Sociohistorical project
Aleksei from Russia
LGBT in Russia. Pseudo-life in the zygote state
Aleksei Nazarov, Saint Petersburg
42 years old
My name is Aleksei Nazarov. I live in Saint Petersburg, I am 42 years old.

Do you remember the USSR? How old were you when it broke up?

I was born in March 1978. I studied at a Soviet school, and I remember Soviet life and people well. I lived in two cities: I was born and lived in Voronezh, but often visited Moscow. I can compare the Moscow's and provincial levels of the Soviet Union. When the USSR collapsed in 1991, I was 13 years old.

What memories do you have of the Soviet era?

I have one clear and persistent association with the Soviet era-the Empire of lies. Everything is built exclusively around lies and deception. People say one thing and do another. And this model, when you do not do what you think, it has been preserved to this day.

Who were your parents?

Mom is a dog handler. She's a bossy woman. In Soviet times, my father was a doctor-resuscitator in an ambulance. He is 13 years older than my mother.

How old were you when you realized that you were LGBT?

I've never had a moment like this in my life. At the age of six, I had physical sexual contact with a peer. In the center of Voronezh, we climbed into a secluded place where we pretended like we had the sexual act of a man and a woman. I distinctly remember how it was, how our little boners stood. Since I was 6 years old, I knew very well that I liked boys. At school, I always looked only at boys. I didn't have any misery that I was gay, or that I was attracted to boys. I didn't have a moment… Like some people who realize at puberty that they don't like girls, they like boys, and they're like, "Oh! How to live further?" Or someone realizes even later… I didn't have that. I always knew I liked guys. I remember in the 10th grade I really liked the guy Misha. I once wrote him a love poem, called him on the phone in the evening and read it, so I confessed my feelings…

So do I understand correctly that you were not concerned that you are different from other children, and this may somehow be perceived as a negative characteristic?

I had other things that scared me. I was afraid of heights. I was afraid of the dark as a child. I didn't tell anyone that I liked boys, but I was quite open about it. I took after my mother, I have such a leadership character.

So there was never any sense of abnormality, that you were somehow different from other people?

No, I've never had this before.
"I am almost 7 years here. Even then I was aware of my attraction to boys". Voronezh (USSR). January, 1985.
What were your ideas about your farther life?

I always wanted to live with a guy that I would love and he would love me. I thought that we would work and live openly in St. Petersburg. And, by the way, 12 years ago, when I was 30, I made my dream come true – I moved to in St. Petersburg.

So, you have never had such traditional plans as getting married…

I never had the idea of using a woman as a cover. Creating the illusion of a family for someone is not my option at all.

And as a child, were there some ideas about traditional family, that when you grow up, you will have this and that?

I have never had the desire to have a heterosexual family. I've always wanted to have a boyfriend partner.

At what age did you tell your friends and family about yourself?

I didn't tell my mother or grandmother. But based on the fact that I had a long-term relationship with a young man when I was a student, I think my family knows and understands everything perfectly. I didn't have a coming-out in front of them. Although they can easily find information about me on the Internet, in the media.

The first time I told about myself, I think, in 1997, I was 19 years old. It was at the University in front of fellow students. I was lucky in general, I have never really encountered any special homophobia and harassment in Voronezh. At school, of course, different things happened, some people shouted, but I ignored it.

In General, was it difficult to make a coming-out in those conditions?

My youth and student days were in the 90s, the era of freedom and democracy. Then they started talking about LGBT people. Although there was no such abbreviation "LGBT" yet. They said "thematic", "blue", "pink". I used to send home a newspaper called " Dvoe " that talked about homosexual relationships. Such a newspaper could be easily written out by mail. And they threw it in my mailbox.

There was no Internet yet. I met them through the Newspapers. People put notifications in the newspaper. I once placed such a notification with my home address. And I was so surprised when I opened the door, and on the threshold there was such a cute boy: "I came to meet Alexey." I got confused and said, "My brother went for a walk," and closed the door. I haven't given you my home address since that. Such notifications usually used mailboxes in the mail, or wrote letters on demand.

It was an era of freedom. I had a sense of my own freedom, dignity, and the feeling that we were building a new Russia, and I would live in the Russia of the future. I tried to be open and honest.
"I have dreamed of living in St. Petersburg since I first came to this city in 1989. At the age of 30, I made my childhood dream come true". St. Petersburg (Russia). July, 2001.
And yet, how did people react when the conversation turned to sexual orientation?

My friend Anton also made no secret of himself at the University or anywhere else. And he told his mother. It was awful: she protested, shouted. He has been living with his partner in another city for a long time now, but his mother still doesn't accept it. Other people I knew didn't come out. It was scary to tell. Some disguised themselves, some covered themselves with relationships with women.

Was there a case in your experience when the relationship with a person really changed after they found out about your orientation?

I didn't know anyone who would turn away from me.

What were the reactions? Or did most of your friends know about it beforehand?

Most people who were told I was gay said, "Oh, you finally said it. We already knew, and we were all waiting for you to tell us."

