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‘No gay person can slip through the cracks in a small town’ Stories of LGBTQ life in Russia's rural villages

Источник: Meduza
Sergey Bezgodov / Shutterstock.com

Recent polling shows that more than half of Russian residents have a negative view of LGBTQ people. However, a majority also say that if they were to discover that a new acquaintance was gay, that fact would not perturb them. Official Russian policy discriminates against LGBTQ people: “propaganda for non-traditional values” is prohibited by federal law, and in Chechnya, law enforcement officers have allegedly run torture cells for LGBTQ people for more than two years with no federal response in sight. Given that most coverage of Russian queer culture centers on urban areas, Meduza spoke to longtime residents of Russian villages, towns, and smaller cities about how those dynamics have affected their lives.

Note: This article contains offensive language.

“Absolutely everyone’s scared now”

Ilya Zhdanov, 42, Republic of Karelia

I’ve lived in Belomorsk all my life. All in all, Karelia’s a beautiful region for tourists, but people call our city a shithole behind our backs. I’m not young anymore, and I’ve been around since the Soviet era, so I can say for sure that every year, our city dies just a little bit more. Almost everything here that could close has closed. There’s nowhere to go here on a Saturday night. All in all, this is a city like thousands of other cities in our country. A town where everyone even knows all the stray dogs’ names. People don’t live here — they exist. Most people aren’t interested in anything. They don’t care about anything.

I realized who I was at a very young age, when I was 11. In school, I was always with a crowd of girls and a couple of guys. I remember how one of my girlfriends who knew what I was told me about the Soviet sodomy law, and I laughed and told her it wouldn’t affect me because no one would prosecute a child.

I’ve never had problems with sex even though it’s a small city. I was 12, and my first boyfriend was 16. We lived on the same block. We played around at first, and then we decided to try it, and then we went further and further. We dated for four years.

I never hid anything from my friends. There were no problems. One of my friends told me, “Ilya, I don’t care who you are. The most important thing is that you’re a cool dude.” I always tell gays that a lot of things depend on that. There are gays, and then there are faggots. If you walk around the street like a painted-up slut, then that’s how people are going to treat you. If you act like a regular guy, most people won’t care about your sexual orientation.

I told my parents everything when I was 17. I was drunk, but I had prepared for it for a long time. When I realized who I was, I realized I had to run the show in my family so they would react calmly when I confessed. It’s a well-known fact that gays train their parents. Teenagers all over the world do things like showing their parents the movie Prayers for Bobby just before they come out. After that, they really do understand their kids a bit better when they decide to open up. My parents were shocked and confused at first, too, but everything was okay in the end. My mom accepted me. She said, “You’re a good son. I don’t care about the rest.” My stepdad, who was a captain on a ship, took it all right too. They try not to poke their noses into my private life.

Nevertheless, I didn’t come out publicly for a long time. But in 2006, there was a tragedy that involved my boyfriend, who I’d been dating for 12 years, ever since we were in high school. I was working at a library at the time, and I went to a librarians’ forum in Belgorod. I won the forum, but I didn’t have cell signal the entire time, and when my train got back to Belomorsk, they told me my Misha had gotten run over by a car. They had the funeral without me because my mom didn’t know how serious our relationship was. She told my girlfriends that the forum and my career would be more important to me than the funeral.

When I found out about all that, I went home and drank half a bottle of vodka. I didn’t know how to live — I started binge drinking. I smoked inside, and my apartment caught on fire. I saw the fire, and I could have run out of the apartment, but I didn’t. I lay down and fell asleep. It was probably God’s will for me to survive. The firefighters got me out. My brother, who works at the fire station, told me later on that they had gone there to collect a body, and I turned out to be alive.

I was injured in the fire. Part of my right arm was amputated, and 20 percent of my skin was covered in burns. I spent four months in the hospital, there were 12 transplants, and so on. I became a person with disabilities. I remember now, there I was, 29 years old, and I’m sitting in my apartment and thinking, I guess it wasn’t enough that I’m Orthodox and gay — now I’m a person with disabilities, too. But I met [LGBTQ activist] Yura Maximov, and he got me to snap out of it. He convinced me to keep on living. In the end, I listened, and my second life began. I stopped caring what other people thought about me.

