May 07, 2024

Teach Not Fear, But Self-Esteem


Teach Not Fear, But Self-Esteem
A kid holding a Transgender pride flag. Esquerda.net, Wikimedia Commons

Julia, a trans woman, lives in St. Petersburg with her wife and two daughters. But recently the Russian government’s crackdown on LGBT people has hit home, as Julia had to pull her kids from school after receiving threats from the principal for being transgender. 

Julia, whose real name has been withheld, describes herself as a “forced non-binary person.” She has done over 20 years of hormone therapy. Her breasts have grown, but she says she does not look “100% feminine” or masculine. Julia uses both masculine and feminine pronouns. In 2020, she received permission to undergo gender-affirming surgery, but it could not be completed due to unrelated health complications. It takes her at least two hours for her to get ready in the morning and achieve a feminine appearance. And with small kids, this is even more difficult.

Julia had to rebuild many relationships after coming out as transgender. Her boss at an IT firm admitted to her that, before she worked there, he was a homophobe and transphobe. But meeting Julia changed him. Colleagues whose children came out as trans go to Julia for advice.

At first, it was hard for her wife to accept that her partner was trans. Four years after coming out, the couple went out together to the theater, fully embracing Julia as a trans woman. However, recent legislation declaring LGBT persons as extremists has put the pair on edge, as the possibility of them being attacked or losing their jobs has increased.

In March, Julia took her youngest daughter to school, where her wife also worked, as she would do from time to time. A teacher saw the young girl with a person with a beard, make-up, and painted nails and began interrogating the student. The kid explained to her teacher that that was her dad. The teacher said, "Dad shouldn't look like mom!" The girl responded, "Dad can look like mom but still remain dad."

Shortly afterward, the principal summoned the couple and gave them two options: divorcing or Julia's wife quitting her job and pulling their daughter out of the school. Julia reminded the principal that both parents and kids can be LGBT and offered to advise her on the subject. She told Holod, "I'm glad I had the opportunity to talk to the director and look her in the eye. She saw that a trans person could be equal and not everyone could be humiliated." However, it became clear to Julia that Russia's education system was permeated with fear and had lost its ability to care for children.

The couple pulled their youngest daughter from the school and looked for another one that taught "not fear, but self-esteem." In the institution where their eldest daughter studies, she was allowed to join a woodworking course where only men were usually allowed. 

Julia has not only faced transphobia in the education system, but was also persecuted by authorities for her gender. An investigator contacted her after someone filed a complaint against her for violating "LGBT propaganda" laws, as she administered a chat room for trans people. Julia suspects that a group of people who had avatars bearing swastikas and who made threats against her had reported her to authorities. 

After this incident, her company offered her the option of relocation. Lawyers insisted that she should "drop everything and run" from Russia. But Julia plans to stay in Russia as long as she can "just so that people to whom I am an example have hope that they can survive even in such an environment."

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