“Just black out my name.”

 A photo project about silencing the LGBT community in Kyrgyzstan

6 February 2022
Katerina Myat

Katerina Myat is a photographer from Belarus. She was born in 1996 in Pinsk. Katerina is keen on analogue photo-printing techniques, she is also a teacher. Her first solo exhibition The Source was held in Minsk in 2021. The works are in the collection of the Museum of Feminist+ Art.

– Just black out my name.

When I started shooting the photo project Just Black Out My Name, one of the subjects asked me not to mention/black out her name. The photos with her are also anonymous.

The existence of the LGBT community is silenced and the topic of LGBT rights is taboo. This project is about LGBTQ people and their life in Kyrgyzstan.

I talked to subjects from different cities and families. They were people of diverse ages and various professions. But they had one thing in common – a sense of insecurity related to their identity.

“I’m a lesbian. I was born into a fairly liberal educated family. For years I resisted, trying to convince myself that I liked men. But I found myself realising that all that time I had been influenced by stereotypes imposed by society. All that time I had been attracted to women”.

“I am a transgender man. I became aware of my identity early on.

Prolonged depression took me to the intensive care unit, where the intensive care physician told me that I had a severe mental illness and was a danger to others, that…

…that I needed to be treated with heavy medication. He concluded this based on my appearance: I tended to look like a boy.

Five suicide attempts.”

“I’m gay. But not an open one. It’s a tragedy for my family. I’m 22 now, and my parents are increasingly telling me I have to get married soon.

I want to be happy.”

“I write fairy tales for children. My main themes are gender equality, women’s and girls’ rights, ethnic diversity and environmental tales.

Now I work more as an artist and research anthropologist. I convert scientific data into artwork.

I travel a lot in the villages as an anthropologist, I am not disconnected from the reality that exists in Kyrgyzstan. I feel different here, but of course, I love my country.

I have three children. It’s a great joy for me to be able to introduce them to my girlfriend. We are open with each other.”

“I was sure my family would not accept me. I was planning to disappear, to kill myself. I was afraid of hurting myself by coming out. I felt that disappearing was the lesser of all evils.”

Oljobai Shakir has written a book, Adam+, about his transgender son and all the difficulties his family has gone through.

“I have worked in the NGO for seven years. When I joined the organisation in 2015, the Kyrgyz parliament passed a bill banning propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations in its second reading. It suggested criminal responsibility for disseminating information about LGBT people.

Activists from Labrys and other organisations, individual activists and other people fought together to eliminate that bill: it was against human rights and, in general, humanity.

In my first days in the NGO, I was approached by a man who had been taken to the mountains and was about to be killed on the grounds of his identity. That’s where my work started.”

“I’m pansexual. I love people.

I don’t know what my parents think of me now. My mum doesn’t seem to care.”

“On the street, I couldn’t hold the girl I loved by the hand.

Keeping my parents safely ignorant is a blessing and a curse at the same time. They will never know how happy I am with my girlfriend, they won’t know that we are planning a family, they won’t know the main reason why I can’t stay forever in Kyrgyzstan, which I love so much.”

In Kyrgyzstan, I made friends with gender non-conforming, trans and queer people, and the life stories shared with me included violence, rights violations, insecurity, suicide attempts, difficult relationships with parents and others, and the inability to get a job. But there was also another motive – the motive of love for their homeland, the desire to settle down there or the grief of having to emigrate.

This article was originally published in Russian here

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