Reflections on being a Queer Armenian

Written by Azad Archives

07 July 2021

By: Alexandria Kazandjian

To openly say I am a queer Armenian is a privilege I never thought I would have. I have gone from feeling outcast from my community for not speaking Armenian to coming out directly to the Armenian community as a nonbinary lesbian. Understanding identity, whether it be related to ethnicity, gender, or sexuality, can be a challenge in an ever-changing environment. The way I have defined my own identity has evolved as I have grown. 

When I was younger, I allowed myself to be influenced by the barricades erected by others to prevent me from feeling comfortable identifying a certain way. As a non-Armenian speaker, my experiences in Armenian circles felt defined by what made me less Armenian. I could not engage as cohesively with other Armenians based on my Armenian knowledge. I was a picky eater and thus rarely ate Armenian food or knew how to make common Armenian dishes. I compared myself to the Armenians around me and allowed their negativity and exclusion to make me feel disconnected from the Armenian community. 

I had a similar experience within the LGBTQ+ community. Initially identifying as bisexual, I felt that I was perceived as less queer by the rest of the community and thus found myself performing my queerness instead of focusing on how I defined queerness for myself. My ideas of gender and sexuality were shaped by the way I thought I was perceived by society and therefore my labels existed to reinforce an inaccurate conception of myself. In conjunction with this false identity, I felt detached from stereotypical queer experiences and preferences. My discomfort with my own queerness ran deeper than the dissonance I felt as a queer Armenian.

Not until I introspected did I begin to understand what being Armenian and being queer meant to me. Over time, I have begun to define my Armenian identity, not by what makes me feel not “Armenian enough,” but by how I connect with being Armenian. My connection to Armenian art and culture as well as my active involvement in Armenian spheres has made me realize that my Armenianness came from within. My gender identity and queerness have followed a similar path. Previously, I had not noticed the constraints my unintentional performance of gender and sexuality had placed on my ability to define myself as who I am. This past year, I have reconstructed my ideas of gender and pronouns and disconnected entirely from the concept of gender as a binary. Again, this idea of self comes from within. My identity is defined by my own experiences and my relationship with the ideas I am relating to. 

Understanding the fluctuation of identity too has helped me define my identities. Recognizing that nothing can make a person “less” of any identity has allowed me to embrace the ways I conceptualize my identity today. If my relationship to gender, sexuality, or ethnicity changes in the future, that does not invalidate my experiences and identity. No matter what, I will always be a queer Armenian. As an Armenian community, we need to create more spaces where people of all identities feel included and accepted. Armenian spheres are fracturing because they are polarizing and feel unsafe for Armenians who exist outside the concept of a “typical” Armenian. The same can be said about queer spaces. Gatekeeping and pressure to adopt labels make many members of the community feel disconnected from the population they expected to feel most welcomed by. 

To my fellow queer Armenians who are still struggling with their identities, you are allowed to exist in queer (and) Armenian spaces as you are. The only person who needs to be comfortable with your identity is yourself and you do not owe anyone an explanation or your self-conception. There is no one queer experience nor is there one Armenian experience. It is the uniqueness of our stories that makes our communities so rich. 

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