Transcript of interview, Queer Archive, 2017
I am… I always say I’m from Sarajevo. Somehow, I grew up in Sarajevo, but I was born in Rijeka. My mom…she had a hard life with my dad, I mean, what she is talking about, and what she doesn’t talk about, what’s being unsaid, it’s not even important. Anyways, at very young age, I came back to my grandma. And then I lived with grandma and granddad on Ploča, while mom was working with dad. Somehow, that’s where I grew up. So, I’m a kid from the hood, from Ploča. And then when grandma died, I was six years old, and then I moved to live with my mom and dad on Širokača. And that lasted somewhere until I was maybe nine or ten years old. Then I moved, at the age of nine, nine and a half, at my uncle’s place on Malta, and then the war started. I was eleven. And that’s it; I stayed at Malta, the whole wartime, actually. This women’s note was so strong, and we were so… In our villages, you know, women would sit and like, we are talking, discussing something, we were, you know…. I always keep saying that this grandma was a feminist, without even knowing it. The tradition in my family was passed through the female side of the family. This women’s note from my mom’s side was stronger than any patriarchal note. Even though, they have also passed this tradition along, like – what are you doing, look the way you’re sitting, where and what are you eating, you know.On the other hand, they always kept saying…because somehow, there was this sort of domestic violence in my family, this violence was always present. And they always said – “If you’re not happy, don’t do it, don’t do it by all means! Live, just live! Do not, no, don’t marry ever!” You know, sometimes someone from family asks: “So, when will you (get married)?”, my mom always used to say “Let her be, she doesn’t have to. Ever.”; “Let her be, let her enjoy, let her…” I think that comes from this feminist side, unconscious feminist part of them, where they supported each other, cared for one another, went to do laundry together, you know. And to me… I am very proud of that and as we grew up older, some of our female relatives were more bold and daring, you know, they’d say – “You won’t do this to me anymore! You won’t!”, because they had that support from the women’s side of the family. And all men were, you know, drunk, and all of them were, you know, sad and miserable and separated, they never socialized with us. You know, it’s just that women’s side was holding on better than men’s side. Because they (men), were somehow everywhere, but at home. And then when they come home, there’s always a problem of some kind. You know how it goes.
What were your dreams before the war? So, what was going on in your head? What did you want to be? I don’t know, what were you thinking about?
I always wanted you to be a stewardess for some reason, I don’t know why. I mean, being a stewardess, I can say I speak several languages; I always wanted to speak several languages, and travel. After that I was thinking of becoming a veterinarian, because I was always bringing animals home, from all over the place, trying to save them. We had a cat that brought a mouse once, and I was trying to “fix” him. Crazy.
So where were you during nineties, right before the beginning of the war?
During nineties, I am still on Širokača. I think that was the time when I moved at my uncle’s.
Who were the most significant people to you during that period of your life? Now we talk about the wartime. Who was your greatest support?
Well… The greatest support in my…during the war, was my cousin, uncle’s daughter Dalida, she is no longer alive, she passed away. She was somehow the greatest support for me. She used to…during the war…I mean, uncle and aunt as well. But with her…she took over this role where when I get scared or I was frightened, or it’s shooting outside; she used to come in the middle of the night – it’s shooting outside, bombshells are flying above the house, I’m shaking, I was little, eleven years old. But regardless, one can say to you – “Everything is OK, don’t be afraid”, but you are still afraid, because of the sound and all that. So, she used to dress up for me (I used to listen and sing Brena’s songs, Brena was everything to me), in the middle of the night, there’s no electricity, there was nothing, she dresses up, puts make up on, takes a hair brush and you know…she sings Brena for me, I mean, jumping on the bed… And there, she makes me laugh, and then we fool around for a while, I get tired and I fall asleep. Then she takes off her make up and goes to bed. She was really there for me…you know…
Besides people, what else gave you strength during that period?
