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Julie's Desperate Search for Home


Julie fears death if forced to return to Grozny, and not only because of the war.

The 15th child of a Chechen elder, Julie is a transsexual - a man who is psychologically a woman - and must worry not only about Russian bombs but her Islamic homeland's traditional culture, which is not receptive to gays and transsexuals.

Julie, who dresses as a woman and is unmistakably feminine in walk and manner, down to her long, manicured nails, is for now still legally Dmitry, a diagnosed transsexual, waiting for a sex-change operation.

After the bombings in September, which brought increased tension and police harassment against Chechens, life in Moscow has become unbearable for her.

Although Julie, whose mother is Belarussian, doesn't look Chechen f in either woman's or men's clothing f her passport shows where she was born, and the police don't like it.

"The Russians want to kill me because I'm Chechen, and the Chechens want to kill me because I'm a transsexual," said Julie, who applied for asylum at the German Embassy but was rejected.

For Julie, who looks older than her 29 years, it's just the last in a series of tragic events. "All transsexuals are sisters in unhappiness," said Julie, who has gone public to try to find somebody to pay the $5,000 cost of the operation, which is available in Russia.

"I can then go on the stage and be the Russian Dana International," she said, referring to the Israeli transsexual and entertainer.

Dmitry knew he was different at a very young age, when he would swap his toy cars and gun for dolls with the girls in the kindergarten. Dmitry was sure that he wasn't just gay. After a suicide attempt, he was put into a psychiatric hospital in Moscow where he met understanding doctors who diagnosed him as an acute transsexual. After three years of psychiatric counseling, he was given permission to begin hormone treatment and prepare for the operation.

In between she had fallen for Misha, an admitted bandit.

"It was scary," Julie said, "but it was romantic. I'd always had intelligentsia boyfriends, and here along comes a bandit." By this time cross-dressing, she found bandit company congenial. "They treated me like a woman, bought me flowers, gave me compliments," she said. "It was first time anyone treated me like a woman."

But disaster struck when Julie took part in a robbery. As the thieves tried to escape, her high heel broke and she fell. Julie told the police that she was the only one involved in the robbery and was sentenced to eight years.

At Butyrskaya jail, authorities didn't know what to do with her f should she go in the male or female section? f and as a compromise stuck him in solitary for a year. The news that Julie the transsexual had arrived went quickly round the jail, and male prisoners began to vie for her affections by sending presents of chocolates, cigarettes and even drugs and samogon, or home-brewed alcohol.

She survived under the protection of a big-time mobster, who became her lover in return for warding off others, and who, on International Women's Day, got the guards to deliver a bunch of roses.

This world ended when Julie was suddenly transferred to a prison camp in the Penza region. While in prison, Julie's mother had returned to Chechnya to work as a Red Cross volunteer f where she was killed. Julie was refused permission to go to the funeral.

She had been one of the few people to support her. "She told me, 'It doesn't matter whether you're my son or my daughter, you're my child.'"

Life on the outside though is even worse for Julie than in prison. Her bandit lover never wrote, turned to drugs and sold his apartment.

"When I read the papers or watch television, I'm in tears," Julie said. "I love Chechnya and Russia f but they don't love me."

Kevin O'Flynn
© The Moscow Times
December 16, 1999


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