Standing on the stairway of Tbilisi’s iconic circus, about 20 people listened through headphones on Sunday, as a voice explained how a building normally associated with fun and joy was to some a place of misery and sex work.
The group was taking part in an audio tour of the Georgian capital, organised by a local LGBT+ group, to shine a light on the lives of transgender men and women, in the socially conservative Caucasian nation.
“Miracles do not happen here,” Nata, a trans woman, said in the audio recording about the Soviet-era hilltop building, the green surroundings of which are known to provide shelter to sex workers at night, including trans sex workers.
“This is not a place for stories like ‘Pretty Woman’ … After you come here once, it’s very hard to get away,” she said, referring to the Hollywood film, starring Julia Roberts as a prostitute, who falls in love with a rich businessman.
Shunned by their families, trans people in Georgia often rely on sex work to make a living, as discrimination, and the lack of regulations on legal gender recognition, make it difficult find regular jobs, according to LGBT+ groups.
Transphobic attacks are rarely properly investigated, said Nattan Guliashvili of the LGBT+ group, Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG), which organised the audio tour.
The project is aimed at raising awareness about a community that lives at the margins of society, by showing Tbilisi through their eyes, said Mareike Wenzel, a German artist who conceived the initiative.
“We listen to their stories and their perception of places,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the event. “(Because) cities are often not made for (trans people), and we forget about them, about their worries and problems.”
The tour included stops at a maternity clinic, where attendants heard of a trans woman’s dream to start a family, and a cinema, that in 2019 was attacked by a mob, protesting against a movie about gay love, which featured some of the ‘trans guides’.
The 90-minute walk ended at an open-air photo exhibition, showing portraits of trans people’s everyday lives.
LGBT+ events are rare in the Georgia, often attracting threats and violence from far-right groups.
The country has witnessed a cultural clash between liberal forces and religious conservatives over the past decade, as it has modernised and introduced radical reforms.
“It’s really interesting to see the city from a different perspective,” said tour participant, Ninutsa Shatberashvili, 27.
“You don’t really get to see these marginalised groups if you don’t know them yourself … It’s nice to just listen to their voices.”
-Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi – Thomson Reuters Foundation