What gave me the most strength – I started dancing at that time. Under grenades, it’s wartime, shootings; and we go to school for a training. There was this hall, and, umm, my trainer was in HVO or something like that, back then, and they gave him this hall for free, to train the kids, because he was a soldier. And we used to dance there like literally, three or four times a week. Sometimes there is no music, sometimes there is. With or without electricity. And when there’s no electricity it was pain to dance. You can’t, you know, like you’re hoping or something. But there were times when there was music, so we used to figure it out, I don’t know…some batteries, and then, you know, something like, you have this accumulator from the car and then you attach it to something, and then…but it makes sound, very bad, it rumbles, it’s awful, but you know… I loved it. Dancing saved me; I think it made me what I am today, and not what I could’ve become. But the dance was my number one. Dancing and the local community in the war. The whole community. The building, the neighborhood. I’m not sure if we have ever, as a society, as Bosnians, as Sarajevo people, I won’t talk about other cities because I wouldn’t know – I don’t know if we have ever been more in solidarity than during the wartime. We shared the last piece, the very last, you know; you have one kilo of flour, you make some pancakes and you go out and share it with the whole neighborhood. From babies, little babies, from… I mean we all grew up together; we slept on the same mattress, because they used to put all children in the safest apartment, so we were all together, that’s how we slept. People really, but really took care of each other. It didn’t matter if you were Serb, Muslim, Croat, what you believed in, or didn’t believe – there were all kinds of people in one place. We really did so well, all of us, we kept together and no one ever asked what your name was, no one blamed anyone, nothing, it was no ones fault for the situation we were in. Well, now I don’t know what happened next. I have heard all kinds of stories, and it gets hard for you. Because then you realize you lived in a bubble, you know. You learn that not everything was so great, actually, people attacked other people, and this and that, but we kept together so well, we shared the last bite, there. So, this community was a huge deal. And later on it disappeared, when the war was over, everyone turned to themselves. I missed that the most. The fact that people somehow ask for you, care about you, and that you know that everyone’s there for you. You know, just like, I don’t know, true community. In some countries people still live that way and it’s wonderful. I would raise my child tomorrow in that kind of a community where, you know, we are all united and everyone cares about each other. Age range was wide, from our own age, but also older and younger generations were there. To us they were…we had friends, people from our crew, who were ten years older than us. Like my cousin. And they would gather and we would join them. They’d sit on top of the stairs and we’d sit a bit lower. And up there, they would play music and sing, and we weren’t allowed to sing because we’d ruin it for them, you know, and then they would shout at us, but we’d still keep singing in your head, learning songs, while they play. You know…
Was there any conversation on LGBT people at that time? Did you know any LGBT person, did you talk about it? And who did you talk about?
Oh no, I had no…It looks like…actually I didn’t even think about it. There.
And when did you start thinking about it? I mean, when did you start questioning your sexuality, or sexuality in general?
Sexuality in general? My puberty began quite late. But sexuality issues started in high school. It was 1995/1996 and 1997/98. In 1999 I went to college. So it is those four years. So, I was already eighteen years old. I was nowhere, virginity and stuff, I was still a virgin, and it meant nothing to me. You know, like, people would hide it, and I was like “Whaat?”, and then they kept asking me “How come, nothing at all?” You know, people want to know this stuff. And then I tell them – “What’s wrong with you all, I’m not into it, I’m a dancer! I have other stuff to do, I’m always tired, I have no time to think about it.” First time that I actually…when I lost myself, when I realized that I might have some attraction towards women, was when my best girlfriend at the time, told me to watch the movie “Gia”. And then, something started happening to me, I started thinking about it. You know, like, – “Oh wow, this is happening”. And now you know, this thing exists. And now you’re watching that scene and you feel something, something going on inside of you. And it was just a scary thing to me. It was frightening. I thought to myself – OK, it happens, people are obviously doing it, on the movie, right, but I don’t know anyone like that. I absolutely didn’t know one person, who is, you know, like that. And this idea that you are different, that you might stay all alone and never…and then you just realize this….my not belonging to this other, you know, this men’s world, might be because of that. Where you don’t… I don’t know, it was just too scary.Then, when I realized that this something usual or “normal” (so to say), is when I actually started… I said – OK, I’m going to sleep with a guy, so what, I guess I’ll find someone, and then I’ll know! And it was then when it all started, I was maybe nineteen, when I lost my virginity, when I started exploring, actually…I was exploring, sexual desire, need, you know, with men. Because, you know, to me it was like not normal. But at the same time, I also explored this other side, with this girlfriend of mine, where we had, like a year of great friendship and then this friendship actually turned to be something more. And then in fact beside all these guys, I realized when this happened between us, when we first kissed, I thought to myself “Wow, I’m losing my mind”. I could not stand up from the chair. And it never happened with any of the guys either. And I though “Oh my God, if this one kiss hit me so hard, imagine something else!” Well I… If I could run away, I’d run away to Mars from her. So this is this…so I was 19 or 20 years old, where I’m exploring myself and the world around me, I guess.
