19 February 2008

Leapfrog, Queer Russians and the Struggle Against Heteronormativity

In the past month, organizers announced that they will try, once again, to hold an authorized gay pride march in Moscow, an effort that has proven unsuccessful for the past two years.

Last year, Mayor Luzhkov explained his refusal: “[In 2006], Moscow came under unprecedented pressure to sanction the gay parade, which can be described in no other way than as satanic. We did not let the parade take place then, and we are not going to allow it in the future. Some European nations bless single-sex marriages and introduce sexual guides in schools. Such things are a deadly moral poison for children.”

The subsequent march to Mayor Luzhkov’s office to protest this judgment made global headlines. The iconic images of vigilante violence followed by State violence are above.

This Valentine’s Day, the organizers took their second complaint over last year’s unconstitutional decision to the European Court of Human Rights, requesting compensation for the denial of their rights in the amount of one million euros.

On the same day, antifascist activists and skinheads were involved in repeated skirmishes as an antifa group gathered to help protect a gay flash-mob that marched from Pushkin Square toward the center of the city along Tverskaya to celebrate the holiday's spirit of love. As I read these two pieces of news, I couldn't help but fear for the worst, come late May (the proposed date of the march).

Now, news arrives at the MTBE editorial desk that beginning on International Women’s Day (8 March), queer activists in Moscow will hold a three-day “Gender Festival” under the slogan of “Equality Now!” Their moving manifesto knocks out the liberals, the conservatives and the orthodox left (in that order, below) and presents a case for “a new way of life”:

Capitalism proposes to us alternative consumerism – the image of a successful business woman, bourgeois gay clubs, a red ribbon as a sign of solidarity. Authorities propose to us the alternative of integration into the system by the way of lobbying legal reforms. But our everyday reality is violence, insults and prejudices.

Clericalists design programs of sexual education, Ministry of Health and Social Development radically makes list of medical and social factors which allow abortion during late pregnancy; in city of Volzhkiy everyone willing to do an abortion is forced to have a talk with an Orthodox Christian priest. Most of the job announcements include demands in regards to sex and age of the employee. And as a compensation for all of this, women are proposed flowers once a year.

“Revolutionaries” propose we give up our “private interests” to be cared for later on, and now work on “our common social problems.” But we do not agree with any compromises: for us equality should be global, there exist no minimal programs, no primary or secondary goals! We are against all forms of oppression and exploitation – against racism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination on basis of the sex or physical abilities. We are against the misery of everyday life, against grey everyday life of capitalism, against the work purpose of which we may not define ourselves. We want everything now! No recognition, no equality is possible in the framework of the exploiting capitalist system!

We are not a party, we are not representing anyone. We may be women or men, homo- or heterosexual, sick or healthy, but first of all we are ourselves. Any black and white distinction (man/woman, homosexual/heterosexual, healthy/sick) is a simplification beneficial for those, who do not want to recognize the complexity of the reality. Between every extreme there is a middle ground, a territory of inter- and transsexuals and genderbenders, who are waiting for those brave enough to question stereotypes. Our only fear is the fear of a new way of life. The fact that our opponents are stuck in the discourse of “is it normal to fuck in the arse?” only shows their fear of any forms of sexuality that has goals other than the solution of the “demographic crisis in Russia.”
[Entire statement available in Russian and English here; English translation above slightly cleaned up by me for readability.]
The contrast to the slick corporate Pride events that have become the norm in the United States is striking. Is it possible that such a vision of queer liberation in Russia might jump right over the mire of middle class-family values-gay civil rights that America seems stuck in?

Well, probably not. I’ve likely just been spending too much time reading talk of African and Asian socialism “leapfrogging” over Europe amongst the dear interwar anticolonialists who are starring in my dissertation.

But it never hurts to dream. Or, at least it doesn't hurt while you’re still dreaming.


lena said...

thank you for posting this. i'll be curious to see how this all turns out.

Cyaxares_died said...

one guy of the group of antifa trying to protect was admitted to hospital with 5 knife wounds. His friends are trying to raise the money for his operation. Please contact antifa moscow and donate!

Jeff said...

It has to be tough to be queer in Russia. It's very far removed from my perspective as a gay Canadian (I sometimes think it's tough to be a gay American).

My partner and I visited St. Petersburg and Moscow in the fall of 2006. I've never experienced anything quite like it. We stood out like sore thumbs - not because we are obviously gay, we aren't, but we were very obviously tourists. We dressed in loose-fitting, comfortable clothes and wore either sneakers or brown, rounded(!) shoes. Additionally, I think my partner was the only person in all of Russia to have a beard (aside from the Orthodox priests, of course). It was an odd feeling to stand out so completely from the crowd.

Were we go back, I think we could fit in much better just by wearing tighter, probably black clothes and wearing black pointy shoes (and my partner has already shaved his beard). But for those Russians who don't fit in to the heterosexual norm, who are called "satanic" by the mayor of the capital and largest city in Europe... it has to be very tough.

kg said...

So Lena - who is my friend - sent my info about this. How word travels! I think I'm gonna try and go to something or other. And yeah, I often wonder too if theory has not ruined me for life anywhere outside my own mind :). But we gotta keep trying.

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

Lena, I too am curious and hope that that cagey KG will go to some of the festival and post on it so I can link (hint, nudge). I'm on a bit of an extended writing jag for my dissertation and refraining from social activities and political engagements.

Cyaxares_died, thanks for the information, though I'm saddened to hear of it. The courage of the antifa activists is amazing.

Jeff, all I can say is "yepper." I think the statement from the people putting on the Gender Festival really beautifully captures the conditions and contradictions.

Ruslan Porshnev said...

Hi, Buster! You might wanna check this too: http://rwaho.anti-fa.ru/about_e


John Mullen said...

I'm sure there is a reason that the Russian group denounced among others, "revolutionaries". Fortunately, in many countries, like the US, Australia and France, revolutionaries have been fully and centrally involved with the struggle for gay rights.