I have been traveling to Russia for almost fifteen years now. I have been
writing this book, if only in my head, for nearly as long. In the mid 1980s, I
would ask everyone I could about "gays and lesbians" (my term, not theirs).
Usually I was told that lesbians did not exist in Russia (ne
was told a "joke" about gay men, over and over again, repeated as a litany, a
plea for me to stop asking: "In the
you send all your gays to Camp San
Francisco; here we send ours to Camp Siberia." In Soviet Russia, what was
spoken and what was lived were not necessarily the same thing. In Soviet
Russia, there were no lesbians and gay men went to jail.
Of course, as in the
United States, there was more to sex in Soviet Russia than was apparent at
first glance. Over the years, I met women who desired women; some called
themselves lesbians, but most did not. I lived long enough in Soviet Russia
to know where men cruised other men.
No one spoke publicly about their own queer desires, although certainly
there were private whispers. In the public realm, queers existed only as ob-
oflaws and cures. Legal, psychiatric, and medical "experts" attempted
to label, punish, and even change those whose sexual practices were non-
normative. Men who engaged in homosexual sex were subject to imprison-
ment.I Women who desired other women were placed in psychiatric hos-
pitals where they were forced to undergo drug therapies. In some cases,
women with persistent lesboerotic desire were encouraged to undergo sex
reassignment surgery (since desire for a woman was posited as "male"
even when experienced by a "female" body).
The "experts" labeled those who desired queerly a minority, a "sexual mi-
nority." The term "sexual minorities"
men'shinstva) is somewhat
analogous to "queer" in the United States. Sexual minorities are all those
engaged in sexual practices that are not socially acceptable/dominant.
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