So how did the process go, afterwards?
So this started, with this girlfriend, it was like a little nightmare. But despite it all, I will remember this woman, as long as I live. And truth to be told, as many as I had beautiful moments with her, I also had some hard times. But if it wasn’t for that experience, I think I would still be struggling with myself and all that, long afterwards. And then, at that same period of time, my best male friend, with whom I was dancing – I came out to him. He was the first person ever that I told I was…I told him I liked that girl and that I think I loved her and that she was very important to me. He, after fifteen years of friendship, he told me “I cannot support that, I’m not…I can’t accept that”. Like – goodbye. And the guy just gave up on me, he cut me off and he never called me again. My world fell apart. So my world with her was falling apart, because she was my best friend as well, my friendship with him was falling apart, because he was my best friend, like my brother and everything. And he took all our friends with him. So, no one was there. He outed me to them, I think. So they all freaked out, and disappeared. It was like, you know – I call them, they’re not there. Or it was like, we’ll go out, then we won’t, and then I go out and I see them all together. And then it started falling apart with that girl as well, so I ended up alone. I was 21 at the time, so it lasted about two years with this girl, I left college. I enrolled the Art academy before all that, so in 1999 I enrolled in Art school and that’s where I met this girl. I fell apart. I stopped my schooling and I made a break, I think I didn’t go back to school for five next years. I started working in Oslobođenje. The first time I realized there is some organization or anything like that, was while we were sitting in cafeteria, all of us, people from work, journalists, you know… There was this newspaper Dani. And in that newspaper I saw an article featuring Svetlana Đurković and Belma, journalist who was working for that papers and who did an interview with Svetlana. And there was a picture of two of them, sitting and talking. And Svetlana was talking about organization Q, and about forum run by Q where they actually work with LGBTIQ people. For the first time in my life I see these letters T, Q and I, and I don’t understand it, it wasn’t clear to me. I look at those letters, and I’m trying to figure it out, this is lesbian, this is gay, what’s this? Isn’t gay and lesbian the same thing…so I had no idea, like I knew nothing. Then I signed up on this forum chat. I used to chat from Oslobođenje. I didn’t care if someone would notice. During the break at work, I would go straight to the computer, log in and chat. I could’ve got fired hundred times. But I wasn’t. So that’s the way it all started, that’s how I started connecting with queer community. I thought I was the only one in the world, in Bosnia. I thought there was no one else like me. You know when I was talking to other people, I was somehow hoping someone will say something, out themselves, something…it took me some time later on, when I started actually meeting people from the queer community, to realize there are so many people from my elementary school, from my high school, people who went to school with me – who were gay, and we have never ever…you know. They knew they were gay back then. I didn’t even know what I was during my high school period. Half of the people, half of them, who showed up for the first time when we organized gathering of people from the forum chat – half of them I already knew from somewhere. I was like “You?!”, and they were with the same reaction “You?! Oh, you as well!” And we all freaked out, we ran away from each other, we thought – is it safe? I can’t… And basically then you start to realize how much taboo is over all that, how much people don’t talk about these things, and how much we have all suffered. We suffered. We all went to the same high school together and no one was free to talk about it. You have to play this (social) role; you have to have this cover. So, through Q, through forum chats I met people from queer community in Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, because there were people from all around the country.
And how do you identify related to your sexual orientation and your gender?
