Internet. So I thought: am I ready for this? Of course, the information was not true.
Gender
a sociocultural construct of the gender. The gender includes all those characteristics that are formed and developed in a person in the course of socialization, in order to bring his behavior and thinking in accordance with the accepted in a given culture norms, orientations, ideas about the behavior of men and women and other male and female characteristics
Hormonal replacement therapy
one of the ways to bring own body in line with gender identity. Contrary to common stereotypes, this is hormonal therapy, rather than surgery, that plays a main role in changing the appearance of transgender people: it causes changes in body shape and facial features, hair growth on the head, face and body, voice changes.
Gradually I began exposing to myself, asking questions to myself. For example, what does being a man mean to me? I was still smoking then, and I liked smoking thin cigarettes. And I asked myself: if I continue smoking them will I be less a man or what? Or: do I have to learn how to cut a lamb? But I am a vegetarian! I had female socialization, and, for example, I got used to clean the house, my mother taught me like this in my childhood. And should I give up all this? I came to the conclusion that all this is just an imposed role. And the fact that I smoke thin cigarettes says nothing about me. These are just personal preferences of the person. And the identity first and foremost is about the internal sensation.

Finally I decided on transition. At first I was embarrassed to call myself in a male pronoun. I was embarrassed when the friends began to call me Sanjar. It seemed to me a kind of luxury, to be the one you want to be.
Transgender transition
the process of bringing the gender role and body of a person into harmony with own inner self-awareness - gender identity. Transgender transition can include socialization in a new gender role, change of passport name and legal gender, as well as medical procedures for changing external sex characters.
However, the non-acceptance still existed. It seemed to me that I still didn't look like Sanjar, and when people called me like that, they just played with me
I remember my first experience of going into public in men's shoes, men's trousers and a shirt. The taxi driver reached out to me either in a female pronoun, or simply said "eje". I responded: "Whom are you appealing here in that way? Who the hell do you think you are?" He apologized. And I realized that I looked a little in between: I had no beard, the voice was more feminine, the people read me like a woman. And I have already decided everything for myself, and it was very disappointing that people were confused. All trans people experience this.

I do not understand why the state is our last authority. It is written in your birth certificate that you are a woman, and you need to carry this for the rest of your life. What you have between your legs determines who you will be, your way. This annoys me.
"Ezhe"
an appeal in the Kyrgyz language to aunt or sister
Femininity
a complex of physical, mental and behavioral characteristics which are considered female
FAMILY'S WAY TO ACCEPTANCE
I did not make COMING-OUTS for my family
An outing was made for me. This happened when I was still a Labrys volunteer and considered myself a lesbian. My girlfriend made a conscious coming-out: she told everything to her mother. And she went to the village where my parents lived, specifically to tell them about me.

Later my mom and dad arrived in Bishkek, threw Labrys business card at me saying: "What is this? We will take you home! We will bring you only to study! We isolate you from everyone!" I answered to them that even if they locked me up, someday I would go out and say the same thing.

After that, we closed the question of sexual orientation and did not talk about this at all. We behaved as if nothing had happened. We pretended nothing happened. Sometimes it even annoyed me. They thought it was some kind of stuff that didn't matter. After that scandal I almost stopped visiting my parents.
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").
Outing
the act of revealing, publicly declaring of information about person's sexual orientation or gender identity without that person's consent
But if sexual orientation can be hidden, then identity is not. I began changing my clothes, my haircut became shorter, and I understood that my mom would start asking questions. I began waiting for the right moment. When I was admitted to hospital, I decided to use this. My mom was supposed to come to visit me. I thought that as I was ill, she would pity me. Well, I do not know ... would accept me. We went for a walk in the courtyard of the hospital. I said in the language she understood: "I want to change the sex" (in the LGBT community, such wording is not used - ed.note). She burst out: "Are you starting that again? Don't tell me about this ever! Do not touch this topic! What will I tell to the dad?!". I told her that this would never change. She has gone.

I did not want my second coming out to be ignored just like the first one. I decided that I would "work" with her, I would give information, I would not leave it like that. Literally three months later I called my mom and said that I was travelling past their village with an affiliate program and would like to stay overnight. She again began saying: "You are raising this topic again! I told - do not! Don't come!"
"To change sex"
in the LGBT community this expression is considered impolite. Instead "to make a transgender transition" is used
We quarreled. I asked her: "So you are refusing me?" She replied: "I cannot accept this."
That time I did not go. But I did it later, when I was returning from Issyk-Kul Lake. I stopped at my parents. I didn't even talk to them, I just walked in, left the fish I bought on the lake and left. When I got to Bishkek, my mom called me back. The first thing she asked was: what name I was choosing for myself?
CALL HIM "HE"
My mom was mostly afraid to tell my father about me
She thought he would start accusing her of improper upbringing. But the dad reacted calmly. He told, "So what? I know that there are such people. It's harder to him than you and me, and we should support him." My mom was, of course, wigged out of this.

