Text: Alexis Traussi
However, at first, I had come to Serbia mostly on a whim; knowing I wanted to study abroad, but not someplace that most American students flock to (read: Spain, England, France, and Italy). In the end, plans had fallen through – and the decision of moving to Belgrade was made.
It was only after anxiously tumbling into my decision, that the hard part came. I knew next to nothing about the place I was moving to – and so my mother, like all parents do, bought the only travel book on Serbia in English for me to read. I flicked through its pages with a lack of enthusiasm, knowing that I have little desire to research any place I travel to, wanting to experience it with brand new eyes and not through that of an anonymous author.
But I was curious, when, in the index, there was a “Gay Life in Serbia” section listed. This time I flipped through the pages with more fervour. When I landed on, what I vaguely remember to be page 72, I let out a quick, disappointed chuckle.
The first word of the section was: Unfortunately.
Upon arrival to Belgrade, I carried this unfortunately with me. But then I did, however, meet some of my teachers, who I had made the correct assumption that they were queer. My homestay Mom, herself, was queer. And I had colleagues who were also part of the LGBTQIA community. Despite that original being pushed further and further outside of every day thoughts, I was not ready to throw caution to the wind.
But then I went to a queer party at Mikser House, then to Apartman, then to Pleasure. I would go to queer-friendly cafes, meet my homestay Mom’s queer friends, went to the Pink Picnic. As I started to live in Belgrade, began to experience life here, my queerness was not something that felt antagonised; rather, I realised it was something that I took for granted. At home, where I came out at 17 with no consquence. At school, where sexuality and gender expression bore little importance. I had not had to think about whether or not to out myself until moving to Belgrade, where I constantly tossed up who I should tell and to whom I should make no mention of it.
I came to see the hardships that my new friends – and family – had to go through to just say that they were queer. They were the people that lived in that unfortunately. But they made it work; they had a community and it was, and is, thriving in its own spaces. Ones filled with love, sacrifice, and pride.
Now, I know Belgrade is not all of Serbia; I know that I live in a bubble; and I know that I am a female-presenting person, which feeds, in certain situations, into toxic ideologies about lesbians. All of this combined gives me the privilege to live here, be queer and not feel insecure.
That doesn’t, however, mean that I feel entirely safe holding my partner’s hand in some situations, or kissing, or acting in any way like a straight couple, but it does mean that some things are changing. That Belgrade, like many other places in the world, is coming to accept the LGBTQIA community more. It may be slow, but it, even in my few years living here, is.
Now, maybe, just maybe, that unfortunately is becoming a hopefully.
Alexis Traussi is a New Yorker living and working in Belgrade. When it comes to writing, she mostly focuses of the LGBTQIA+ community and the impending climate crisis.