Just Like You: The Power of Being Yourself

February 27, 2020

Photo credits: Kseniya Kravtsova and Vladyslav Nechyporenko

People in the LGBTQ+ community in Ukraine are often confronted with discrimination and violations of their rights. In recent years, although there have been numerous acts of aggression and violence against LGBTQ+ people, law enforcement agencies have often failed to properly investigate these hate crimes.

Ukraine also has a ban on the adoption of children by transgender and HIV-positive people.

People of the same sex are unable to register their relationship in Ukraine, which, in particular, makes it impossible to visit each other in intensive care, inherit their partner's property after death, and so on.

Sex reassignment surgery has been performed in Ukraine since 1996. On 30 December, 2016 the Ministry of Health cancelled the commission on transition from one sex to another which was done according to the Human Rights National Strategy Action Plan.

Anastasia Eva Domani

Member of TransCoalition, activist, trans woman

Anastasia is an active member of TransCoalition, an organization that brings together activists from post-Soviet countries involved in protecting the rights of transgender people. At the time the coalition was formed, it included Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine.

The mission of TransCoalition is to improve the living conditions of transgender people by covering their issues in public space, disseminating objective information about transgender people, raising the awareness of national and international institutions about transgender issues, and working with scientists and physicians researching these issues.

I thought that after the transition (the start of the process of changing sex – ed.) I would do something stereotypically female: start working in a beauty salon, or become a consultant in a department of expensive lingerie. I didn’t expect that now a significant percentage of my life would be devoted to advising other people who are about to make the transition. The consultations mostly deal with legal issues: How to get the help you need to change your name, how to change your birth certificate, reissue your documents.

I’m happy I can help because of my own experience. This is a difficult process, so it’s important to me that if a person does not understand something, they can approach me again rather than think, “I've been explained everything already, so if I’m confused, it means that something is wrong with me.” I feel like this work gives me an extra hour a day, my fatigue just vanishes. I never imagined that it would be like this.

Before I transitioned, I lived a double life. A faithful husband, who appreciated his wife, had a prestigious job and is successful in his business – that was me most of the time. Only occasionally, during business trips, did I host small dress-up parties. I used to wear a wig – the wig reembodies you instantly! I used to wear openwork dresses, heeled shoes and … just loved it. At times, I could go to someplace looking like that and I felt incredible when others were looking at me. Now I understand that those weren’t the looks of delight – instead, everyone paid attention to the mismatch of style and masculine facial features, but back then I didn’t think about it. Then, more and more people of different preferences, genders, identities started coming to the parties, and it was getting more and more difficult to return to a “male” life.

I was a member of the Dynamo fan club, one of the ultras. And this was such an adrenaline rush! There was no meeting without a fight. My friends were all hard-edged, cruel, they burst after any careless phrase against Dynamo. I used to come home after the match, catch my breath, take off my scarf, take a shower and… go to a beauty salon. There they'd make my manicure, styling, beautify me. I'd change into a dress and wait for the party guests. At the time, I was even afraid to think what it would be like if the guys at the fan club found out that I was becoming a girl after our meetings and spending time with others like me. I was keeping my mind off these troubles as much as I could.

My daughter sees me as both her dad and Nastia. She may also call me by name, especially when we spend several days together, as she hears how others call me, how they treat me. I want her to know everything about me so that she wants to spend time with me in the future. So that she could tell others that I am a happy, successful woman – and not be ashamed of it. So that others in her environment can understand it, be comfortable with it. Fortunately, I think we are heading for a society where people can respect the choices of others, including when it comes to gender.

Now everything about me is different, and most importantly – I have a different character and different thoughts. I became much more responsible, organized, and I got some inner strength.

Sasha was a completely different person. He had no purpose in his life as such. He was tired, confused, and disappointed. It was difficult because he was wasting all his energy on fighting with himself, hiding his own identity. But the most insulting was the idea that I would live my life and would never feel like being a woman. Not for hours or days, but constantly, so everyone around me would treat me like a woman. I would feel as if I betrayed myself, my own heart. I’m happy I had the courage not to let that happen.

Ilana Danevych

Trans person, mom of 18-y.o. son

Ilana from a small town in eastern Ukraine was born with male genitals but a female hormonal balance.

"I am often asked how I came to the idea of transition? But I didn't "come" to it. I was just born like that. I never felt like a boy. When I was a teenager, I started growing breasts. When I was 20, I decided to talk to my mom about feeling like a girl, she understood me at once and we started planning my transition.”

In order to get permission to have a sex reassignment surgery, Ilana had to undergo more than one medical inspection, including one in a psychiatric hospital. There, she was placed in one room with army recruits, and was lucky that one of the nurses stood up for her and persuaded the doctor to let her spend nights at home.

The sex reassignment surgery was performed in Kyiv, but the quality was poor, and later she had to have the mistakes made by her first surgeons corrected in Moscow.

“When I came to the passport issuing authority to change my documents, all the clerks ran out to have a look at me. It was a shock in my small town."

20 years ago, Ilana changed her documents and started the life of a woman.

"I confessed to my future husband that I had been born a boy after he proposed to me.  It was not easy for him, but he accepted this information, we got married and had a son."

Ilana was married for five years but then divorced due to her husband's aggression. He emigrated abroad, and Ilana was left alone to raise a son.

“Today, my boy is 18 years old, he is seriously involved in sports, studying at university. I hear a lot of preconceptions about the inability to raise a "normal" child in a single-parent or non-traditional family, but I have."

The son is unaware of his mother's surgery. Asked whether she is afraid of him learning the truth, Ilana replies that it is time for to finally live for herself.

"Sometimes I get asked, 'How can you prove you are a transsexual?' I went through humiliation, lack of understanding at school, disrespect, bullying. An ordinary girl would never understand this. I'm not like everyone, I'm stronger. Up to a point, I did not want to talk, did not want my child to know about it. Now I want the people I meet to know who I really am and what path I have overcome.”

Ilana says she has never participated in Pride parades before because her son's upbringing was her number one mission. Also, she did not want the boy to have problems at school because of his mother's activism. But now he is an adult, Ilana has moved to Kyiv.

“I will definitely go to the march. I want us to be seen and understood for who we are. This is not about theatrics – it’s our right to declare that we are people like everyone else, and we deserve a tolerant attitude."

I think it's important to share my story because it can help other people not to hide. I’m still very much supported by my mother and sister. I'm sure my son will also be able to understand and accept me."

This year Ilana became a member of the Council of subcommunities at the Organizational Committee of KyivPride 2020, where she represents the trans/queer community. 

On Human Rights Day on 9 December 2019, UNDP launched the “Just Like You” photo exhibition in Kyiv. It tells the stories of 10 Ukrainians who took up the challenge of protecting human rights. “Just Like You” is a joint initiative of Real Stories Production and “Human Rights For Ukraine” project, which is being implemented by UNDP in Ukraine and financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. In 2020 the photo exhibition will travel around Ukrainian cities.