Then she was with me during breast surgery. She was sitting beside me all this time. She worried about my health. She buried all remnants. Well, apparently she needed this.

I tried to constantly talk to her. In order she could tell how she felt when people were asking questions. And people really gloated, they wanted to assert themselves and feel their superiority. Something like: "We have brought up our children correctly!" In such situations my mom felt vulnerable and didn't know what to say. I advised to answer this way: "Yes - so what? Do you want to discuss this?" She began practicing this and felt the strength in this. The people expected her to be a victim, that she would need their pity.
But I noticed that there was no complete acceptance yet. For example, when I came to my parents in the village, where the gate was always open, they closed the gate, as if they were hiding me. Perhaps my parents did not realize it themselves, but I noticed this.

I had also some difficulties with my brother. My brother is religious, and he accused my parents that they were playing my game, and instead they should take me to a mosque and "cure". For him people's opinion was the most important. Once we quarreled, and then he said: "My friends say to me: you have someone incomprehensible, either a little sister, or a little brother. They are making fun of me." This made me mad.
I called my parents and said everything that had been accumulated before. That they did not accept me, that they closed the gate, they wanted to hide me, that they were ashamed of me.
They asked forgiveness. They called all the relatives and said: "You may no longer whisper. This is Sanjar, our son, call him "he", only like this." The relatives accepted this - once the parents said so, they no longer contradicted. My mom even told her mom, and she was almost a hundred years old. She understood everything in her own way though. She decided that other genitals began growing on my body.

And then I asked my mom to come to Bishkek for the day of coming-out, to tell her personal story. She agreed and became the first open mom of trans child. Later she began consulting other parents. She is already consulting for two years. The parents who are still unable to accept their LGBT children come to her village.
ACTIVISM AND HATE
In 2013 Labrys had difficult times
The Law on prohibition of prohibition of gay propaganda in Kyrgystan
the bill provided for criminal liability for the "formation of a positive attitude towards non-traditional sexual relations", prohibited the dissemination of information about "non-traditional sexual relations" in mass media and provided for the restriction of peaceful assemblies devoted to this topic. It was recalled due to the initiators.
Because of the staff turnover there were not enough employees, I had to take up additional duties. It was necessary to work so that the organization would not die. So I began coordinating the program on working with the community, and then I was made a co-executive director, the whole financial part was on me.

Many challenges arouse, I had to learn to write reports and project applications. Sometimes I felt like a plumber who is trying to close all leaks with his hands and feet. But I believed in what I was doing, and I keep on believing.

In 2014 we understood that people have little knowledge about their rights. We began to carry out trainings and explain: if you are beaten this is not okay, you need to go to the police. But people were afraid, they did not want to be associated with LGBT people. In the same year Kyrgyzstan announced a bill "against gay propaganda."
Oddly enough, this played its positive role. Activists, human rights activists and international organizations began criticizing the bill. The media began to write more about LGBT community
Somewhere this was incorrect, but nevertheless it was a powerful promotion of the topic that was previously hushed up. We had friendly lawyers, and people began to feel support, to seek help, to write applications to the police.

In 2015 Molotov cocktails were thrown to our office. Who did this, we do not know. We didn't report to the police: they would interview everyone who comes to Labrys. That is, in this way we would set up the community. No one was hurt, but decided to move.

Then on 17th May people from activist movements "Kyrk-Choro" and "Kalys" attacked us - they broke into the event on the International Day of the Confrontation of homo / bi / transphobia and had a catfight. One of the participants received injuries. We wrote a statement on them, testified for hours. But the court ordered to send for further investigation. This was probably done to blanket the incident. Both Labrys and international organizations wrote appeals to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but this did not work.

We were undergoing that injury for a long time. We were recovering. Without even noticing that we began choosing closed places for events, made closed accounts in social networks
"Kyrk-Tchoro" and "Kalys"
activist movements of young nationalist men who declared that they were supporting the preservation of traditional values. Almost immediately after the incident with "Labrys" they disappeared from public space. More information is here.
We had no incidents since that time, but little has changed in society. Like in 2015 people continue speaking in the language of hate. I myself feel this, I was regularly threatened in personal messages. I try not to respond. I know that these are only comments, no more.

We keep on working. We want to make this world better. We want the time to come when LGBT organizations in Kyrgyzstan stop spending their resources on reacting to violence and discrimination.
Text: kloop.kg journalist Alexandra Titova. Photo: Tilek Beishenaliev. Translation into English: Irina Galina. Translation into Kyrgyz: Almir Almambetov, Kairat Zamirbekov. Editing: Anastasiia Sechina
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