As the world gets set for tonight’s Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi, it’s important not to lose sight of Russia’s troubling political landscape — and particularly President Vladimir Putin’s attacks on the freedom and safety of its LGBT citizens via a vague ban on “homosexual propaganda” that amounts to nothing less than government-sanctioned homophobia.
In an attempt to create more discussion as to what exactly constitutes “homosexual propaganda,” activists and writers Masha Gessen and Joseph Huff-Hannon have put together Gay Propaganda (OR Books), a collection of stories, interviews, and real testimonials about LGBT Russians living both within the country and outside of it, in exile. On the eve of the Olympics’ official start date, Flavorwire is excited to share one chapter from Gay Propaganda; we highly recommend picking up a copy and reading the whole book.
“We’re bound by a cable”
An advertising executive and musician, Denis, 28, lived with Alexei, a DJ and performer, for three years. They broke up, and Alexei emigrated, but the two remain very close. They now meet up in Europe, Great Britain, and Moscow, when they’re both on tour or if they end up at the same festivals.
I’ve been working at the Moscow offices of an international corporation for five years. I started as an assistant in the PR department and have risen in the ranks; now I’m the Creative Director. We work on internet marketing and my job is to think up campaigns. Everyone at work knows I’m gay. I’ve been out since I was in school. I’ve never advertised it, but if anyone asked, I would always answer honestly.
I grew up in the Moscow suburb of Tushino, which is a little rough. Even so, the tough guys from the neighborhood never beat me up for my orientation. I don’t see why anyone would have any problems with me. I work, I work out like any other guy, and I know that I deserve respect like anyone else. If someone thinks “gay” is an insult, that’s their problem. As Coco Chanel said, “I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.” This was my motto before I even knew who Coco Chanel was. I’ll also say that I have often had conversations along the lines of, “You’ve changed what we think about gay people.”
I knew I was gay by the time I was 13. From the ages of 9 to 12, I was in love with a girl, but then I realized that I liked guys. I explained it to her right away. She got upset, but for a girl, it’s probably better finding this out than learning that you’re leaving her for another girl. We hung out after that, we even tried to have sex, but it never worked. After that, I was done with girls.
When I was 13, a boy in my class and I became attracted to each other. It wasn’t a serious relationship, just some friendly sex. It ended when we graduated. Several years later, we talked on the phone. He already had a wife and kids. I didn’t ask him about his orientation, but as we were wrapping up our conversation, he said, “Yes, it was cool back then!” No one in our school knew about us, especially since it was nothing serious.
My first real relationship happened when I was in college. I was about 20. It was very serious and important to me, and that was when I told everyone. Most importantly, my mother. The way she found out was amazing. The guy was a radio DJ. One day, I left his house, got in a cab, and headed home. Meanwhile, he went to work and confessed his love to me on the air. On the radio he had a DJ name, and so he announced that a “man” had called in to the show, and here he used his real name, asking him to tell me, Denis, that he really loved me. I heard this while sitting in the taxi! When I got home, I was ecstatic that someone had confessed their love for me so the whole country could hear. My mother was home and she’d also heard it. Before that, all she had known was that we were friends.
It was a nightmare of course. She cried for three days, worried about whether she would be able to look the neighbors in the eye. I told her that nothing had changed, that I still loved her, that I’m still the same person. The only thing that changed was that now she knew about me, which only made us closer. She came to terms with all of this, and on the fourth day, once she stopped crying, she started giving me advice about how to snag guys. She seriously told me what I should be doing with my boyfriend. Ever since, she and I have had a fabulous relationship, full of mutual love and respect. She understood that nothing had changed, that I have the same problems as anyone else. For her, the most important thing is that I be happy. I’ve never talked about it with my father. He works on ships, so he is a very severe person. On the other hand, he’s very tactful and has never brought it up with me. My sister is the only one who is an awful homophobe; we’ve never gotten along. Perhaps it’s sibling rivalry, but it could be something else. We don’t talk much.
I guess I’m an exception, I was born lucky, but I’ve never had any problems with the people around me because of my sexual orientation. And I’ve never had even a shadow of a doubt that my orientation is okay. The fact that some people don’t like homosexuals, call them fags, has never concerned me. I use this word too when I’m making fun of myself, but I’ve never felt like an outcast or abnormal. And no one has ever treated me like that. This is probably how it works, other people treat you the way you treat yourself. There are beaten down people who consider themselves wrong and unhealthy, and that’s what comes to them. I am always sure that everything is OK.
A year after I came out to my mother, my DJ boyfriend and I broke up, but soon afterwards, Lesha appeared. He was my first serious, mature love. I introduced him to my mother right away. She really liked him, and saw that we were happy together. On top of that, he’d bring her flowers and dote on her. We were together for three years. We broke up because he left the country, but we’re still very close. Like some people say, after a break-up, two people are still tied together by “some thread,” except Lesha and I are bound by a cable. Everything that happens, happens here on Earth; but I’m convinced that the way I feel about him and the way he feels about me is somewhere in the stratosphere. Nothing can touch it. It’s immovable. The way we love each other, it doesn’t matter where we are, who we are with, and how.
–As told to Karen Shainyan