My younger brother and his wife are the only ones who know from my family.

How open are you in general?

At the moment, alas, not very.

What is the matter?

I am an LGBT activist, and I need some privacy to ensure security. I now regularly receive threats and have to be more careful. I worry, for example, that my boyfriend may have difficulties. Instead of posting a bunch of joint photos on social networks, I post very little and rarely, and each time I ask permission so that it does not compromise him.

Every time you need to think not only about yourself, but also about your loved one, how this can affect him. It poisons life. This is a truth of life in Russia today.

Has your level of openness changed in comparison with the 90's, 2000's, and already 2010's? Have you become more or less open?

I've become more closed in recent years.

I remember how in 2013 I got out of the metro in the center of St. Petersburg and for the first time in my life I heard "Faggot" addressed to me. I was very surprised that I heard this word right in the center of the city. And I knew that it was directed at me only because of the color of my hair (I was dyed blonde).

As an activist, I am as open as possible and always say that I am gay, give interviews, make videos. I'm open gay in public. Although the word "gay" annoys me, because it is only one of the details of me as a person. But in order for other people to see that open gay people really exist, I have to put such self-identification in the foreground at some point. But I had to become more private in my personal relationships. This is a security issue for me and my partner.
I was lucky enough to visit many cities in Russia and to communicate with LGBT people from different regions with the educational project "The ABC of Activism"". Samara (Russia). March, 2020.
Where did you study or work?

I studied at law faculty. But I never worked in my specialty, because I was always drawn to something more creative. I was a freelance radio host of publicistic programs on Radio Russia, when I lived in Voronezh, and worked in a bookstore. At the age of 30, I moved to St. Petersburg and got into the field of cinema, working in a Director's group. Now I work as a videographer, shoot reports and stories for the media, edit videos.

Have you ever experienced discrimination related to your orientation somewhere in your study or work?

I didn't face much discrimination in Voronezh. And in St. Petersburg, since 2015, when I declared myself openly as an activist and gay, I was refused a job precisely because of my activity and publicity. If I kept quiet, kept my head down, didn't go to LGBT prides, maybe I would have continued to work and get good money in the film industry.

The machine of state homophobia and xenophobia was launched after the adoption of the law on homopropaganda among minors in 2013, when the authorities began to use LGBT people as a group to distract attention from real problems. It caused decrease of information about LGBT people, and the level of homophobia has increased accordingly.

How open were your relationships with men? Were there any restrictions and what were they related to?

Most of the guys I hung out with and had relationships with were heterosexual. In my youth, I developed this approach for myself: all people are bisexual, it's just that the homosexual nature of a person is more squeezed and suppressed by society. Accordingly, if I like a young man, I just tell him about my sympathy, make signs of attention. And I can already tell from his reaction whether I will have something with this person in the future or not.

I had problems with gay people, dating gay people was very difficult. Because of my level of openness, because gay men have problems in accepting themselves and their homosexual relationships.

How much has your life altered after the regime change and the collapse of the USSR? Or maybe it did not have any particular effect?

Putin's rise to power changed my life. He brought back the Soviet Union, only in a more perverse form. I stopped feeling myself like a free citizen of my country.

They are deliberately trying to turn me into a second-class person, deprived of freedom of thought and freedom of assembly.
"It is really difficult to live in some cities. Not only for LGBT-people. Many of my friends moved, for example, from Chelyabinsk to St. Petersburg". Chelyabinsk (Russia). August, 2020.
What were the 90s like for you?

Freedom. Despite all the difficulties in the 90's, there was freedom and democracy developed.

When Putin started changing the electoral system in the early 2000s, it became clear that democracy in our country was over. This was the first obvious sign.

How do you assess whether life in Voronezh and St. Petersburg has changed since Vladimir Putin came into power?

Life for LGBT people changed dramatically in Voronezh with the adoption of the law on homopropaganda, and conservative groups with a religious bias began to develop there.

I was walking around Voronezh with my boyfriend in 1999, holding hands. This is now being filmed in various videos: "Gays are walking through Moscow, holding hands!» And we then went without any "YouTube". I wanted to take the guy by the hand, and we went holding hands – and no one shouted anything after us. Later, when I came from St. Petersburg to Voronezh, I met the guy and wanted to kiss him on the cheek, but he was afraid: "No, no, no! Someone can notice us!» He was even afraid to kiss my cheeks... The level of fear is high.

There is no freedom in St. Petersburg now either. It is impossible to hold a pride, and the rights and freedoms of LGBT people are restricted. Government cultivates fear…

I have a friend who still walks around St. Petersburg with his partner, holding hands. And I want to walk with my beloved one the same way. For the simple reason that it is necessary to do so right now, to fight for rights, and not wait for some special moment. You need to change your life for yourself right now, and then it will change. Don't wait for something to happen. There will never be a special moment if you don't make the effort to do it by yourself.

Do I understand correctly that you highlight such crucial points from the point of view of LGBT people as the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Vladimir Putin's coming to power, and the adoption of the Mizulina's law in 2013?

