Several endless years in isolation

Vusala Hajiyeva, a transgender woman from Baku, Azerbaijan, tells about the isolation, which did not start during the covid-19 pandemic. She shares her personal story describing the multifaceted difficulties that transgender people face in her country, both on an individual and systemic level. Vusala tells stories of failure, hatred, love, and hope.

painting of a women sitting on a wooden log
Teaser Image Caption
Natia Sapanadze

The word "isolation" has probably become familiar to those who have not heard it before in the last two years. However, the isolation I am talking about has nothing to do with Covid-19; it is self-isolation. I mean voluntary isolation, regardless of the government's regulation. It is not about protecting yourself from the virus but about maintaining your existence.

My name is Vusala. I am a transgender woman living in Baku, Azerbaijan. When I write this text, all the stages of my life pass like slides in front of my eyes; it seems to me that if I collect all the pieces of this puzzle, my story will resemble a dystopian reality, the author of which could be George Orwell or Zamyatin. Unfortunately, I am not a novel protagonist - I live in reality, which hurts a lot.

After years of struggling with myself, I finally accepted myself two and a half years ago. However, it did not just happen. Even though I knew about myself for a long time, the social environment and its norms scared me, and for many years I could not destroy this fear in me in the form of a Lovecraftian monster and finally confessed first to myself and then to the rest. Especially for a transgender person, this is a painful process. Transgender people are at great risk of losing relationships, loved ones, friends, and family after disclosing their identity. If we go even deeper, if you are not only a trans person but a trans woman living in the Caucasus, then your path will resemble all the circles of hell, even the ones in which Dante himself has not been. For most of those with patriarchal views, you are not a woman born in the wrong body, but a man who turned into a woman and endangered the patriarchal hierarchy. Therefore, they begin to hate you because you turned into a WOMAN in front of their eyes!

In this way, amid these fears, I did not live in myself as if I were not. And I was not. Finally, the time comes, and a person realizes that he cannot exist by renouncing her essence. It was the central dilemma of my life. So I decided that I would either live (not as before, but as myself) or end my existence once and for all. As you might guess, I chose the first one. And in this, I was helped either by nature, or by God, or by some higher metaphysical essence. The fact is that during this period, I met a guy and, first time in my life, I started feeling love. And this person accepted me as I am. This confidence allowed me to begin a new chapter in my life.

But of course, miracles do not just happen in Baku. And if it happens, then the miracle turns into a series of nightmares. I first came out to my close friends, who accepted me easily. Then I came out to my mother. Perhaps this was the most wrong decision. Or not. Now I'm not sure about that. But at first, I would like to create a portrait of my mother and, at the same time, tell the general problems of our LGBTIQ+ parents. Like all her peers, my mother lived, most of her life, in the USSR and then in the times of perestroika. Of course, all these changing regimes, ideologies, and formations influenced her. And therefore, her negative reaction was not a surprise to me. But as every person and every girl, I expected at least understanding from my mother. Before that, I sometimes thought we would become closer, as we are both very emotional women. I tried to explain everything several times, but my attempts were unsuccessful. After all, the main thing for my mother was not my thoughts and story but the attitudes of our relatives and others. The opinion of homophobic, transphobic, all-phobic relatives and people who have no relation to our lives have become more important to her than my existence and happiness. I am sure that this situation is familiar to every LGBTIQ+ person in Azerbaijan. Unfortunately. After these unsuccessful attempts, I realized that my mother would not understand me for a long time. 

What scared me the most was the fact that my self-isolation would continue. I was on my toes, quietly trying to communicate with my mother and relatives, and this forced me to hide again. It is insulting and challenging for every individual.

"Home" is associated with warmth, comfort, and a safe zone. But for me, after all this, the home became a cold solitary cell. I don't know if I will be able to describe this whole nightmare in verbal language, but you can imagine the life of a person who daily abandons herself for her mother and all other people. I live in the same house with my mother today. Therefore, my life is completely paralyzed. Only sometimes, when I meet close friends, I become myself. I live in a tight, dark room, far from the beautiful Disney world, during other days.

