New clothes, new name, new life. Falling for someone new — even if you’re still with the same partner you’ve been with for years. Fleeing a bad scene and starting over. Making a resolution to be a better person, or at least a different one. This October, DADDY is all about NEW BEGINNINGS.
8 years ago when I had just returned from studying in the USA and was back in my home country Kyrgyzstan, I told my parents that I had something very important to tell them, but that they would probably not like it at all. They got really worried.
-Did you get someone pregnant?
-No, I replied.
-Do you take drugs?
-No, I said.
-Did you commit a crime in the US?
-Did you kill anyone?
-Hell no, of course not!
And then, finally this question came up:
Are you gay?
I could not reply to this question, so instead there was a long inconvenient silence. But by this point, everything was already more or less clear.
Yes, I am gay. Right at that moment I destroyed my parents’ image of a well-behaved son of whom they were absolutely proud. I destroyed their hopes and their dreams of what my family and my future would look like.
This was not my first or my last time I came out, but definitely one of the most difficult and important times. My parents did not react well at first, blaming my studies in the liberal USA for giving me too much freedom (despite the fact that America was not that liberal and still is a homophobic and racist country).
They blamed also themselves for bringing me up in this or that specific way. It was hard for them. It was hard for me. They tried to cure me of my homosexuality. Of course, this failed. I got depression and found my way out of it by becoming a gay activist and receiving support and care from my co-activists and a few safe places that my home tow, Bishkek, was offering: LGBT+ organisations, one or two gay clubs. I joined a group of like-minded people and we collectively and systematically fought against hate and violence by providing support to the queer victims of violence and advocating for human rights of LGBT+. This activism put me onto the path of more times coming out. In fact, coming out became my weekly ritual.
Every time I was afraid and worried about how the people around me would react. Every time I had to explain homosexuality and to debunk myths about it. I started to feel how empowered in fact I am and how drastically I can change people’s attitudes. Not everyone’s attitude. There are still relatives who avoid seeing me because they think I am a dishonor to the kinship. I lost contact with some old friends who started to avoid me so that others wouldn’t assume that they were gay as well. There were still moments at the university when I felt fellow students were discussing me and avoiding me.
But there were — and still are — many others, who supported me and believed in me. I made amazing new friends, I deepened my relationship with my parents, I could change people’s values, people’s minds and hearts and I could even encourage people to participate in activism, including my mom and my sister. I was changing the world, but also I was changing myself. Instead of hating myself, I started to truly love myself. And to be proud.
Social changes do not happen quickly. I believe they occur gradually, in phases and each such phase begins with a specific social narrative. I experienced such a sudden jump in the narratives as an LGBT+ activist in Kyrgyzstan, a small conservative country in Central Asia. Because I came out publicly when I spoke out against the police violence at a press conference organized by Human Rights Watch, media narratives there have suddenly changed from “gay people do not exist in the Kyrgyz nation”, to “gay people also exist here!”
This was a big deal for us LGBT+ activists. For the first time in history of Kyrgyzstan, a young Kyrgyz man came out as gay. A backlash followed quickly. The day after I came out, a semi-governmental religious authority issued fetwa, a religious law, stating that gay people must be stoned to death. My co-activists and I faced a lot of hatred and violence immediately after this. Parliament started to discuss a Russian-like “propaganda” bill that would de-facto recriminalize homosexuality in Kyrgyzstan. My coming out brought a lot of backlash with it back then and it seemed instead of helping our movement, it only brought new dangers for my community.
This was a time when we mobilized ourselves and fought back. We as an activist community became stronger, united and more vocal. There are now more open queer voices. Mass media write frequently about us. We are now visible. However, the stories about us are almost always negative. We are portrayed as inferior victims at best and as perverts and a shame to our nation at worst. This, of course, reflects our daily lives, full of discrimination, hatred and violence. Yes, our lives are hard, but despite that we do also a lot of cool things. We are not only vulnerable victims, but also amazing heroes. We need new narratives and new stories about us!
Our weapons against the negative narratives are our voices and our actions. I found my own path to use my stories as a powerful weapon against prejudice and hatred: I cycled from Kyrgyzstan to Germany and collected stories of LGBT+ people throughout the region. I was inspired by a guy from Scotland who was involved at Bishkek Feminist Initiatives and who cycled all the way to Edinburgh from Bishkek. I met many other cyclists, however, most of them were white western privileged men. I have never heard of any Kyrgyz who had cycled such a long distance. So, I decided to do exactly this to increase LGBT+ visibility. After this three-month bike ride, I began to carry out a new project. My goal? Climbing seven summits, the highest mountains of every continent, including Everest. It is not only about raising the rainbow flag on those peaks, but also about the need to work together to make the inspirational voices of the LGBT+ communities more visible.
Mountaineering became a big part of my life when I started my LGBT+ activism. The mountains provided me with a shelter, a safe place from the police and from the state, from violence and hatred, from the pain and suffering that I felt because of my sexual orientation. There, in the mountains, I always felt safer than amongst people.
Mountaineering also helped me avoid burnout, helped me to find a work-life balance and take care of myself. The mountains allowed me to believe in myself and to remain strong even under the most cruel conditions. Climbing mountains is dangerous, but being an LGBT+ activist involves even more danger. I always experienced some adrenaline, a storm of emotions, fear, despair, hope, joy and happiness, both in my activism and in mountaineering.
As part of the Pink Summits campaign, I have already climbed two mountains, including Elbrus, Europe’s highest mountain. Elbrus is located in Russia, in the Caucasus, and is very close to Chechnya, where gays are tortured and killed in Chechen prisons. That is why it was a special, indescribable moment of pride to stand there, on the top of Elbrus and raise the rainbow flag in the most conservative and homophobic part of Russia.
We have just begun our campaign, but if I succeed and can climb all seven peaks, I will be the first ethnic Kyrgyz to have climbed Everest and who has completed the whole program of climbing the Seven Summits. The first Kyrgyz will happen to also be openly gay. Isn't that cool? My sexual orientation probably doesn’t matter much for mountaineering, but for Kyrgyzstan and for the Russian-speaking region, it is crucial for LGBT+ visibility.
Pink Summits is a long-term campaign. Every mountain needs careful preparation. I believe that I will complete the campaign with the ascent to the final summit, Everest, in the next 5-7 years. However, this will not be the end, but rather the beginning: I document all my ascents and want to make a documentary, a podcast and even write a book. I hope this way I can inspire more people.