Let me start with a memory.
I remember writing articles about modern patriotism in high school. I argued with my colleagues that there was a certain attachment to the nation and even a patriotic duty. I defended the idea of attachment to the nation, its culture and traditions. With sadness, and even anger, I watched the wave of emigration from country at the beginning of Poland’s presence in the EU.
I consciously chose that I want to stay in Poland. I felt that as a person working in culture it had to be like that – language, symbols, roots were the foundation of my work.
I spent here the last years. Entering the profession, finding appropriate company, surrounding myself with people who are usually favorable to me, but also trying to be myself. I was come out in public, I do not hide my opinions, I am a redhead gay without a hand, which is an interesting mix of identity.
I never wanted to be afraid to live here.
And I lied to myself for a long time that everything was OK.
Until this summer, I noticed that suddenly, casually, before going to bed, I was thinking about where I would run if there were gay pogroms. Pogroms! In 2020! What an idiotic thought. It appeared unbidden by anyone. It was in time of our presidential campaign, full of brutal anti-LGBT agitation and slogans of the “LGBT plague” and “ideology, not people” rumbled from government media.
When packing for vacation I took my passport with me if I had to run away.
Traveling by the train on election day, I hid my rainbow mask thinking about what if President Duda’s victory would give people an impulse to murder gays.
I saw with the eyes of my imagination the assassin killing a candidate from the opposition at a convention.
Talking to my grandmother, I heard that I was a shame for my family.
I fell asleep thinking what I would do when I get a call from a boy saying he was beaten.
Can I fit under the bed? Will I climb onto the wardrobe and cover it with a blanket?
Absurd. Absurd. Absurd.
Meanwhile, President Duda won. After months of fueling aggression against LGBT people, I thought they would probably give up now with it. Nut not. A few weeks later, the media reported that activists were arrested who hung rainbow flags on Warsaw monuments. The hate campaign is being fueled again – I hear about homoterrorists again from the propaganda media, vans are still circling the streets, calling for gays to be pedophiles, and subsequent municipalities are declaring themselves LGBT-free zones. It has been our everyday life for several years, but recently it has become very intense again.
When I read on Facebook that the police intend to arrest one of the activists for two months, after one of her actions after work, I run to a manifestation of solidarity with her. I’m on the tram and I feel like crying. My partner wrote to me to be careful.
I joined the peaceful demonstration – I sat in the street blocking the police car with the detained activist. There were rainbow flags around, media and MPs arrived. The atmosphere was good, although we saw that there were more police than demonstrators. The gravity of the situation hit me when they handed me a marker pen to write the lawyer’s phone number on my shoulder.
Moments later, the police tore our chain of people without warning.
Farther on, already in a powerful adrenaline – screams, running, commotion, the police throwing people off the street and some powerful energy.
As I ran with the activists to block the police car taking Margo away, I felt anger rising inside me. I, a calm man who always tries to mediate in crisis situations, stood in front of an armed policeman and was ready to start fighting. I was all shouting and anger. I was yelling at him, a random policeman, an impersonal representative of power. I poured out fury on him at the people who had been beaten, for my fear, for the feeling that they were taking my future in my country. Some part of me even wanted it to be even harsher then. That they would start shooting. For people to leave their homes. Make everyone scream. That it would decide whether I have the right to live here or not.
However, this did not happen. I calmed down and the police pacified the demonstration. I was held in custody for 24 hours, I have a criminal charge of attacking property and police officers despite the fact that my only act is shouting and sitting in the street. I’m facing 3 years in prison, I’m waiting for the trial.
50 people were detained. We were made hooligans.
I have no more strength. I am still trying to be well-mannered, calm, substantive and consensus-seeking – even at the police station, even though the police used excessive force. They stopped me for no reason, and even when I left, I thought, “It’s not their fault, they were following orders.”. No! I have no more strength.
And I remember now the anger that broke out in me during the manifestation. This irrational fear of falling asleep. And this pride when I was talking about Polish culture during foreign exchange. These emotions start to be mutually exclusive; I start to get lost in them.
I haven’t cried yet after I got out of jail. I cannot.
They broke me. They did it. I want to leave here. I don’t want to live here; I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to answer the phone calls of my teenage brother and mothers who are crying and begging me to run away. I don’t want to be afraid to touch the boy’s hand on the tram. I don’t want to wait for the pogrom that has to come. I have no doubts anymore. this country doesn’t want me. People from here don’t want me. My bubble is not enough for me, I don’t want to hide.
For the first time in my life I think about emigration. I feel like an uninvited guest in Poland. I don’t have the strength to fight anymore. Also, no one has the right to ask me to be a victim.
This is not a trip. It’s an escape. From everything – from photos of friends beaten for different appearance, from stories about women in a wheelchair raped in gynecological surgeries, from expropriated tenement houses, from “we still have to wait for our rights”.
I’m ashamed of myself. I’m privileged and after all, nothing is happening to me. Many are systematically beaten, commit suicide, and have no support from the community and family. Yet the years of fear made themselves felt. The thought that I have become scared scares me. For the past few weeks, everyone has been talking about leaving.
I stopped being surprised at them.