And the fact is that the state and legislation play a significant role in all this. After all, this is not only my problem. Considering the issue of socialization and the standard of living of LGBTIQ+ people, my country has been an outsider for ten years and is last on the list. Moreover, our legislation does not protect the LGBTIQ+ community from discrimination and hate speech. In this regard, not only the majority of strict conservative people are against us, but the system. Sometimes physically, sometimes psychologically. 

I left work after coming out. Of course, living like myself, I would not be able to find a job not in Baku, not in the country's regions. For trans girls, the only available job is sex work. Many trans women are forced to engage in sex work because of an absence of an alternative job and institutional transphobia. In my situation, to get individual freedom, I had to find a job and socialize. But as you understand, it did not happen. And I was forced to endure all this further. Scandals with my mother resulted in a big confrontation. After it, I left home for several days. And I thought it would help us to understand each other. I was still wrong. Nothing has changed. But.

One day, she told me that she read the news about the murder of a trans woman in one of the online newspapers in the morning. It was clear that she was afraid. Of course, after that, she said again these offensive things like "you will end up like this too, you will never be accepted," etc., but this step for me was the first and decisive one. In general, my relationship with my mother was complicated in many ways before coming out. Before that, we were also not close, but I was sure that she loved me.

Since my childhood, our family consisted of two of us. Sometimes my grandmother looked after me because my mother was always at work. I almost grew up in matriarchy. And I'm very happy about that. Sometimes, when I think about it, I say that it is good that I lived with my mother and not with my father. That is why, after my coming out, her negative reaction hurt me because I expected something different. I have always believed that human feelings are superior to all local traditions. However, after my mother told me about the death of Aidan (a transgender woman who was killed by relatives), this situation opened up other feelings for me. I learned that my mother subconsciously understands who I am. Time proved that I was right. Even though she continues to treat me like a son, calls me by my old name, and causes daily micro traumas. She says, "Go to Europe, live as you want, but do nothing here," and for me, this is a positive thing.

I think about it a lot too. My current passport and all the data written on it are simply offensive to me. Our local laws on this matter have reached the apogee of absurdum. For example, if you are a transgender person and want to change the gender marker in your ID, then you must undergo gender adaptation surgery. Even if you are going to change your first and last name, you must do this operation. However, the surgery is not covered by the state. 

That is not the only thing. Endocrinology services are denied to transgender people at state hospitals. Each endocrinologist has their "own reasons" for refusal. That is why many of our girls and boys start hormone replacement therapy without a doctor's examination. And this leads to tragic consequences. After a year of communication with doctors, I finally found a trans-friendly endocrinologist who works in a private clinic. It was a stimulus for me because hormone therapy is the beginning of the gender-adaptation process and a crucial part of it. After the therapy, I felt less stressed and began to look at things soberly and solve problems a little differently. However, even that was not easy for me. I could not find the endocrinologist-prescribed medicines in our pharmacies. Because of this, I only started taking them after eight months. During this waiting period, I did not know what authority to direct my anger and hatred. In Nolan's Interstellar, in one of the episodes, there is such a line from the hero "In this reality, one hour is equal to our seven years." It is how I can describe my life in this country. Just not seven years, but 70 or 700. 

I also want to talk about good things to balance my tragic story a little. Over the past year, since I started using my accounts in social networks, I have met many good people. And acquaintances with these people gave me motivation. Among them are LGBTIQ+ activists, allies, and just beautiful people. There are also representatives of civil society who are not allowed to work and put pressure on both the state and society in every possible way. However, despite this, they work and help us. They have made my hard life a little easier over the past year. The most important thing for me was not material but moral help, because of which I stay on my feet and am ready to resist all this. I realized that you could find a heavenly, small corner even in this hell. As the Russians say, "bright people can be visible clearly in dark times." 

My boyfriend and I have become stronger, with all the people nearby supporting me. I am sure that someday my mother will accept me as her daughter. Now I can fight dysphoria. I know that I will defeat it. I am sure that my isolation will end next spring - when cherries will be in bloom.