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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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