I didn’t have any plans to leave Kyiv. I worked as a journalist, quite successfully. But my mother married a Jew who was going to go to the United States with his whole family: three children and a mother. He asked us to go with him – his brother had already lived in Baltimore, and he could give us an invitation. At that time, the Soviet Union had collapsed, there was inflation, shortage of goods and food - everyone who had the opportunity left for other countries. So, we had also decided to leave. I couldn’t speak the language, came with a hundred dollars in my pocket, and instead of two allowed suitcases, I took my dog with me. Jewish community helped us a lot, they paid for our apartment for the first three months and gave us bare essentials. One can say we started our life from scratch.
When realized I was a lesbian, I felt like a new person.
In quest of myself
I understood my orientation quite late. There were no gays or lesbians in my Soviet communication circle at the time, and this topic didn’t exist in public life at all. I only heard from my mother that one could become gay after prison. I always thought something was wrong with me because I honestly strived to meet men, but I didn’t enjoy dating and when they tried to kiss me, I just ran away. I realized that I did not want to live with a man. My mother raised me on her own, and I thought that I would also be able to have a child without getting married. I was 27 then, I found a guy who agreed to become a donor. Back then, 21 years ago, sperm banks were not so popular. I told him that my pregnancy would not commit him to anything, and he agreed.
When I gave birth to my child, the era of chats and forums began. And somehow, I found a lesbian chat. And almost immediately I realized that I was interested, that I belonged there. It was as if something new had opened up to me. Before that I was very shy, reserved, and then I felt like a new person, I understood who I was, I realized my place in this world. I was shocked: how couldn’t I see all this before? I had to give birth to understand who I was.
It's great I came to understand this, but it’s a bit unfortunate that from 20 to almost 30 years old I was running away from boys, and I could meet girls, start relationships, have more experience. I have lost so much time!
Shortly after giving birth, I fell in love with a girl from Los Angeles. My mother and I have always had a trusting relationship, so I immediately told her about my affair. She sincerely tried to understand me, but it took her almost three years. We didn't fight, but she hoped it would pass. She was worried that she did something wrong while raising me, that it happened because I didn’t have a father in my life. I kept on telling her that it did not depend on upbringing. I was trying to give her something to read about it, I gave her some interesting facts. My mother loves poetry, so I told her about Tsvetaeva. And she was surprised, she said, “I had no idea! And I won’t love her poems less now.” And it helped her to accept my orientation; she finally concluded that my happiness should be a priority.
My son learned about everything gradually. At first, he asked why he didn't have a dad. I explained that he had a dad, we just didn’t live together, such things happen. I said I had not met a man who I was ready to live with, except for him. It boosted his self-esteem. I also explained that there are different forms of family. One might have a father and a mother, another has only a grandmother and a mother, the third one may consist of a mother, and a dog. The most important is that everyone in the family loves each other.
Although in the United States, the situation with tolerance is much better than in Ukraine, when my son went to primary school, they used word “gay” as offensive. Like, you dress too brightly, you show off too much. And once a classmate of my son, whose Russian-speaking parents knew everything about me, told Adam that his mother was “gay”. He came and asked me about it. He was 7 years old back then, so I explained everything to him at a level he could understand. I said, “Yes, I don't like men, just like you don't like dill”. I asked if he could explain why he didn’t like dill. I said I couldn’t explain why I didn’t like men. It just happened to be so.
At first, he sincerely believed that I would change, love a man, he would have a father. But I had several long-term relationships when women lived with me. So, by the time he came of age, he understood and accepted the situation.
During the pandemic, my son and his girlfriend moved to my place. She also knows everything. I consider myself a happy person because I do not like to hide something from my loved ones. If someone does not like my orientation – s/he is free to choose not to communicate with me. I am lucky to live in such a country, and in a democratic gay-friendly Baltimore, so being open about my orientation will neither hurt my family nor my career.
I work for a large gas company. Even when same-sex marriages were not allowed in the United States, civil marriages between same-sex people were recognized at work. You could say that you live with a woman, show our joint residence permit and include it in the family social package and insurance. Many companies have been doing this for a long time, just not that many people knew about it.
And then, they adopted a law that allows same-sex marriage and everything became even easier. I officially married my girlfriend, and we decided to have a child, she was going to give birth.
