“I had to leave home, so that I could really be myself; it didn’t matter what I left behind, or how hard it was,” says Roxana, a member of the LGBTQ community.
Colours of sexuality in nature
Homosexual behaviour can be seen across species from birds to reptiles and mammals – including humans. While many people still consider same-sex relationships an anomaly or something genetically wrong, in the animal kingdom these practices are quite common, being found in more than 1.000 species. For example: penguins. They are known for finding a partner and stick with it their entire life, but that partner can also have the same sex. In 1911, George Murray Levic, a British Antarctic explorer, noticed homosexual activity in a penguin colony at Cape Adare in Antarctica, and since then other thousands same-sex relations have been noted among this species. One famous couple is Ronnie and Reggie, two gay penguins from London Zoo. They even celebrated this with a banner saying “Some penguins are gay, get over it.”
Giraffes, however, seem to be more attracted to same-sex relationships than to the classic ones. Studies show that 90% of all observed sexual activity in this category of animals is with the same sex. “At the moment, I don’t think we have enough research to know why the males do it,” says Dr Natalie Cooper, a researcher in life sciences at the Natural History Museum. “There are usually females around, so it’s not just because there are no females.” According to her, necking, licking, nuzzling and mounting is not an aggressive act, but more of a stimulation.
Some other animals that are known for sharing their love with both genders are the Japanese macaques, dolphins, elephants and even lions. Spider monkeys, for example, are New World primate species and until 2018 there was no homosexual behavior reported. But in 2018 the first report regarding this was recorded. “It’s interesting because there was this kind of premise that because Old World primates are more closely related to humans, you wouldn’t really see this type of behavior in New World primates, but there they are,” says PhD student Jackson Clive. This report shows that homosexuality is not a recent thing, a human cultural construct, but is evolutionary and can occur in many branches in nature.
Colours of sexuality under our skin
The rights of those in the LGBTQ community are a sensitive issue in Romania. The country does not recognize same-sex marriage, and blood donation by those who are part of it is illegal. In an EU survey from 2013 we see that Romania is listed as the country with the third highest level of homophobia in the EU. Although there have been protests lately against their rights, the situation is moving slowly in their favor. “Romania does not need you” was one of the things someone could hear during one of the protesters where Orthodox nuns and priests brandishing crosses were included.
Romania, like other EU members such as Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Latvia, does not recognize same-sex marriages, not even the ones that were established in other countries, where this is accepted, such as Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany or Iceland. The Romanian authorities do very little, or almost nothing, to promote or defend the rights of the LGBTQ community, and a very important factor in making these decisions is the Romanian Orthodox Church – 85 percent of the population being part of it.
In 2018 the Church supported a referendum to amend the constitution that aimed to change the chapter on defining marriage: the phrase “between spouses” should have been replaced by “between a man and a woman.” However, it was invalidated due to high absenteeism.
But Romania is increasingly forced to comply with the norms required by the EU regarding the rights of those in the LGBTQ community. For example, in the same year, the Parliament should have adopted a law favorable to unisex couples, following a decision coming from the Court of Justice of the European Union and confirmed by the Constitutional Court in Bucharest, but this did not happen, which is why the Romanian state reached the defendants’ box at the European Court of Human Rights and an infringement procedure was initiated against Romania by the European Commission.
Another example is that, at the beginning of the month, (June 1, 2021), Europe’s top court “condemned Romania for having failed to either prevent or prosecute the disruption by far-right protesters of a film screening held by an LGBT group” stating that the rights of those present were violated. The American film The Kids Are All Right tells the story of a lesbian couple raising teenage children. The case ended with Romanian authorities having to pay “damages of €7,500 to Accept and €9,750 to each individual complainant, as well as their legal costs”.
Roxana is a 22-year-old girl from Suceava, who moved to Bucharest to get far from a family in which she could not fit in and from a way too conservative community. “My father died when I was little. It was just me and my sister back then. After that, for a couple of years, my mother was the one who worked, so I had to take care of my sister, of the house and always cook for them. In the meantime, my mother remarried, and now we have a brother. There were always fights in the house, especially between me and my mother. I was never what she wanted me to be. I’ve heard so many times ‘why can’t you be like x or y? Look at your sister, why can’t you be like her?’ I was beaten because I was embarrassing her. When I finished 12th grade, I cut my hair like a boy and painted it blue. That was the drop that filled the glass for her, but for me it was the perfect coming out of the frame in great style,” says Roxana smiling.
She now lives in Bucharest, and decided to go there even if she didn’t know anybody in the capital city of Romania. “I packed my bags and left. I did not feel sorry for my mother or father, but it hurt to see my sister and brother crying. But I had to leave home, so that I could really be myself. It didn’t matter what I left behind, or how hard it was. I had two jobs the summer before I left, I raised money for rent and a train ticket and… now I’m here, and I don’t embarrass anyone no more.”
When Roxana was asked if it was easy for her to start from scratch, she started laughing. “It wasn’t easy at all! But don’t tell my mother. I changed three jobs and I moved out of my place twice, but my hair is still short and look”, she says as she lifts her shirt on different parts of her body, showing the ink: “I have tattoos and I have never felt better in my skin! I even have a five-month relationship with a girl, so I can say that all that struggle was for the better.”
But how did Roxana realize that she is attracted to the same sex? “The real realisation came when I was at a party. I was about 18 years old and I had relationships with boys before, of course, but it never felt right. I always felt out of place, I was feeling tense, but I thought I was thinking too much, that maybe I was just weird. I thought it was all in my head. So this party ended and me and another girl somehow ended sharing the same room. You don’t want to know how nervous I was. I didn’t even have a crush on her, it was simply the fact that she was there, in a room with me, alone, and she was this feminine presence. Well… things happened and the moment I opened my eyes the next day, it clicked. It hit me and I just knew, because I felt it and it finally felt right, and all the other obvious signals until that moment finally made sense.”
For Roxana, however, the fight for her happiness is not over yet, in a country where the LGBTQ community is still trying to make itself heard with small steps, in front of eyes that judge. “In all the four years since I came here, I think I’ve only been home five times. My mother does not know about my girlfriend, nor does she know that I am attracted to the opposite sex. She would never listen, and the people from where I come from would literally throw rocks at me. They are very faithful, that’s why. They are God’s people and I would be a sin for them. Although, I always believed that faith and everything that God is can only mean love and nothing more. It’s not important what its source is or in what direction it goes, as long as the intentions are pure. But my God is probably not the same as their God. I will never be a real woman, a real wife or a real mother, neither in front of the family nor in front of society, most probably. There are other rules, other criteria for becoming these things, that you can’t reach if you have a woman by your side, and it hurts. But hey, it’s important that I’m loved by those who really know me and we can hope for a better tomorrow, and if a better tomorrow won’t come here, in the country, then we’ll go to places where love is painted in many more colours.”