I dove into LGBT activism — I gave lectures and went to Christian LGBT forums to give speeches. I’m Orthodox, and there have never been any problems between me and God, but I know gays who are heavily influenced by the church, and that leads them to think they’re doing something bad or sinful. For me, religion is a matter of philosophy. I only go to church to admire the architecture.

At the same time, I started coming out in Belomorsk. At first, it was all okay. I was working in the library — I was in charge of the IT division — and I had a wonderful director who was always supporting me and pushing me forward. I regularly won contests for librarians, and I was a known public figure in town because of that. From 2011 to 2015, I was part of the local branch of United Russia. They knew I was gay, but they looked the other way. Life was good for me in Belomorsk, so I didn’t go anywhere. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, I figured.

Then, everything started getting worse. I was doing LGBT activism at full speed for five years straight, but in the end, I burned out. Maybe it’s because what I was talking about wasn’t very popular: I was pushing for discussions on LGBT people with disabilities. But nothing changed. It’s hard when you’re constantly going to all these forums, and you know every time that you’ll be the only disabled person and nothing’s going to change.

Things started going downhill at work too. We got a new director, and once, when I was getting ready for my next LGBT forum, I left a folder of my lectures at work. It was labeled “Forum — Petersburg.” The week after that, we submitted our annual plans, which include information on conferences and other events for librarians. When the director returned my plan, I saw that she had written, “I am not obligated to pay for your trips to LGBT forums,” meaning that she had read my personal documents. I sued her even though she said “You wouldn’t dare — you’re gay.” A lot of people have this stereotype that gay people are afraid to defend their own rights. Not me. She had to pay me compensation in the end.

The situation is getting worse every year right along with those idiotic laws and all the rest. Though people in Karelia have always been pretty tolerant and Europeanized — we’re not far from Finland. It was better here than in central Russia. We didn’t have the kinds of horrors I would hear about from my friends in other regions.

But now everything’s changed, and I’m afraid to say I’m gay one time too many. Now, people say things like “rotten fag” to me on the streets. I’ve been beaten several times. The last time was this winter when I was sitting in a restaurant and I went out to smoke. Outside, there was a group of kids who recognized me and started shouting insults. They beat me up, and I landed in the hospital. The kids were found. I think one of them was sent to prison.

Absolutely everyone’s scared now. Take my friend in Belomorsk. He’s 18, he’s gay, and he performs in drag shows. He had to move to Petrozavodsk because people in Belomorsk would beat him and harass him. He couldn’t leave his apartment. In the “Overheard in Belomorsk” group on VKontakte, people posted photos of him, and there were polls where the commenters said things like all gays should be killed. Things got really scary.

But for now, I don’t want to move away. I’m not exactly of the age to break loose anymore. And I like my job again: I’m a senior administrator in a tourist hotel. I’ve received offers from other cities, but what’ll happen if we all move away? Someone has to live in these places.

Though I will say that, honestly, I don’t fully understand why I still live in Belomorsk and especially why I didn’t move to the Netherlands way back when. I had a partner there. I spent almost all my breaks there, and I loved the country, but in the end, I came back anyway. Then I had a partner in Belomorsk, but naturally, we hid that part of our relationship.

When we were dating, things went something like this: I would rent an apartment for the night and go there in one taxi. Zhenya would go in another taxi. When we went to the store together, there was this constant fear of touching his hand or hugging him. Then, we would go to the apartment and just sit there thinking about how tired we were of all of it. When you’re walking along and you see a heterosexual couple hugging and kissing, it just beats on your nerves and makes your arms go limp. You just think, “I want to do that too. Why can’t I do the same thing?” It just kills you. That constant tension made me have trouble sleeping, and I went through some depressive phases.

In 2016, after we’d been together for almost three years, Zhenya and I left Belomorsk. The thing is that we had decided to model for the famous photographer Yulia Malygina — she included us in one of her exhibitions as a couple. She went around the world with those photos, and then somebody from Belomorsk put them on Facebook and that was it. Everyone started pointing fingers at us — we couldn’t even walk down the street. In the end, Zhenya just got sick of it. We moved to Petrozavodsk, where the people aren’t so thick. We lived there together for three months, and then we broke up for personal reasons. I came back to my hometown.

