Transcript of interview, Queer Archive, 2017

Can you tell me when you were born and where you live now?

I was born in 1984. I live in Banja Luka.

Can you tell me something about your family background? Where are you from and where are your parents from?

My parents are natives of this region. I grew up in a small town near Banja Luka, and I lived there for 24 years. My parents were communists. During the war, they tried to remain the way they were before. Well, good order and discipline, these are the things that ran in the family. Our roles and responsibilities were clearly defined and every one of us knew who he or she answers to. What carried a lot of weight was the need to work hard, and hard work was also considered something that inevitably pays off. My father influenced me more than anyone, so he referred me to taking up sports, that is, male sports. It shaped me as a prudent person I am now. Even regardless of this, my upbringing was in line with military discipline. There was nothing I could do my way. The only choice was to do things the way they should be done. I had to comply, therefore I regarded most of the things in my life as certain obligations that are to be fulfilled. It’s because I had to do that, it’s because I was expected to do that. I was given instructions on a silver platter, so there was no disobedience on my part, bearing in mind some typical punishments like beating or whipping. Even in my early twenties I had a midnight curfew, although it was a small town, although I was legal, and although my father always knew where I was and what I was doing. Still, I felt a lot of pressure. The contact I had with my peers, or people in general, was not only limited in terms of time, it was by and large constrained. I knew who I was supposed to socialize with.

Before the war began, everything was lovely. It was really lovely, I had friends who I lost in the early 1990s. Our education system changed overnight, as did the way people functioned. The situation was really stressful at home as well, considering the fact that the main question was: “Where’s Dad?” On the frontline. That’s what everything back home was all about, 24/7. These pieces of information were indispensable… Poverty endured, and I’d accordingly hear: “Sit right there, you have more than other children do.” We were unable to go anywhere.

My pillar of strength were the people who I spent most time with. My mother worked a lot, my father wasn’t there, so I literally relied on my grandma for the most part. I spent a lot of time at her place every day. After school, I would go visit her, and I’d stay until Mum gets back home from work. There were also some other people who were really special to me in this period, and, well… I loved going to the library. There was this really nice lady who I’d visit every day to get a new book. Um, I got a new teacher as well and she kind of noticed me. She proved to be a great motivation for me at school. I wouldn’t say that I was developing as an individual, though. I wished I was able to hang out with some people who are interesting to me, and I was not allowed to do that since my parents always kept an eye on who these people were, who their parents were, and what they did.

When did you start questioning your sexuality? Is there a memory connected with that, or a special person?

You say memories… Well, I became aware of that in my mid-twenties. I really began to accept that at that time. In hindsight, I realized that all of this started early. I found myself in some situations where I wanted to hang out with females. I really liked them, but I couldn’t define the way in which I liked them. I didn’t know that this kind of liking exists. I was interested in socializing, having conversations with them, or continuously spending some time with them in general. I tried really hard to be amusing, and I succeeded in doing so. Um, during my practices, I noticed that I didn’t have any problems when I was around boys. I got along with them like house on fire. I experienced having first crushes at that time, but I wouldn’t get excessively emotional about that. However, I encountered some problems in our locker room – the girls’ locker room – because I was the only one feeling embarrassed, and I stood in the corner. We would get changed over there normally, put on our karate uniforms, prepare ourselves for practice… It was so bad that I would’ve felt more comfortable if I’d changed with boys in their locker room. However, I realized this only in retrospect. When I hit puberty and started going out, having some parties and stuff, I acquired a strange need for, like, protecting my friends from males. I was some kind of a security officer. No one was allowed to approach my girls. I don’t know why I used to take this defensive stance, I was kind of protective. I really don’t know why. It wasn’t friendly at all from this perspective. Even when I dreamed of some girls when I was younger, I dreamed that I was hanging out with them. In these dreams, we would behold each other, hug, but nothing more than that. I didn’t know that there could be a deeper relationship between two women which is essentially different than that.

I felt the urge to tell this to someone, and I did. However, the reason for this was finding help, and finding some answers. Some people that I came out to were close to me. My brother was one of them. I was scared until that happened, but when it did, I felt free for the first time. I finally felt comfortable in my own skin. I knew who I am, but I didn’t know what I should do. Then, as I was deciding which people I should come out next, I immediately knew who I should stay away from with this kind of thing, although some of them are the people I had known for more than ten years. It was my intuition telling me I might as well have more confidence in new friends rather than the ones I had known for some 20 years. Not living in my hometown at the time really helped me, and it was generally hard for me to lie to my parents. I came out to them in a bad way, in a wrong place, and only because I’ve kept this concealed for a long time.

