My silence had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. (Audre Lorde)
For unnatural fornication between persons of the male sex, the perpetrator will be punished with up to two years in prison – Article 186 – Criminal Code of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1951, Ofc. journal FPRY no. 13. Similar provisions were found in the StGB (German: Strafgesetzbuch), the criminal code of East and West Germany, and the Labouchere Amendment of 1885 in the United Kingdom. All these provisions cast a veil of darkness permeated with humiliating punishments and measures on those who allowed themselves to love, to be themselves, to be queer – and history denies this part of their identity.
The middle of the 20th century was followed by intense changes in the sphere of democratization of government, and many legal provisions were changed under the influence of reformist and libertarian energy. Already in the late 60s and early 70s in most democratic countries, the law finally kept pace with the flourishing of the struggle for human rights, and thus the way was paved for the coming generations would not be chained by the chains of a dirty and shameful past that treated (read: nursed) their emotions, expression, identity, and uniqueness with bizarre and draconian penal provisions and public condemnation.
Although work is (in)effective at the institutional level in the prevention of discrimination, hate speech, and criminal acts committed out of hatred, the results are achieved more slowly than expected, and the application is forgotten as soon as it is not necessary to tick to international partners. The blame is shifted from the individual to the state, from the state to society and its underdevelopment, society blames the centres of power and thus the vicious circle of blame and condemnation continues, without an applicable solution. What is recognized in the social core is the transgenerational trauma that society unconsciously carries on its shoulders, sheds its weight and darkness, and the individual first shoots the arrow of moral values and traditions, correct life decisions, and a uniformed life according to rules that s/he does not fully understand, but surrenders to them and gives them control over life.
The theme of the struggle and efforts of the LGBTIQ+ community for equal status and the right to call ourselves citizens (in the full sense and capacity of that word) has a complex and sincere attitude towards the noble idea of equality and respect that is guaranteed to us by birth. The demands and goals of this struggle are often classified into the category of unwanted Western values, perverse and satanic, selfishness, destruction of the meaning of love, faggoty… All hatred, aggression, and misunderstanding stem from fear of the unknown, or more precisely, an honest attitude towards oneself and society. This hatred is an integral part of the growing up of every being who appreciates freedom, especially the one that deviates from social merit.
That’s why the word fag stuck in my memory as the first insult a boy could hear, and its goal was to disarm and hurt, without any thought of how deep the consequences are. Following me every step of the way, vigilantly waiting to cut down me or any boy who did not represent the patriarchal standard every time we thought we were free of shame and guilt, but not just boys, there were a lot more of us. That shame and guilt boiled over, forcing me to question how long the agony of waiting would last for someone to call me that in front of my family and strip me completely, making me painfully weak. And that’s why, like many before me, and unfortunately also after me, I decided to cement my non-uniform being into a tiny and secluded corner where I will never be able to hear what makes me mine, what makes me happy because I exist – what gives me the strength to say this is ME.
Growing up is permeated with a natural need to belong, every person wants to find their place in society. I also wanted to belong, and the imposed correct path led me further and further away from myself and others. The feeling of guilt and apprehension whenever I would let myself go and break away from the dogma and standard (the expected one) justified my suffering, because maybe there is a reason why so many people see something incorrect in me, something wrong and unnatural. Apprehension gave birth to shame, and shame gave birth to fear and their chain reaction was created. In that strong questioning of what I represent, which seemed worthy (?) of society’s condemnation, I began to slowly let go of all the strong shackles that had held me for too long in their suffocating embrace. I finally started to belong first to myself, and then to society.
Looking back on my growing up, I don’t condemn any of my weaknesses, nor do I regret any of the moments that happened. For a long time, I thought that running away was the only way to get rid of the deeply cut wounds that destroyed the being of a happy boy bathed in all bright colours and erased the stamp of existence. Escape taught me that I will always return to the monsters lurking in the closet. Facing them, I felt a breath of freedom, which once we get used to, we never get back. The world, which was born in the moment of triumph over hatred and non-acceptance, erased the limits of the impossible, giving me back that childlike freedom, the spark of rightness, and all the colours of the world that I thought had disappeared forever. That’s why I’m giving my story, because maybe the child in you who is reading this is suffering nailed in those same shameful chains, and no one deserves them.
Aleksa Jovanović, a student at the Faculty of Legal Sciences of the University of Donja Gorica
This column is part of the project “Together Against Prejudice!” conducted by the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) with financial support from the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights. The views expressed in this column are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights or the CCE.