Being Queer and in Love in Yerevan (Armenia)

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Bekhsoos is publishing this post thanks to blogger Adrineh Macaan

In 2008, I decided to come to Armenia to participate in a queer women’s art exhibit. I’m not an artist, but I had prepared a photo series that addressed my (our) fragmented selves specifically for this exhibit, which was a sort of “coming out” for the participants. I was excited to be a part of this event and to meet so many amazing queer Armenian women.

One of the women I met that summer is now my partner. After a year of emails, Skype conversations, phone conversations and yes, even letters sent by post, I decided to make the move to live in Yerevan, where she lives, to be with her, but also to be part of the creative energy I had experienced among queer/activist/artist women in Yerevan that summer.

Though my partner and I are still very much happily together, a lot has changed since then. People and places have come and gone. For instance, we used to go a gay bar in Yerevan called Meline’s Bar, but that shut down because of financial reasons and because the building the bar was in was supposed to be torn down for new establishments to be built (which still hasn’t happened).

Then came the opening of another gay venue. Again, a space we used to go to, but no longer because it turns out the owner is a homophobe: though he enjoyed the “gay dollars” (predominately gay clientele spending their money in his establishment), it turns out he didn’t particularly like gay people. It’s always hard to find a space where not only are you welcome, but also you feel comfortable to be who you are. In Yerevan, there are very few places where my friends and I feel like we can be ourselves, but even in the absence of explicitly gay venues, we create our own space (and to think I used to complain that there weren’t any decent venues for queer women in Toronto!).

An out lesbian from Europe visiting Armenia last year asked me where the gay spaces are in Yerevan. She wanted to know where we hang out. My answer to her? Wherever we go is a queer space. What else could I say? In a country where the rights of LGBT people are not protected, there’s no legislation that prohibits discrimination against LGBT folks, there’s never been a pride parade and no establishments are eagerly posting up rainbow stickers in their front windows, an out gay venue is hard to come by.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t exist.

After a year of casual encounters and conversations with friends, family and colleagues in Yerevan, I have come to the conclusion that many residents tolerate LGBT folks in Armenia, but only if they can’t see us. In the best case scenario, these individuals might even know a few gay people (might even consider them friends), but they don’t consider being gay acceptable and probably pity us because they figure we just can’t help ourselves.

I have found too that often the negative perceptions of our community are directed toward gay men, who are referred to in a derogatory term used interchangeably to refer to cross-dressers and sex workers. There’s a park in Yerevan called the Children’s Park (also referred to as the “Communist Park” from days gone by) where men often have sex with men. Many Yerevan residents, when the issue of LGBT folks in Armenia comes up, complain about men having sex with men during the day time in the park where they’re supposed to be taking their children. It’s a common complaint and I’m sorry to say I still don’t have the ideal answer to this one.

However, I appreciate those rare moments when I can talk about LGBT issues openly with other Yerevan residents, when I can hold my partner’s hand in public while crossing the street and it’s no big deal, when we gather with friends (both gay and straight) and enjoy good conversations over beer, when I get to be gay and Armenian at the same time.

It’s moments like these where I feel that I’m exactly where I want to be.

Adrineh Macaan is a blogger, writer and troublemaker from Toronto, who, in 2009, moved to Yerevan, where she currently lives.

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