I was pressured into leading a double life. I told them, and I was sure that, well, it was important for me to tell them even if that meant they would never talk to me again. I only wanted to free myself. It’s a burden, when your parents don’t know who you are, and you want to share everything with them. Um, they did not speak with me at first, but that didn’t last for long. However, we haven’t abandoned this topic, but we’re slowly working on this. It’s one hell of a process. They want to know whether I’m fine and how it’s going, who I am with. They value my physical and mental health. They also believe that relationships I’ve had left their mark. And they always know whether someone influences me positively or negatively, regardless of who that person is. Me being alive and well is what matters to them the most. I suppose that they have accepted all of this. “Yes, she’s a woman, but they’re doing great together, and our daughter is happy. And that’s good. That’s it. That’s the way it is. It’s fine.” The war ended for me when I left for another town I hadn’t been able to go to until then. This was long after the war actually ended, it was certainly 10 years after that. I should’ve lived my golden years then, I should’ve traveled like other young people, I should’ve explored some places, but I went nowhere. No one was able to go anywhere. Eventually, I met this girl from Sarajevo and I left. I decided to meet her in person. I had never heard anything good about Sarajevo or its people. We weren’t allowed to go there, but I plucked up my courage and got on the bus. I had no idea who she was, we didn’t know each other, and I was traveling to her city. It’s scary. I was scared as well. I was leaving, and I hadn’t told anything to my parents. That was a bold decision.

I don’t know, from this perspective, the fact that young people can go anywhere, however they want, and have a good time and socialize, well, this was impossible for me back then. I don’t know, it seemed like crossing the border, illegally crossing the border. I was so scared. But then I realized that the situation in Sarajevo is the same as the one here. There are people who are decent and people who are not. I accepted it that way, and the same goes for me even nowadays. There are people who are decent and people who are not, and I know that I can’t expect everyone I know to be decent. I just can’t expect that from everyone around me. However, there is a way of filtering my environment. There is a way of avoiding arguments. I’ve learned this, and it was really interesting. It’s important not to add fuel to the fire, it’s important to avoid wasting energy, and accept certain things. People are different to you in the same way you’re different to them. This works.

And does war affect your everyday life and to what extent?

Well, for example, I decided to continue my education in Sarajevo, even though I am from Banja Luka. I don’t understand why, after all these years, someone would ask me: “Why Sarajevo?” That is an awkward question to which I don’t know if I should answer. It would be better if they asked themselves why they even asked me that. I don’t watch news. I don’t do that because all the information that circulate… Even on two Serbian TV stations you can hear different information. In order to really understand everything, to put together a picture of what is happening, you’d have to watch at least three or four news reports.

The war did mess everything up. Was my mother even able to notice that something was happening to me? Was I capable of thinking about things like that when the first and most important thing was what to eat? Another thing. Where do refugees go? Satisfying basic human needs, security and life quality in the context of survival were most important. I don’t think that it was even an option for someone to go searching for themselves. There was to time for searching. Only if maybe my parents game me more freedom to meet other people, to hang out with them. Maybe I could have found a person who had the same beliefs, or the same dilemmas or… I don’t even know.

Did ethnicity ever play an important role in your choice of partners, or generally, people around yourself?

No. I do not pick my friends, partners or people surrounding me based on that. I said it already, they’re either decent or not.

What is freedom for you?

To me, freedom means that I can have any rights that people around me have as well. When my friend comes to a birthday party with her boyfriend, I want to be able to come to the same party with my girlfriend. Now that is freedom for me. It doesn’t matter if we pretend to be roommates in front of our neighbors, but in front of my true friends, I want freedom… In that case, I count on that freedom, that everyone knows what the person sitting next to me means to me. I love sharing everything, good things, difficult things, bad things, I don’t care. I love sharing everything that happens in my life with the right person standing next to me. At my ex-girlfriend father’s funeral, I stood aside, so far away that I couldn’t believe it. And that was… I don’t want something like that happening to me.

What guides you in life nowadays?

Well, when it’s difficult, there is a saying: “This too shall pass.”  I know that life has pros and cons, from time to time, and that is how it is supposed to work. I perceive life like hormones in the human body, which means, they go up, and they go down. It can be explained like that, it even sounds good. Also, for every dark night there’s a brighter day. This one also guides me quite often: “Morning is wiser than evening.” I started using this one a lot, it really helps. No impulsive reactions. And the things that you can’t change in life, you can accept, and do so in such a way that you don’t lose yourself. That is something you work on. It is a process. That is life, actually. It can’t be any different. So here I am, trying to get used to being able to do things in life, and that I deserve to be happy, and waiting for that to happen.