The We Were Here book still offered understanding to anyone who had ever felt rejected by society – A2larm

Year 2014. I am fourteen years old and I come from a small town. The only gay I know is Neil Patrick Harris, because How I Met Your Mother is just making it to the finals, and the whole internet is having fun playing an open gay man raising twins with his partner.

Year 2016. I am in high school in high school and a Danish girl goes to the cinema. I’m excited about this movie, for the first time I’ve seen a trance of a person in pop culture. I go to the cinema with my mother, I’m glad she was interested in the subject of the film. We both love it and talk about it on the way home. At that time, I also realized that I was more attracted to girls than to boys. And that makes me nervous. I watch the Skins, Skam or Glee series, where there are characters with similar problems to mine. They are also bothered by self-acceptance.

Don’t hold your hand

But these are series that take place in Western countries. When I was 16, I see the United States or Norway as a haven of tolerance for LGBTQ+ people. After all, Ellen DeGeneres thanks Barack Obama, whose presidential term is coming to an end, for being a legally married woman – just like his wife. So far we only have one registered partnership with us, and the debate over same-sex marriage tends to be very heated.

The book opens up a variety of topics, from pop culture, to history, to the debate over same-sex marriage or how LGBTQ+ issues are becoming a tool for marketing and political strategies.

If I decide to kick my mother out, I’ll do it rather recklessly, hastily, and I won’t prepare her for it. Mom cries and begs me not to hold my girlfriend’s hand. He doesn’t want our barracks neighbors to see him. Looking back, I don’t blame her. We have a great relationship and I know she loves me – she told me then. So he’s ashamed of me, so he doesn’t want my neighbors at the barracks to see me?

No, she grew up at a time when LGBTQ+ people weren’t allowed to be talked about. Homosexuality was a crime. After the easing of conditions, the change in the presentation of LGBTQ+ people in the public space is more like a freak show, where the media are attracted mainly by frenzied rainbow parades than by the daily life of queer people. I go to church school, I hear dad say he’s a casual guy on the bus. I feel alone and rejected.

Books and empathy as a recipe for acceptance

Even for my 16th birthday, journalist Filip Titlbach wrote the book We Were Always There, where he discusses queer present and past from all possible angles. And he chose a form that comes close – interviews.

The book opens up a variety of topics, from pop culture, to history, to the debate over same-sex marriage or how LGBTQ+ issues are becoming a tool for marketing and political strategies. As an interviewer, Titlbach has an almost therapeutic effect on his respondents. The conversations are unusually open, which is sure to give many readers a sense of a safe space they don’t get elsewhere, and their situation even seems unsolvable.

Moderator Lenka Králová talks about her self-awareness and the transition she went through when she had a wife and a son. Lawyer Petr Kalla describes his life with HIV – how he learned about his disease, what the second revelation was like and how he lives as an HIV-positive person. Activist Kryštof Stupka recounts the bad reception in the family and the controversial therapy his mother sent him when he broke up. But all the stories have one thing in common. No matter how difficult the situation is and you encounter rejection, everything can be resolved and you are never alone.

It’s a level. However, the book also opens up topics that are the focus of almost every LGBTQ+ discussion online. How will Czech deal with a neutral gender? Should he use the tic-tac or neutralize it? Why are LGBTQ+ people still “stuffing something”? And there aren’t many of them anywhere? There was nothing like it before, was there? And why do lesbians and gays want to get married, registration is enough for them. Ok, so let them get an equal record, but let’s not call it a marriage. This is his second level.

It would be a shame if only those who feel rejected read the book, but not those who reject it. There can only be fear of the unknown in rejection. Slovak journalist Zuzana Kovacic Hanzelova in an interview on We Were Here always said that all problems would be solved if we had empathy. If parents who refuse to accept their own children because of their otherness have at least a drop of empathy, the book could be a good guide for them. And not just for them, but basically for anyone who can read it without prejudice.

No stereotypes

The author himself states that the desire for similar literature was the reason he started writing. Irish YouTuber Riyadh Khalaf wrote the book Yay! You are homosexual! What Now?, which is meant to be a guide for young gay men into what to expect in life. Until now, Czech teenagers had no such guide. We’ve Always Been Here may be an important moment for the Czech queer present precisely because, for the very first time, the LGBTQ+ community is representing the community as it is. No stereotypes and exotic approaches.

A particular problem is the portrayal of non-binary people – as if, with a few honorable exceptions, they don’t even exist in the Czech Republic. They don’t appear in pop culture and when they rarely appear in the media, mostly to shock. In this too, we must thank Filip Titlbach for the space he opened up to them.

Today, the lives of LGBTQ+ people are becoming the subject of culture wars. Additionally, in much of Czech society, significantly distorted notions of the LGBT+ community from when homosexuality was criminalized persist. This benefits the rhetoric of conservative or populist politicians, often linked to the Catholic lobby, who use the community during the LGBTQ+ election period for culture wars that involve all kinds of intimidation and the subsequent promise of “protecting traditional values”. We lack a platform that would confront this type of thinking with the real life of us LGBTQ+ people. However, Filip Titlbach offered one in his book.

As long as the statements of people who equate homosexuals with zoophiles or call transsexuals “essentially disgusting” prevail in the mainstream, the outlook on Czech society will not change and young LGBTQ+ people will continue to feel alone and rejected. The book We’ve Always Been Here, however, has the potential to trigger a paradigm shift in society at large.

The author is a contributor to the editorial board.

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