Is the Grass Always Greener on the Other Side? – Interview about Living as a Lesbian* in Belarus

It is a privilege that we have a guest with us today from Belarus.

Zhanna, can you introduce yourself please?

Hello, everyone! I am Zhanna, a lesbian from Minsk, Belarus. I am 30, working as a graphic designer-illustrator, mainly on topics of socially vulnerable groups, in particular, with the J4T organization. To be honest, I do not hide my orientation too much, but I wouldn’t write it on the first page of my resume either. I have many good acquaintances, including “ex-girlfriends”, with whom I love going to cafes, open-airs, or trips (at least it was like this before the COVID-19, now everything is more complicated).

Belarus has been in the news a lot lately, yet we don’t have a clear idea of what the situation is. How’s it to be an LGBT+ person over there?

It’s easier for a lesbian in Belarus to live a closeted life. That is, a trusted circle of colleagues, friends, family may know about your orientation but talking about this to managers at work, the media, and new acquaintances is problematic and dangerous. 

However, this secrecy, also dictated by politics, creates many difficulties: you cannot come to the intensive care unit to your girlfriend or to a date in prison, because this relationship is not recognized by the law in any way, which means that legally you are nobody for your partner.

Is it different in Minsk, the capital?

It all depends on who is around you. If the majority of your colleagues are liberal or just young people, then their attitude is very loyal and accepting. The older generation, however, is more conservative in this regard.There are some rainbow families and people who are out, but their number is low. Usually, these people have already achieved a certain degree of autonomy in their professional field so coming out would not affect their business negatively. Besides them, the other type of LGBT+ people who are out in Belarus are dedicated social activists, who have prepared themselves for persecution.

Then we especially appreciate your courage to be here with us today. Can you say a couple of words about lesbians in Minsk?

It is hard to talk about lesbians separately from the LGBT+ community as a whole. I wouldn’t say that we have our own space now. Most communication happens through networking, intuitively or through old contacts. In the last few years, there have been no parties specifically for lesbians, so it is hard to make new contacts other than through your existing network. In general, we all mixed into a single unit. 

There are, you know, "open" communication spaces where you can try your luck, and there are conservative bars where it is better to go clean to have a drink. Even 7 years ago there were lesbian-only hangouts, I miss them. Now every time you need to get approval for "flirting", as they say, otherwise you never know, I don't want to offend anyone.

Yes, it is a risky deal. Now, as a last thing, can you share a memorable coming out story of yours?

When I first had to talk about my orientation with my family (I was about 18), my mother's friend was visiting. She asked me to show a photo of my "friend" (a girl in fact), to whom I was going to go that day to spend the night. After viewing the photo, my mother's friend confronted my mother: "Do you still doubt whether she is a lesbian ?!" My mum was left without words, so her friend continued: “Oh, just relax, I have been living with a woman for 15 years." The icing on the cake is that my father, too, admitted that in his youth he “experimented” with his friend, with whose family my parents are friends to this very day.

Bright ending, thanks, Zhanna!

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