This is a story about two women in their twenties. A story about a writer and a sex worker, one a booklover, the other a culinary enthusiast. One dreams about publishing her first novel and the other—building a nursing home for the elderly.
Cecile and Nata—a 22-year-old journalism student, who goes by the name of Tornike and has come out to family and friends as gay; and a 25-year-old sex worker, who has been living by herself for the past 10 years, although never having had a family conflict because of her gender identity.
One could expect the plights of two transgender women of about the same age and from the same, small post-Soviet conservative country—Georgia that is—to be similar. Yet their journeys are completely different, and so are their dreams.
Cecile is open about her gender identity with only a few friends but everyone else knows her as Tornike, who likes men.
Born and raised in Tbilisi, Cecile is an amateur writer whose characters share unfettered aspiration for happiness and inconspicuous resistance. She is currently working on her very first novel, tentatively called, "Behind the Mirror." It describes the various self-discoveries and transformation of a transgender woman— her sexual experiences as well as her relationship with the outside world. It is based essentially on Cecile’s own life. Thus far, she has only shared the manuscript with her friends. She hopes she’ll be able to publish it one day.
Cecile dreams of becoming independent, moving out of her parent’s apartment and away from Georgia, where she can no longer feel the need to hide parts of her identity. Abroad she would take up journalism and write about social issues.
“My whole life is about dreaming,” remarks Cecile. It is simple daily acts, which are typically considered as feminine, that bring her joy—a time when she can finally stop imagining to be Cecile. Then she is Cecile.
“From a very young age, I used to like my mom's fur coats, high heels and jewelry. When you are a kid, you do not question whether it is normal or not. You just feel whatever you feel and that's all. It is the society around you that keeps telling you what is right and what is wrong, what is feminine and masculine. And the problems arise when you discover that it is ‘wrong’ to be who you are.”
“I have often thought that I am immoral, a mistake of nature. I have tried becoming 'normal.' I was convinced that if I thought less [about my gender identity], I would finally change, improve and so on. It took a lot of effort and time to overcome these feelings. I have never thought about committing suicide, probably because I have always tried to behave according to the expectations of my biological sex. If I had been more feminine, I am certain that I would have been even less accepted. I would have stood out more and the reactions would have been more violent.”
“In my everyday life, washing the dishes, for example, makes me happy. In that moment I AM Cecile. I go through short-lived feelings of freedom and elation. In fact, any type of activity that is typically considered feminine brings me joy.”
“Often times I envisage being Cecile: I am sitting cozily in a gown, with long hair, writing in peace and quiet—doing what I love. My everyday life is about dreaming. I dream everywhere and at all times. I imagine waking up, wearing high heels with my jeans, a head scarf, a layer of lipstick and going out in the street without attracting any inquisitive glances.”
"To tell you the truth, I am really afraid. I have not told any of my previous partners about my gender identity. I am scared. According to my biology, I am basically a man, who likes other men. Therefore, I am gay. But if I were to tell someone that on top of that I actually feel like I am a woman, chances are high, that person will never want to talk to me again. I still don’t know if I manage to find a person who will accept me as I am.”
Nata has an incredibly gregarious and positive energy. An activist and a prominent voice on transgender and sex worker rights, three years ago she lost her job as a chef and has worked as a sex-worker ever since. It was not a free choice—she was refused to numerous jobs because of her gender identity and ended up taking up sex work, in order “not to beg others for money” or “starve.”
Despite the external challenges and social pressure, Nata grew up having a lot of support from her grandparents who raised her in a remote village in an Imereti region of western Georgia. When she was 14 her grandmother died and she was left without her strongest ally and defender of all times. Whenever Nata wore her grandma’s jewelry or clothing, she was not afraid to go out in the streets because she knew that her grandma would always have her back.
She has recently moved into a new apartment with her friends in Tbilisi, after finally having found a landlord, who would accept them as tenants. Being with her friends who love her and whom she can trust is one of the most important things to Nata. She would not necessarily like to leave Georgia.
Nata’s dream is to build a nursing home as she believes the elderly are the people most in need love and affection. It would be in the countryside and would welcome everyone, for free, and it would provide all that is needed to help the elderly to spend their last years of life in dignity. Nata herself would work as one of the caregivers. Free nursing homes are rare in Georgia...
“I feel happy when a person, who is dear to me, writes to me unexpectedly to say that she/he loves me. After reading such a message, I walk around with a big smile on my face all day long. I am delighted to know that someone loves me, even if actually many people do. Even dogs love me—I usually have 30 of them seeing me off at the bus stop.”
“My dream is to have a nursing home for the elderly. I would like the elderly to live in ultimate comfort—somewhere outside of the city, where the air is clean. I would like them to have everything they need and to feel loved. The elderly have few chances to start their lives anew. This is why they need special love and care. My nursing home would be open for everyone who will not feel disturbed by my eyeliner and mascara.”
“Once I wanted to start working as a waitress but they made so much fun of me at the interview that I had never thought about stepping foot there ever again. I have been working as a sex worker for the past three years. At the time when I started, I also enrolled in a culinary arts course. I would go to class during the day and engage in sex work in the evening. I was quite a successful student. I even worked as a chef for a year and a half. During that time I had stopped the sex work, until my chef’s contract was terminated because of my gender identity. I then preferred to restart sex work again rather than being left alone in the street and dying from starvation.”
“Sex work is associated with a lot of danger, both health-related risks and pure physical safety. At any time, any person, drunk, on drugs, or simply in a bad mood could attack you. Many have criticized me for having taken up this job. They tell me I could have at least ‘begged’ or have asked to borrow money from them. But how long would I have sustained myself like that? I even tried selling spices but it did not turn out to be a very profitable business. Every time I lose a job now, I do not have to worry because I know that I can always work as a sex worker - no one can fire me from that position.”
“When I go out in the streets dressed as a man, I do not encounter any problems but I often hear insults. Physical attacks are rare. Often people have something specifically against one transgender person, even if that person has done nothing to upset the other. But that does not matter. The bottom line is, they still beat you up simply because you are a transgender.”