Being a lesbian in Austria and Cameroon, « eLLes » share their stories

           Being a lesbian in Austria

<< Being asked about giving a testimony as a lesbian woman is not a hard task, as questioning myself and giving a testimony about my own sexual orientation has to happen every day anew, as I see and want to live it fully. I am always trying to be really honest with myself but I am still really fragile when saying openly I am gay.>>

Photo Témoignage 3I am a 30-year old woman born in a city with about 60 000 inhabitants in the South of Austria near the Italian and Slovenian borders. As one of three daughters of a medical doctor and a linguist, intellectual and educational barriers have always been really high.

In Austria, the current right-wing populist government is not in favour of gay marriage, but the Constitutional Court just recently decided that at the beginning of 2019 gays will be allowed to marry. The Catholic Church and their homophobic ideas are still quite strong in some conservative parts of Austria and the elder generation can be quite homophobic as well. However, the trends in society are gay-friendly and the yearly gay parade is allowed.

I am not outed with all my relatives yet, only with my friends, cousins my age and with my close family. Why? Then I would have to justify myself in front of them, that is what the elder generation expects me to do. And that I do not want as I think it should not be necessary.

I was socialized heterosexually and for a long time I thought I was in love with men, but always felt something really beautiful for women which I then could not yet figure out as homosexual love. Being a middle child, I was rebellious anyways and soon understood that the way foreseen for me, would not be mine. In high school, I was usually terribly in love with female teachers. In this phase, I was still searching for married and unreachable women to project my romantic fantasies on and would have run away if one of them had approached me.

As a teen I was often lonely but developed strength in that isolated room I created for myself.  I wrote poems, kept a blog and had a lot of pen and mail friends I never metI told my parents really late that I was lesbian, but my father had felt it anyways as he was really sensitive.

He was really supportive and still is, my mother apparently not as much. She still asks me today if I am sure. She saw me heartbroken because of women, she saw me having flirts with women, but she is still asking. That, sometimes hurts me because she is doubting something which I have fought for over such a long time: myself.  At first, my older sister was really confused but just recently gave me a guide for gay bars in Vienna. I guess she is fine with it now. My younger sister is really cool about it, she became my life consultant and encouraged me to be more active.

After high school, I went to a big University to become a translator for Russian and Italian. I also lived in Russia during my studies and disclosed with one person, a girl who is a political opponent and who is now my best Russian friend. When I was really young, a lecturer, a 60-year old heterosexual married woman, “felt” that I was more oriented towards women and thought it would be exciting to propose me a secret affair. After that I felt really traumatized and disappointed by her abusing her authority. Until today she denies her feelings and her words. It took me some time to report it. The dean never commented but he knew. This incident was a brutal eye opener and raised a lot of questions when comparing me to my lecturer. How do I want to live my sexual orientation? Secretly? Do I want kids? Do I care about other people’s opinion? Honest. No, openly. Yes, I do want kids. No, most of the time. (pas très clair)
___
Honestly, and openly. Yes,
I do want kids.
No, I do not worry about people’s opinion, most days at least.

I just recently graduated from an additional Master’s in Human Rights and wish to become a sexual violence consultant for refugee women. I worked in war-torn Eastern Ukraine this summer, where I learned a lot about gender and immigration and want to go that way further.

<<Despite my fragility, I still feel and sometimes behave like a little colourful plant, but I plan to become an old rainbow tree someday.>> 

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 Being a lesbian in Cameroon 

<<As Cameroon is one of the 36 countries in the world which penalizes homosexuality in its penal code, homophobia indirectly affects the Cameroonian population, religion, habits and customs, and families.>>

Photo 2« My sexual orientation is lesbian and I identify as trans, I am Cameroonian and I have lived in Cameroon for 31 years. I inherited the catholic religion from my parents. I am rather genuine, I have lived with a partner for a year and have been a defender of Human rights for 10 years. I am masculine from head to sneakers, Rastafarian on occasion, obsessed by the sight of very high heels and I have a special love of numbers>> 

At times I wonder: Why me? How did it come about? What is the way out? Will I manage? Why live with this? Am I normal? But I have no clear answers to my questions, so I resign myself to it and I think: you were born like this, so you will have to assert yourself and accept yourself the way you are, so that other people can also accept you.

Like all the girls my age in the neighbourhood, I had a life with men. It consisted in a succession of relationships which had a sad ending: avoidance, disgust, lack of pleasure and desire, lack of attraction. In short, I did not experience any feeling of joy, let alone LOVE.

I discovered my true self in September 2005, on the 5th to be precise. And for the first time my body, my heart, my senses spoke to me, they reacted to a soft and sweet kiss from a beautiful sexy brunette in high heels. From that moment I realised that I was made for that:  “loving women”. I experienced my first days of tenderness, passion, intense pleasure and joy. Unfortunately, I came back down to earth a few days later as the debates on homosexuality began to hit the headlines*. And then my well-being turned into a heavy burden that I would have to bear alone, in the shadows, at the risk of living all sorts of reprisals (moral and physical violence, arrest, rejection, murder, conviction, maybe suicide).

My looks, which had caused no problem so far, began to seem suspicious among my friends and family. Then, little by little, the neighbours began to gossip about my homosexuality and my family did the same.

I was pushed to the wall from all sides. While I was away, my older brother broke the door of my room to look for proof of my homosexuality. He found brochures about homosexuality, condoms and gels, and my business card from “Cameroon Alternatives**”.

When I got back, a family council was held. During the meeting, all the « proof » were put down on the table and the question was raised: « what is your relationship with women ? ».

It was only going from bad to worse. I was exposed to all sorts of moral violence: public insults, denied tratment with my partner at hospitals, stripped from the right to see the girls from my neighbourhood or my family. I suffered from this brutal separation, and not having access to basic and essential products: no more pocket money, and a raft of laments such as:

“Leave this life, it is a life of misfortune.”
“Leave this sect, it leads nowhere.”
“If it is a fantasy, stop it.”
“It takes you away from God. »

 

In Cameroon in 2005, publications of the local press established lists of alleged homosexuals among which were politicians and media people.
** Alternatives Cameroon: Cameroonian association for the defense of  Human rights and Peoples. Legal support for people imprisoned for homosexuality.

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