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David Hardy pictured at a Pride Parade in Pristina, Albania
David Hardy pictured at a Pride Parade in Pristina, Albania | Photo courtesey of Caique Cesar das Dores

Trans man comes out in Albania, faces brutal attacks but fights on

Headed home late at night from the center of Tirana, someone grabbed me. I did not see it coming. A fist slammed into my face and knocked me to the ground. Blood dripped out of my lip as the culprits ran away. I reported the crime, but the authorities found no suspects.

David Hardy trans man in Albania
Interview Subject
David Hardy is a photojournalist. He works for several Albanian media outlets. However, he is best known for being the first openly trans man in Albania. He made it public through a TikTok video that went viral in the region.

To this day, Hardy photographs the Albanian reality, while being one of the greatest activists for the LGTBIQ+ collective in the Balkans. David is 29 yeas old.
Background Information
An article in Reuters last year cited three studies done in Albania around issues in the LGBTQ+ community.

First, Streha, which offers shelter and support to the community in Albania, surveyed their clients. They found that 80 percent of the 200 respondents considered leaving Albania – indicating the country continues to be unfriendly or worse, harmful, to the community.

Second, the ILGA gay rights organization reported already problematic discrimination against the community only increased during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Finally, the NGO Aleancea found one in two LGBTQ+ persons experienced psychological violence and bullying; one if five experienced sexual harassment or rape; and only 7 percent reported the crimes.

TIRANA, Albania ꟷ Two years ago in March, I uploaded a video on TikTok revealing I am a trans man. I became the first publicly known trans man in Albania.

My name, age, nationality, profession, and character should all define me, but none of it matters when I say I am trans. Hate messages and physical attacks followed, but I fight on.

Trans man in Albania faces rejection and discrimination in home community

In my community, I always knew trans women. They exist more outwardly. Trans men are less visible, so when I posted my video it was very novel.

It went viral, garnering over a half million views. It also seemed being a trans man in Albania was more acceptable than being a trans woman – a reflection of our patriarchal society.

Everything changed for me in an instant. Suddenly, my face appeared everywhere. I could not go out to buy bread or have coffee in my neighborhood because everyone knew who I was.

I received negative reactions from some people. When I left the house, they examined me from head to toe, insulted me, and whispered as I would cross their path.  

Living as an openly queer person for years, my family knew and took it well. They accepted me but going public as a trans man seemed too much for them and rejection followed. I had been living alone for a long time, but they symbolically told me to leave their house. They could not accept my trans identity, especially since I announced it publicly.

It felt ironic that after so many years of denying myself, when I finally accepted who I was, those who were supposed to love me turned their back. I discovered quickly, many of my family and friends held transphobic views.

Attacked at night, victim reports crime to the police

I believe rejection of someone different is nothing more than fear people harbor of being themselves. Everyone tells others how to be and places expectations on them. When I adapted to those expectations, I became smaller and smaller, until one day I said, “I’ve had it up to here.” I began living my truth no matter what society said.

I cannot deny how difficult coming out has been, but it also empowered me. The internet empowered me, allowing me to open up to the world and say, “I’m here, and I’m proud to be who I am.” As La Agrado would say in Todo Sobre Mi Madre, “A woman is more authentic the more she resembles what she has dreamed of herself.”

David Hardy reveals a “Hold Me” tattoo inside his palm | Photo courtesy of Caique Cesar das Dores

I feel pride despite what I endure. Everyday, I deal with comments. On my TikTok videos you can read hundreds of threats. “I will kill you,” they say, “We are going to find you and rape you. We know where you live.”

The routine remains the same. I awake in the morning, look at my phone, post, and in a matter of minutes dozens of offenses appear. Every day continues this way. Then, the violent words on social media became reality. A little over a month ago, someone attacked me physically.

Though not the first attempt, this became the first successful attack. Headed home late at night from the center of Tirana, someone grabbed me. I did not see it coming. A fist slammed into my face and knocked me to the ground. Blood dripped out of my lip as the culprits ran away. I reported the crime, but the authorities found no suspects.

Transphobia permeates institutions while rights and protections fail to exist

In the months immediately following my coming out, my mental health nearly reached a breaking point. My nose bled everyday due to stress. I felt scared but didn’t show it, wondering why so many people who hid behind a nickname online cared so much about my identity. I had only begun to know myself, but they reduced my identity to my transsexuality.

Nevertheless, I learned many things. Most importantly, family does not come from shared blood. A family includes those people who are present when you need them. In those moments, my real family appeared. My family became the LGBTQ+ community. They support me and I support them.

We often share the bond of being rejected by our biological families, so we find our true family in the community. By creating homes where we feel protected, we can be ourselves. It’s like we create our own bubble.

This does not indicate things have become easier now. In Albania, being transgender is not recognized. We cannot obtain testosterone or hormones. No avenue to a psychologist who can certify our readiness for transition exists. Even if they do certify you, the law will not accept it.

My government does not recognize me as David. When I go to the police station to report an attack, which happens frequently, they call me Loretta. The possibility of changing my gender identity remains unheard of and the authorities do not record crimes like the one I endured as hate crimes.

The police barely take us into account because transphobia remains an everyday problem. All institutions have become impregnated with this hatred.

LGBTQ+ people in Albania petition government for recognition, medical care

Still, I believe things will change. We fight for it. A few months ago, together with NGO Alianza LGTBIQ+, we met the Albanian Ministry of Justice to request a law to provide us with opportunity.

Some say the constitution itself does not assure us our rights and that it could take three years or more to make progress. We do not give up. We seek protocols that recognize us. At minimum, we want doctors to be authorized to see us and prescribe things we need to carry out transitions safely.

David Hardy continues to fight for transgender rights in Albania | Photo courtesy of Caique Cesar das Dores

As it stands, trans people in Albania must buy hormone treatments on the black market or travel to other countries like North Macedonia or Serbia to get it. Imagine the expense. I feel lucky. I live on my own and have a very good job that allows me to support myself. Photojournalism helps me get through it all. Not everyone has this same luck.

In Tirana, a shelter exists for the people of the collective who are rejected by their families. Nevertheless, prostitution becomes the only option to earn an income for many. And what of those who live outside Tirana? Imagine the difficulty they face being homeless or forced to remain in a home with family where they must hide how they feel.

More trans people come out in Albania, push for normalization

Considering those who still struggle, I remain at the foot of the canyon. I continue posting videos knowing if a trans man sees me, he will know for a moment, “I am not alone.” I had no one to turn to when I struggled. Now they can come to me. Among so many hate messages I receive on TikTok, I look forward to the ones where someone writes and thanks me.

I wake up some mornings, open the mailbox, and a message awaits from a young man telling me he dared to come out because of my videos. I gave him strength. He is the reason I do what I do.

Please understand, gender is fluid. What we understand as gender is a social construct, it’s just labels. For example, I want to be referred to as he/him, but many times I also feel like she/her. This may not be easy to understand. I had to work a lot on myself to understand it. Today I know I am a man but if I want to wear a dress, I can.

We must spread this message so people can be exposed to it; so they will keep this in mind as gender fluidity becomes a part of our reality.

Talk to people and help them understand. We must normalize this.

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Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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Marta Moreno is a journalist specializing in international politics. She has been covering the Western Balkans for more than a year, collaborating with various Spanish media.