Dastan, an activist and a gay man, talks about how the lack of accurate information about sexual orientation affected his emotional health and self-understanding during adolescence.
In this interview, Dastan shares that before coming out to his parents, he himself was homophobic, in that he accepted public opinion and believed that being gay was something shameful. He believes that the complete lack of sexual education in school contributed to his misconception of his own sexual orientation during adolescence.
Dastan speaks with an activist from Bishkek Feminist Initiatives:
-How did the lack of information affect your understanding of your sexual reproductive health and rights?
-The effect of getting incorrect information was that I fell into a terrible depression, which lasted for years: my grades dropped, I had a number of problems. And it was due to the fact that my parents and I had no access to accurate information concerning my sexual orientation. For example, when I told my parents I was gay, they began to try to treat me, and to look for information wherever they could. They found conflicting sources of information. They didn’t like the sources that said “It’s normal and natural.” My parents stuck with the opinion that “It’s an illness that can be cured.” Then there was a period of every kind of treatment by means of different religions. My parents went to the national center for mental health, where people were quite decent and said that it wasn’t an illness. They were given the number of a psychotherapist, which my parents needed more than I did. My mom became an ardent believer in any religion that might save her son. Every morning we had to drink holy water, read the Koran, light candles and say prayers, and put something under my pillow. Psychics made us buy different calendars to hang on the walls of my room; of course I was embarrassed to invite my friends over. Nothing came of any of these treatments.
-Your parents vehemently fought your sexual orientation. What about you?
-At the beginning, when I first realized that I might not be heterosexual, I tried to get more information. Naturally, I thought that it was all terrible and wrong. I went to a psychologist, and came to the conclusion that that was useless. Most doctors said that it was not an illness. I was lucky that the people around me were understanding and that I had access to resources where I could find books to read. But many LGBT people, especially in rural areas, don’t have that. This leads to depression, suicidality, and unprotected sexual activity among LGBT youth, because it seems to them that they have nothing to lose, that they’re universally hated no matter what, so why take care of themselves?
-What made you decide to tell your family?
-I remember that I was afraid and ashamed to say the word “gay;” even now it sometimes scares me. I called myself bisexual, or requested, in general, not to be called anything. I knew I had to be honest, especially with my family, because if you’re gay you lead a secretive life. You have to lie and conceal so many things. I got tired of all of that, and decided to tell them, knowing that they might kick me out of the house. I understood that their reaction might be wrong. Then I realized that people don’t just change their relationships. They had known me for a long time. Some said, “Well, alright,” and for some, it was a shock. I realized that in order for there to be change in Kyrgyzstan, as many people as possible need to come out. I understand that for a lot of gay guys, this is extremely difficult, and they live in the closet. But if it’s at all possible to come out, then it has to be done.
-What does open acknowledgement of sexual orientation achieve?
-The more people there are who open up about it, the more people will understand that there are many of us. I actually know a lot of LGBT people; after I came out I realized that they were among my high school and college classmates, and among my relatives. You realize that there are a lot of us in Bishkek, and people just don’t know it. I think there are a lot of us, but at the same time we’re taunted like second-rate people. Coming out is fighting prejudice; it will lead to less prejudice, less violence, and less hardship for all of us. It doesn’t necessarily have to be done publicly, openly; it’s enough to acknowledge it in your family circle or in safe communities, among people you trust.
-How advisable is it to come out in Kyrgyzstan, knowing that you could face violence?
-Yes, you do have to protect yourself before coming out, but it’s still extremely important to do. Otherwise, the things going badly for us now will get worse and worse. LGBT people are socially vulnerable: if someone finds out, they are bullied, beaten, kicked out of the house, and raped. And if LGBT people are silent, it will only continue. It’s time to stop putting up with humiliation and fight against the hate and violence towards LGBT people. In order to do this there needs to be more open acknowledgement, more brave, open LGBT people.
The government must introduce sexual education in schools, rather than complicating the work of organizations already working on sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR). The government should encourage any programs that focus on action promoting SRHR. Because one of the country’s priorities is the protection of its citizens’ health and rights. If the government doesn’t do this, then it will put the health of its whole population at great risk.
Photo by: Felix Kolbits