We first contacted the Fertility Institute that had a sperm bank. This is an interesting process; you can read information about donors: their nationality, height, skin color, hair, habits. You can see his photo for a fee. But it was more important to us that the donor did not have severe hereditary diseases. We found a man who looked like me and chose him.
Fertilization turned out to be an unexpectedly difficult process. My wife had to undergo hormone therapy, which was difficult both morally and psychologically. After all, couples who have problems with the reproductive system usually come to the Institute. And my wife was healthy, she just could not conceive the usual way. But in the United States, the protocol must always be followed very strictly. That’s why she received hormones, and I had to undergo tests, although I had nothing to do with conception. It is a pity that there is no protocol for lesbian couples.
The costs were partially covered by insurance, in addition to the cost of sperm. A “portion” costs $ 1,000. We made 7 unsuccessful attempts a year. Then we tried IVF. But all attempts resulted in a miscarriage. My wife had constant tantrums due to hormones and despair. Then we used the traditional method again. We found a man, went to the gynecologist, he took his sperm and inseminated my wife. And it all worked out right away. The pregnancy went well: as a woman, I knew how to support her, I was pregnant before. It is more difficult for future dads in this regard. We named our girl Alex, I was recorded as her mother, so her birth certificate stated: mother and mother.
The US legal system protects children well. Her parents are those who were married at the time of her birth. Even if biologically, one of them is not a father or a mother. It can only be changed when the other person adopts the child. Therefore, marriage allows LGBT people to be parents with all rights.
Unfortunately, after some time, my wife wanted more children. It turned out she planned at least five. I was not ready for this, so, in the end, we had to divorce. Now she lives with her husband, and he adopted Alex.
In September, I came to Kyiv to meet my friends from the lesbian Facebook group. It is a safe place for Russian-speaking lesbians from different countries. Its name is very neutral so that participants’ Facebook friends did not have any specific questions. After all, in many countries, it is still dangerous to be an open representative of LGBT.
Kyiv has become more beautiful; it’s a pity there are no tall chestnut trees on Khreshchatyk as before. My district, Voskresenka, has not changed at all. It used to be old and shabby, and it remained so nowadays. You can meet gopniks eating sunflower seeds everywhere, all the posts are pasted with ads for drug treatment ...
But I met my classmates. I told them about my orientation. My friend Anya, we used to sit at the same desk, said: “Yes, we all knew!” Then my question was, “Why didn’t you tell me? I could have saved a lot of time!”
I was most surprised when meeting the members of the group from Dnipro. I would never have guessed that they were lesbians. Often, one can see it looking at the behavior or the way one dresses. And they looked like women who were interested in attracting men’s attention: skirts, high heels, long hair. And they are not girls, but mature women. But they do not talk about their orientation because they are afraid of losing their jobs and being in danger. However, Kyiv is still better in terms of self-expression. At the very least, my "lesbian radar" has responded to local girls several times. But from the looks of Dnipro friends, I would never have guessed that they are lesbians.
In Kyiv, I was invited to the club “Lift”. I wanted to go crazy because at home I have my child, my work... It was very interesting: no signs, everything is highly secretive, a scary guy on door control. But the club disappointed me a little. Even in Moscow, which I stopped visiting after the war, clubs are more open. Yes, in the “Lift” there were travesty shows and other indicators of the gay club. But the atmosphere seemed very restrained to me. I was also unpleasantly surprised that there were more guys in the “Lift” because prices for women are higher. After all, we are all for tolerance, why would we have such discrimination?
When I was in the club, one girl approached me. She has a husband, a child, and sometimes she goes there to relax. Yes, some heterosexual women go to gay clubs because gays won’t try to pick them up. But at some point, I realized she was flirting with me, maybe even she was a lesbian. But she has so many commitments to her family that she can’t be free. And in the club, she is not afraid to be herself. And she has no other choice. That’s why many lesbians come to our Facebook group.
Of course, I looked at Kyiv through the eyes of a tourist, and I may not know all the subtleties. Everything is changing for the better. But, unfortunately, Kyiv is still a long way from LGBT rights in Baltimore. These fears and tightness, the lack of opportunities for many, to live their truth is very depressing.