No, this is not a typo. LGBTQ+ is a topic that becomes more and more famous. It stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning and + to include all of the communities, since there are definitely more than five of them.
We like to think that we are living in a free world or at least in a free country and we can do and be who – and whatever we wish to be. Surprisingly, it might not be that beautiful. In this article, I wish to bring out some of the differences between being Queer in Macedonia versus Austria.
After asking several questions, Katharina from Austria told us their story: ‘’I started to realize that I am non-binary around the age of 21. Mostly because I found out that there were more genders than just male and female, which I had not really known before, at least not in a way to realize that this was a real possibility. I did not wake up one day and knew that I did not fit into the binary; it was a long process of questioning my gender and coming to the realization that I am non-binary.
Coming to this conclusion involved a lot of research on queer issues, reading blogs, watching videos and documentaries of and with trans and non-binary people (and/or gender nonconforming, gender queer, gender fluid and other gender identities that don’t fit into the gender binary) and really thinking about how I feel about my gender and my body and how I want people to see my gender. It also involved a lot of questioning whether I was just a tomboy or just didn’t want to be seen as this stereotypical woman (kind of toxic). This didn’t made it easier because I didn’t want to be a man, I just didn’t (and don’t) feel like a woman (the gender I was assigned at birth) either. And it is quite difficult to think outside of this gender binary that you’ve been socialized/brought up in, where only two genders exists and it can be quite difficult to overcome this way of thinking.
As a child I would often say that I was not “like these other girls or these girly girls”, that I was different from them (which is quite toxic and there is nothing wrong in liking or behaving or not liking/not behaving in stereotypically female ways – or male ways for that matter), because I did not have the means or knowledge to explain myself better. This also led to me unconsciously stopping myself from doing/liking certain things that I saw as too stereotypically female (ex. sewing, embroidery, dancing – all things that I enjoy now), because I didn’t want to be seen as girly (which can also apply to woman or girls that don’t like these kinds of things, but for me it had to do with not being a girl and feeling like this category was forced into me but didn’t really fit right. Even though I could grasp that at that time).
Getting to know my queer identity helped me to care less whether something as associated with a certain gender – most of the time, as I will sometimes adapt a more masculine presentation (way of walking and sitting, clothing, binder (a clothing that presses the breast tissue so it looks flatter and less like female breasts), way I style my hair in the hopes of not being seen as female. This is not because I want to be a man or I am a man; it’s because at least I won’t always be seen only as a woman or at least I’ll confuse people about my gender. It’s is the nearest I can come in our society to be seen as neither female nor male by strangers. Thus being mistaken as a man or asked about my gender because people can’t tell evokes a sense of euphoria (although that doesn’t happen often, as 99,9% of people assume that I am female, which is not helped by the fact that I have a rather curvy body, especially wide hips). I remember already feeling this way when I was 10 years old, as I had short hair and I was mistaken for a boy quite often at that age. It never bothered me, but was rather something I would retell again and again over the years, not quite understanding what this meant to me.
I was lucky in that my parents tried to raise my twin brother and me the same, without regards to gender, so I wasn’t as restricted as others I have talked to. At the same time some kids didn’t really understand my lack of interest in behaving like other girls (a group I was obviously placed in and compared with), which besides some other reasons made me sort of an outcast. I still had a few friends, but I just never was that person that was well liked and looked up to by everyone. In hindsight it might have also helped me (in a fucked up kind of way) to become the person I am today. I felt less pressure to be just the way they/society wants me to be and rather I learned to just be myself (which is still not always easy and obviously I still learn a lot about myself and things change)
I think that it might have also taken me as long to figure out my gender identity as there were other things I also had to figure out myself. Especially my sexuality, which is pansexual (possibility to be attracted to a person regardless of their gender), which also took me some time to figure out, but not nearly as long as my gender. With my gender identity it was also a slow process of letting people know about; for some I told about it when I was still questioning whether I was even non-binary (a term I mostly use because it is an umbrella term for genders outside the binary and feels less restricting and thus more right than other terms) and some people only learned about it later on. By now I think all the important people in my life know about it or have at least been told (I cannot see inside their head and know if and to what extent they understand it and see me as being non-binary). I also talk openly about it with people I meet if the topic comes up.
As for how it was received, there where varying reactions, although nobody was trying to hurt me, which doesn’t mean that it didn’t sometimes hurt. But the hurtful things that were being sad came from places of ignorance of the existence of gender identities outside of the binary and with a better knowledge of the subject people mostly came around. My gender sometimes still gets questioned and I am asked whether I am not just a woman, that likes certain things or if I just want to be special or different. But this is not the case, believe me, the amounts of times I’ve cried because of my gender, knowing that I most likely will not be recognized as my gender 99,9% of the time for the rest of my life. Knowing that people on the streets will just see a woman, regardless of how I dress and style myself in hopes as not being seen as such. My gender does not exist in front of the law, I’m having a body that I sometimes hate because it just is too female. I’m being told that I am a woman over and over again or that it’s just too difficult to change the way they see me as they have always seen me as a woman or girl. All of that hurts, but at the same time there are days where I feel so happy in my body, where I just feel like I ooze of non-binaryness (if that’s a thing) regardless of how strangers see me, or when people affirm me in my gender (just a small word thrown into the conversation, that everyone else might miss and I’ll be glowing for days). And even though it’s hard I am happy that I am non-binary and I wouldn’t change it if I could. It also gave me a completely new understanding of society and made me more empathic and understanding of other minorities.
As for how it is in Austria: I have the luck of having grown up around progressive, open-minded people and also having friends that are open-minded and quite a few of them also queer, so my experience was quite good. Maybe this is also why I haven’t brought up the topic with some relatives as they live in the countryside which is rather conservative (and they are not as highly educated and haven’t been in contact with many different opinions and different minorities) and I do not know how they would react. In Vienna, where I grew up and live, people are more open minded, obviously not all of them, but at least most of the people I know. Still, most people have never heard of non-binary before, if they have even heard of trans before. Still most of the time me telling people that I am non-binary is followed by me explaining what that means.
Also a factor, why I haven’t had more negative reactions on the street might be due to the fact, that it is quite accepted for woman to dress in more traditionally male clothing, and I am thud often mistakenly put into that group, than it is for men to dress in a way that is presumed to me feminine’’
Stefan from Macedonia shared some information about the topic here in Balkans. Compared to previous story, people are not so open-minded here in, for example, Macedonia and Serbia. Going out as gay or a queer person can literally be dangerous. There is a LGBT centre in Belgrade, Serbia, that is being attacked in some way every day. It varies from spitting on it to actually destroying the place as much as possible. The worst thing is that there is no punishment for it, nobody stands up for them. Being somehow different can bring a lot of problems, starting from people giving judgy looks and talking bad about others to actually getting in fights just because somebody dares to be true to themselves. There are stories and rumors about how the gay community is treated that are just shocking. It seems unbelievable that in 21st century we still have to fight for our right to be nothing more than just our truest selves.
Fortunately, there is light in the end of tunnel. Last year a straight-friendly bar called Shortbus was opened! This year will be held the first bigger Skopje Pride and there are more and more people coming out proudly, who are also fighting for the future that is freer for everybody. From 19th till 22nd of April there were also Queer Film Days in Skopje.
Sometimes hoping for the better future is not enough, it is time to act. Let’s all be more tolerant and accepting towards each other, so we can all be free and show our inner magic.