Homosexual relationships ceased to be criminalized in May 1993, after the collapse of the USSR. In the 90's, there was a huge amount of literature available to both LGBT people and people who were interested in this issue. At my home in Voronezh on the shelf was a book by Igor Kon "people of the moon color". I calmly bought it in a store without any restrictions like 18+. It was available. You could read, study, watch, understand who you are. The Internet appeared at my University in 1997-1998 years. This is my first visit to "Gay.ru". When you have knowledge, when you know what LGBT is, you treat it adequately. And the arrival of Putin led to the fact that this knowledge disappeared, and people were thrown back. When there is no source of knowledge, people cannot be enlightened. Since 2000, there has been a gradual increase in homophobia, which implemented in homophobic discriminatory laws of 2013-2014 years. And then there was state homophobia, which has not stopped until now, and it is one of the management tools for the government.
"I was in Grozny as part of a press-tour. And I really couldn't help but stand up with the rainbow flag. It's in the Journalists ' Square, not far from the Press House". Grozny (Chechen Republic, Russia). December, 2019.
What do you think about the current situation with LGBT people in Russia?

The situation is not the best today. For example, the Constitution introduced a rule that the family is a kind of union of only men and women in 2020. The Russian Federation does not want to recognize at the level of the Constitution that there is a union not only of men and women. This means that I cannot marry my partner in the Russian Federation.

There is a law about homopropaganda among minors, which acts as a censor. People are afraid to do anything, because occasionally it could be considered as homopropaganda. But no one really knows what is hidden behind this term.

State homophobia manifests itself not only in the existence of these discriminatory laws, but also in the fact that the state itself condones people who commit hate crimes.

Teenagers are experiencing difficulties. If teenagers, for example, have problems, they can't discuss their identity with a psychologist or teacher, because there is a low against homopropaganda. Neither a teacher nor a psychologist can tell a teenager that being gay is normal...

And the situation of LGBT people in certain regions of Russia is generally scary to talk about. The authorities do not notice murders of gays in Chechnya, and no one is responsible for these crimes.

Life for LGBT people in Russia today is like a frozen life in the state of a zygote. This is pseudo-life.

Can you give some examples of the difficulties that you or your friends faced while living in Russia and being LGBT?

As one of the organizers of the St. Petersburg pride, I constantly face restrictions on the constitutional right to freedom of assembly. The government puts a spoke in the wheel – we are "homopropaganda", then some other ridiculous restrictions. In fact, pride is a basic right to freedom of assembly, enshrined in the Constitution. By banning LGBT prides, the government restricts the rights of citizens, including heterosexual ones.

I constantly receive threats as an activist, threats to my life and the lives of my loved ones. Many openly LGBT people receive such threats. The police do not respond adequately to reports of hate crimes.

Many of my friends were forced to leave Russia because they experienced the most powerful pressure from law enforcement agencies, or because they were repeatedly attacked, resulting in harm to their health. Some left Russia in order not to lose the opportunity to raise their children.

All this is not a complete list of problems and difficulties that LGBT people in Russia face and have to live with.
"I stood with a poster in the city center on the International Day of Silence. I'm not going to hide at home". St. Petersburg (Russia). April, 2018. [The inscription on the poster: "OK to be gay"]
So problems arise not only for those who are involved in some kind of political activism, but also for ordinary LGBT people?

People who are involved in activism may even have a little less problems, because they are open, they are visible. Publicity protects you in some way. And when you're closed gay, it's easier to discriminate against you. Closeness is a scourge. Let's assume some homophobic attack was committed against LGBT people. And a closed person can't go to the police because he or she is afraid that information from the police could seep to work, school, or somewhere else. All this poisons life.

What would you like to change about LGBT people today? What do you think could be improved?

I would like to see changes in the attitude of all Russian citizens. I would like Russia to finally become a truly democratic country, with a developed legal system, a normal Constitution, independent courts, and real freedom for citizens. When all citizens are free, when the rights of all people are respected and recognized, then LGBT people who are also Russian citizens will be able to use all their rights.

In general, LGBT are like a litmus test. When something is forbidden to LGBT people, it means that the same problems exist for heterosexual citizens of Russia. Because respect for LGBT rights ensures that the rights of all other people are respected. Therefore heterosexual people should be interested in ensuring that LGBT rights are respected.

What advice would you give to young Russian LGBT people today?

Love yourself. Appreciate the time of your life. Take care of your loved ones.

It is difficult for LGBT people to live in Russia. Many people think about leaving their native country. And there's nothing wrong with that. When your homeland squeezes you out of itself, it is really better to settle in a new place and continue to live happily.

If you feel that you can, want to, and are confident that you will succeed, and you are ready to spend your time on it, then fight for your rights. Be open. Your openness is not only the key to your success, it helps other LGBT people to be more open and also fight for their rights. Fight for power, get elected to legislative bodies, participate in protest movements, and start building the basement for the Future Russia.

Your life is in your hands. And only you decide how to manage it.


Interviewed by Nikolai Shcherbakov
October 2020