I definitely identify myself as a lesbian now, as far as sexual orientation is concerned. And there is no confusion here, that is, I am totally sure. And as for the gender, I’m a bit … I am really gender-fluid. So, sometimes I have more boy expression and then sometimes I more on this feminine side of the spectrum. But I don’t have particular one, and I’m not in the middle of the spectrum either. I’d say I am really gender-fluid. But when it comes to my body, the way it is now, I wouldn’t change a thing; I totally like it the way it is.
When did the war finish, for you? Is there any particular moment, thought, event or memory?
One day we were just … One day we didn’t have water, no electricity, nothing, nothing was there. And then the second day we woke up, and then we went to the local store – you could find everything in that store. And I looked at the counter side, and I saw Chunga Lunga chewing gums, they had chewing gums! The store was open. We had, like some money. The paper money wasn’t even printed yet. I think we didn’t even have those convertible marks back then. There were some coupons, I can’t remember. And I was like… I think the moment I saw that chewing gum in the store – I actually realized that now everything was back to where it was before, before shootings. On the other hand, when the school started, my high school, the school was actually in the school building. Until then, I went to school in the basement, for four years. So, those moments.
Do you think peace ever came and when was it? Is there any difference?
There is definitely difference. And peace has never started in Bosnia. After the war, peace definitely…the way I live… I mean, to me the war wasn’t just the war, but the state of mind, your physical state of anxiety has never ended. Maybe it’s also because I was involved in activism, I was fighting, I was working, moving on, I didn’t want to live at home, I wanted to move, to do something… But this… And not only me, my whole family changed after the war. So, they all became so selfish, anxious, and nervous. These people had no more love. I grew up in a family that was so full of love, we gave each other so much. We loved each other so much. And there was domestic violence as well, I mean lots of things were happening, but in between these moments you could feel that love. After that, it all stopped. Everything changed. So, we all changed in some way, and we all became somehow more closed, and we did not share things as we used to. We talked less to each other; we were all sort of numb. And that was it.I don’t think peace ever came back. This restlessness remained. That war and that discomfort remained within us. Even today, when I come back to Sarajevo – I feel that discomfort. So I do not think that peace has ever occurred in this area.
And how did it affect your identity development?
Well, war, I don’t know. I was really young, I mean, I was eleven when the war started. I was 14 or 15 when the war was over. It did stop some things, like I didn’t want to be a stewardess anymore, I didn’t want… OK I always wanted to be a veterinarian, but this dancing…it became my number one thing. I think that dance made me less traumatized at the end, comparing to traumas I could have had. Because, dance was everything to me. And if there was Dancing Academy at the time in Sarajevo, I would be a dancer, not an artist. And that is something that still hurts, you know, sometimes when I see people dancing, I feel like crying. I’m really sensitive to this, which I think is great, actually, because I think it’s opening me. You know, there are things you love, that open you, I think that’s wonderful. Otherwise I never cry. But, I don’t know. (The war) changed our identities, in a sense where you… I didn’t live in a fantasy world anymore, I lived reality, where you have to earn money, you have to have a job; reality where I flipped burgers, but also worked in Oslobođenje. I really started fighting for myself. Because I realized that’s the way it goes. You grow up sooner. For me freedom is – art. Movement is freedom to me, as well. I can’t do anything if I don’t move. Movement and safe space are like open space to me. Just movement itself. Moving in any direction, like travel, or just walk around the block if nothing else, is freedom to me. This need to move all the time is freedom to me. Freedom is when you are allowed to speak up, when you are allowed to hug and kiss the person you love. Talking about things around you or things that make you who you are, without fear, without being scared, yes…that is freedom. I don’t know… I mean, freedom is everything what makes you who you are, and the fact that you can express it freely, show it, in any way. And ultimately, freedom is when you can love your family and they can love you, without fear.
What are you always coming back to?
I am always coming back home. I’m like Lassie. And I have to have a base. If I do not have a base, I do not exist. And I don’t like being in that base longer than like, five days. But I must have a base. So, I’m always coming back home. This home – I have a home here, I have a home in America. It doesn’t matter where it is, but I have to go back to my base. I fly away, like a butterfly, I go everywhere, I’m all over the place, but then I come back to my base, calm down for a while, focus on myself, you know, I’m all Zen, and then when I’m recharged I can take off again.