Lesbians and Their Laptops: The Complexities of Existing as a Lesbian in the Balkan

The A Lesbian And Her Laptop logo includes lesbian pride colors. The image states, lesbian visibility week. The complexities of existing as a lesbian in the Balkan.

The following post is by lesbian guest writer, Boja.

I hate starting things. That can be attributed to so many factors, but with this one specifically it’s because I’m unsure where to start from exactly. It doesn’t seem like there is a specific start per se, it still feels as an evergoing, ever-changing story. I don’t remember my trajectory ever being thrown off the momentum though, the tomboy entity existing in a town only populated by roughly, if not less than, 100 thousand people. 

Unnameable, untouchable, yet intelligible to the core; Oh who or what are you? 

You see, the notion was, I had no idea what could be. 

The phantom of a life untold, the actuality of life unlived.

Growing up in a town where it is physically impossible to go out and not see someone you know, or more likely (in my case) knows of you, discovering anything new is reduced to hearing about it from someone around you. I don’t quite frankly remember much of my early life, but the first time I heard of sexual orientation being a thing was of course well into the end of my primary school years. Stan-twitter, and vocational English classes (thank you parents), promptly led me to discover the words to name all of those unnameable feelings that would always swarm in my stomach whenever a cute girl would smile at me, for any reason whatsoever. 

The joy before the jump, the smile before the reckoning.

In that moment, the “A-HA! I’m just gay! Nothing is wrong with me if I don’t like the boys like everyone else!” I thought I had all I needed, when in reality – all I had was naivety. The actuality was, which I afterwards discovered in the harsh way, was that I am the eldest daughter of parents who had previously lost a child, the daughter who has to hold up certain expectations (especially expectations stemming from the very traditional cultural background I lived in). My euphoria, my revelation, my epiphany was no longer existing by itself as a positive thing for my self-actualization.  I was struck with the reality that the people around me have no language for what I was. “The internet made you that way”, was what I heard after 14 year old me very naively thought that I could just casually come out to my father, as we were laying on a beach in Greece. What followed afterwards was of course, my actual worst nightmare. The representation was nowhere around me, and this thing I am feeling “is a modern, western invention” and that “we don’t feel such things here”. 

Swiftly the awakening ceises. Heart to a standstill. 

Embraces for a weeping mother and the drying of her tears.  

Gritted teeth, swallowed and devoured pride, 

and pleadings to not let empty promises slip:

“It’s all of yours you have”. 

The road from there to where I am now has certainly been… something. The beginnings were flooded with constant wishful thinking of moving to an English speaking country, to the “western inventions” where they had words for people like me because the small city around me started feeling like my worst claustrophobic purgatory. You see, the curse of knowing your every neighbor and having a close knit intertwined community comes through everything you do being dissected and looked through a very judgmental lens. That my gathered associates – is the worst nightmare in the Balkans. People are so enmeshed with others’ opinion of them, that they forget to look in the mirror and make up their own.

To give you a spoiler though, after 8 years of the Sisyphean struggle, it can happen! My biggest lesson from it all? To set realistic expectations. 

What I was doing was expecting my parents to dismiss the multi-generational knowledge of how things have existed on the ground where we stand. What I was seeing from the English-oriented media was (rightfully so, in an ideal world) resentment towards your parents the moment they show anything but support and openness – and that is what I did. I spent years being bitter, hurt, and mourning my future, trying, oh so hard, to accept the fact that I will never have the understanding and acceptance. But there I was, holding people raised under Yugoslavian ruling, in a 500km square town, to the standards of the West. 

I was expecting them to have the fresh perspective of the youth, and to not be scared of sexuality and reducing it to some scared unknown concept glooming over us (to my mom, saying that being a lesbian is a phase, and that everyone goes through it: I am looking at you). I was expecting that the people who got married at 21, and immediately afterwards conceived children because education higher than high school was unavailable, and there was nothing else to do, to understand my lesbian identity. Wanting for them to stomach the fact that I’ll never bring a husband home – something every daughter before me did, to stomach the assumed future of nonexistent grandchildren – when a woman’s worth in their time was tied to bearing children, and getting married while young or otherwise you’ll be shamed because a man doesn’t want you or your offspring. 

I wanted so much of them while at the same time ignoring the complexities of the generational existence of all my predecessors, and my parents in their wake. 

It was a really important notion for me to grasp that, supporting an LGBT+ child on the grounds where I was brought up looks much more different than what I was seeing portrayed on the screen thousands and thousands of miles away, and I want to thank Jess for offering a space where I can talk about my non-western experience with being a lesbian. My 14 year old self would absolutely not believe that we made it here after all! Eight years later, it feels like an epoch got its closure. 

After I decided to publicly come out on National Coming Out Day on Instagram to, well, the whole town basically (gossip is an amazing thing here), without my parents’ knowing about it in advance – we had our culmination point. It was a rocky time for a few weeks of passive aggression, and angry parents, but overtime, it led us to reconnect in a way no one had seen coming. My parents saw that nothing horrible had happened from people knowing: I wasn’t publicly ostracized, the family that follows me didn’t get dramatic and cut me off (to my knowledge at least), and no one came to my parents with “complaints.” Now, I am able to talk to my parents about my girlfriend, I am discovering all the options my cishet sister had all these years. I am learning to open up to and trust my parents, and they are learning to make space for me in return. All in all, it is clearer than ever that both parties involved had to work together, hear each other out, so we can exist together – with all that we are individually. 

So to everyone reading this, who relates to anything I just shared, or is living in a similar environment, I want to say that I see you. You are so valuable to this community, and your experience not being immediate (or never, also possible) acceptance and pride flags and cupcakes, does not make you any less queer. If your family comes around, great! If not, you will find your own family outside of blood binds, and you will be seen, and respected for all you are. Your lesbian identity is your own, and no one is entitled to it! Happy lesbian visibility week to you!

Boja (they/them) is a neurodivergent, non-binary lesbian, a cat-mom, a music lover, and an aspiring psychology student. You can follow Boja on Twitter and support their work by sending them a few dollars on PayPal.

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