Audio interview transcript:
QA: Hi Dragana!
Dragana: Hi Belma!
QA: Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview. For a start, could you tell us where you were born and where you grew up?
Dragana: I was born in Sarajevo and I grew up, well, I say, in former Yugoslavia, in different cities of former Yugoslavia.
QA: Where do you live now?
Dragana: Currently I am in Banja Luka.
QA: Could you tell me about your childhood, and if there is any fond memory that you’d like to share?
Dragana: Well, I don’t know. My childhood was really nice, I remember it dearly, and a fond memory… Well, maybe our trips to the seaside, that’s what I was always happy about. My parents had this Stojadin car and then we would pack, load it with all of our stuff and we would all travel together to the seaside and we’d race on the highway. And we would all be super happy when our dad passes another car, I mean, he’d do it with Stojadin, come on. And we would sing songs, so that was like…Then the joy you feel once you see the sea, well, that was something special, it still is today.
QA: Could you tell me about your growing up? What did your process look like in the sense of discovering your sexuality, sexual identity, gender?
Dragana: Well, I don’t know, there were different stages, I think. Somehow, I always liked girls, I was happy to be with girls, play and hang out with them, so that was… I don’t know, like, going for a sleepover to my best friend’s place was the most normal thing in the world for me. And then again, I often liked those girls. So, that’s about the period when I was really young. Then later on through high school, it was like, it was funny because I went to women’s hairdressing school and it was mostly women who attended. So we hugged, kissed, I don’t know, touching each other, things like that. So, that was the first time… my first kiss with a girl happened in that high school. It was the most normal thing, I don’t know how else to describe it.
QA: And what did that process look like regarding your coming out? Did you feel you could come out and be accepted?
Dragana: Well, that too had its different stages, I think. With some people it was easy to come out, for example, my sister. When I came out to my brother-in-law, he said, like, why are you telling me this now, I’ve known it all along. Like, it’s nothing new. So, there, different stages. My nephew also, he just came and said, like, aunt, are you a lesbian. So that was also cool. So most of my coming outs, at least within the closer circle of my family, were positive. And I felt accepted. It was only with my mom that I had to work a bit harder on some things. She thought that there were no lesbians in her days. Of course, she accepted me and said, it’s okay, you can also bring your girlfriends home, and things like that. But it was like she didn’t get it, like, she never saw a lesbian movie, two women like that together, so for her it was a bit… and I would tell her all about it.
QA: So, when you’re talking about that period of high school, where was it happening, what was the context?
Dragana: When I told you that I feel I come from different cities across Yugoslavia… Well, my high school was in Banja Luka, that part was in Banja Luka. That was right after the war, that period, when everything was loose and full of life, I don’t know how to describe it… Everything was okay, as long as we are safe and sound, so something like that, that kind of feeling.
QA: Let’s reflect on the concept of a community. What does the community mean for you and to what extent have the communities changed in your life over time?
Dragana: It was always important for me to belong to a certain community, I mean, one of the communities. Now, for example, it’s the lesbian community, before, when I was younger, it was my friends and we always had this certain creativity within so we all went to different school clubs. Then, one period I used to practice karate, so I had my little team. Yes, this belonging was always important for me, belonging to the community.
QA: You’ve also mentioned war. Do you have memories of the war and to what extent have the community and relationships changed, meaning before, during and after the war?
Dragana: Well, I think they have, somehow the war really destroyed us. And then we started recovering slowly, though I think that it’s only slightly better now than how it was before. I mean, some things have changed, but the war and post-war period was really hard, for many people. And being a lesbian or a gay person, I think it makes things harder. And for me… as I was born in Sarajevo and then it was like, I am moving to Belgrade, then I am moving, that is, you flee your home to Belgrade, then you’re internally displaced to Banja Luka and all of that was just extra work for me in that period. And then I remember when organization Q was formed and we got connected there. So for me it was not only about going to that organization as a lesbian to meet other lesbians and LGBT persons. No, it was also important to go back to Sarajevo, because it was really hard, going back to Sarajevo was hard not because of nationalism, but simply it was hard for me to reconnect to my friends from elementary school, from the same street, my neighbors, my teacher, that kind of hard. It was just…Somehow through that experience I revisited this question, like, where I am from. And that was meaningful.
QA: You’ve just mentioned organization Q and we also met through activism. Can you share what activism means for you, the solidarity and resistance; where is it now in your life? And how much has that activist spirit and some forms of activism changed, to what extent and how have they been changing over time?
Dragana: Well, I think activism is really important for me, it always has been, it still is and it will always be important. It gave me so much, it made my life richer, in the sense that I met some beautiful people whom I am constantly in touch with, even today. With some people, some relationships have strengthened; speaking of the community. With some of them I’m super close, with some… I don’t know, it transformed into something else, so, that makes me happy. We did different things together and we made changes in our society, though those changes were sometimes more or sometimes less visible, I still think we did and we are still doing some amazing things today. And it’s important, it really is, it will always be important for me, in my entire life.
QA: Do you think some things have changed in our society through all those years of activism, let’s say from the beginning of organization Q until today?
Dragana: I think yes, many things have changed. I still remember that period when Q was active, it was like this: I am in Banja Luka and then there was this group of us, lesbians and gays and queers and some other people. And then it happens that someone gets beaten up in the police because he went to report something, because he is gay. And the police officers beat him up because he is gay. And then Svetlana and Boba would come to handle it, to talk to the police, tell them they can’t do those things, to report cases similar to that one, and whatnot. And now, I think now the state is deaf to our reports of crime, as if we don’t matter, in that way. But at least we don’t have situations like those where we’re additionally harassed and beaten by the police too.
QA: Do you think anything changed in the public space? Do LGBT persons have more public space? I mean, has that activism brought any larger scale changes?
Dragana: I think so. And that we started taking over and occupying public space as ours. Like, we live here too, that’s mine too, you know. And that playground, well, that’s mine too and that street is also mine. If we’re out protesting, we have the same right and we are equally entitled to it just as any other citizen.
QA: Are we now more visible than before in society?
Dragana: I think so, yes. Especially now that there’s Pride in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so, yes.
QA: How supported and safe do you feel now in your community? And what is it that you need to feel safe?
Dragana: Well, now it depends on the situation, I need different things to feel safe. At the moment, right now at this stage of my life I need housing, financial security. I mean, that base is important, that’s really important at this stage of my life, yes, the base. I have made different connections in communities where I used to work and live, and those have turned into some other forms of relationships. So now I feel completely supported and when I need something I feel comfortable to ask for support or something like that. So, yes, I mean, it’s fine, I am content.
QA: So, we’re living in this time of various measures being taken due to COVID-19 pandemic, so, tell me, what changed in your life?
Dragana: Well, what to say, it’s pandemic, so it’s a state of emergency, though we currently don’t have measures taken like lockdown. On an everyday level, the things you hear, number of the dead or new cases, it’s really unsettling, it is disturbing… On the other hand, it hasn’t affected me in the sense that I still have a job, now I work from home so that’s really great, much better than working in the office. I am aware that many people lost their jobs in this, there’s so much violence against women right now, and all those things, I am aware of it. The Pandemic hasn’t affected me to that extent, in that sense.
QA: To wrap up, do you have a guiding idea, principle, a thought that you’d like to share with others?
Dragana: Right now, in this period of my life, I don’t know if I’d say guiding, but I can say she is leading me instead of me leading her on her leash. My puppy is leading me. And at the moment that’s my greatest joy, when I feel most tired and when you’re full of corona news and you can’t feel that happy, she always brings a smile to my face and she wants to play, she wants to go out for a walk. So, she’s my little guide. And some special quote…Well, knowing you know also personally Belma, somehow we were giving too much of ourselves for activism. I mean, at least now, from this perspective, thinking about my health for example, or my boundaries…We were kind of jumping into various situation that we might have not even wanted to be in, but it seemed important, it seemed like the most important thing of our lives and it had to be done there and now. So, in that sense, I can share a quote by Aude Lorde, caring for myself, especially in the context of this Pandemic, in this society is an act of resistance.
QA: Is there anything else you’d like to share, something that I haven’t asked you?
Dragana: Well, yes. When I said that activism had given so much, that we had done so much for society and ourselves, it’s true. And then also when you asked me about some happy childhood memories, well, I would also like to share a happy memory related to activism, though there had been so many memories. There was this one situation that I thought was so cool and amazing. We were on a study visit in Berlin because Lepa Mladjenovic was awarded for lesbian activism. It was a group of 22 of us, I think, and we were lesbians, bi, queer women from different cities of former Yugoslavia. And it was beautiful and amazing, to experience all of it. I am really grateful for that. So, we were coming back from Berlin, right, and we were all hyped, I mean, full of impressions and in high spirits, and the award ceremony itself was amazing, we lesbianized it. I don’t know how else to explain it, the award ceremony was supposed to be in this heteronormative mode, but we hi-jacked it, we sang songs we wanted, so that was extra cool. Anyway, on our way back, after all those beautiful moments and impressions, we got into the plane, so there were all these people and 22 of us. And at some point a flight attendant brought some newspapers and among those was Telegraf. And on the cover of Telegraf there is this headline, an article that Lepa had been awarded, and it was in German, so we were all super excited, like, wow, wow! We were ecstatic to the point we started singing “Young partisan was a lesbian” So, 22 of us is singing, we’re all sitting in the plane and other passengers are staring, but they don’t have a choice, you know, where else can they go, so they’re sitting all silent. So that was so cool and it makes me happy every time I think of it. And there was this lady that was sitting next to me. So she asks me, like, well, who we are, what we’re doing here, why were we on this trip. And then she starts telling me that she is from Serbia, from some small place down south, and she asks me: “What do you think, are there any lesbians in my town?” I said: “Yes, well, probably yes. I don’t know any of them right now, but probably yes.: So, we were all touched by that experience, even that woman, and all of the passengers. It was great!
This story is part of a series of personal stories of LBTQ women about relationships, identities, sexuality and gender, feeling of belonging, creativity and work. Persons from the community share their thoughts related to these questions reflecting on the period before, during and after the war, as well as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Initiative supported by Feminist Review Trust Fund.