Now, I’m the only openly gay person in Belomorsk. And I’m the only person from here who posts in social media dating groups under my own name. Everyone else uses fake names because they’re legitimately scared. A lot of people go to Petersburg to find dates because it’s safer there. And they’re right. Human rights activists and LGBT groups don’t operate in small towns. Here, people don’t even know who we are. That we’re people just like them.

All in all, I’d say being gay in Russia right now is a heroic feat. It’s very hard when the government propagandizes intolerance from above.

Sergey Bezgodov / Shutterstock.com

“My mom says homosexuality is a psychic deviation”

Lesya, 18, Astrakhan region

My village isn’t really large or small — we’ve got 2,000 people. It’s just a normal village with a school, a store, a post office, and all that. I’ve just passed the EGE [college readiness] exams, and I want to study translation in Kazan and work as a waitress in a café to make some money on the side. We’re about an hour and a half away from Astrakhan. It’s gotten harder to get there lately: the bridge collapsed, so now we have to take a ferry.

All in all, I like it here in the village. The air is clean, and the people are kind. In school, nobody offends anyone else. We don’t have any AUE culture. On the downside, there’s not much to do. We don’t have a movie theater. Sometimes, people screen old Russian movies outside, but that’s it. In the summer, there’s only one thing to do: gardening.

My family doesn’t want to leave the village. My grandma’s retired, and my mom’s a train conductor. My classmates — we have one 11th-grade class in the village with eight people in it — most of them want to stay here too. They don’t want to be far away from their families. Plus, the village has been getting better lately. In the last half year, we’ve had three new playgrounds open, and they built a new club. Seems like the new governor [Acting Governor Igor Babushkin] really is all right.

There’s no mass alcoholism here either. Sure, you can find drunk people anywhere, but our alcoholics actually make themselves useful: they get hired out in the summer to work on other people’s gardens.

It all started for me when I was 12. At first, I was attracted to girls, and then, when I was around 14, I was attracted to boys. I didn’t worry about it — I just accepted it. At first, I didn’t tell anybody, but now I warn everybody I end up talking to on a regular basis. People have stopped talking to me because of my orientation many times. Some of them even said I was corrupting them — said nasty things to my face and behind my back. I don’t really understand that kind of attitude myself.

I’ve had a lot of girlfriends and just one boyfriend. We’ve been dating for three years now. He still says he only started dating me because there were rumors going around in the village that I was a lesbian. He decided to fix that.

I don’t tell my family anything. I know that my grandma and my mom have conservative views. They’re religious. I’m afraid they would kick me out of the house if I told them. Once, I decided to talk to my mom about it. I started slow, and she said that if she’d given birth to a gay son, she would have sent him to an orphanage. I haven’t talked to her about it since. She just doesn’t accept homosexuality. She thinks — and says — that it’s a psychic deviation. I won’t be able to convince her. Why ruin my nerves? I’m fine with this situation. There are things it’s best for her not to know.

With my friends, it’s the other way around — I often change their minds. I give them scientific facts — for example, that animals also have homosexual couples. It works. Most of them start feeling all right about gay people. All in all, I think tolerance in Russia will get to a new level soon. I see that kids and teenagers are a lot more tolerant than their parents. In a few years, it’ll all be better. There won’t be open hatred. But I doubt gay marriage will be legalized anytime soon.

I can see myself how people’s attitudes toward LGBT people are changing. I want to fight for our rights, too. I can avoid speaking openly about who I am while supporting LGBT people, after all. For example, I can participate in unsanctioned gay parades. I’ve already done it once. A few years ago, my girlfriend and I walked around Astrakhan holding an LGBT flag. People took pictures of us and turned around to look at us, but they didn’t say anything much. They would ask, “Is this what we think it is?” We’d say it was, and they would say “Hm!” and walk away. I think that if we did something like that in my village, people would have just beat us up.

“The most tolerant people usually leave”

Andrey (name changed), 46

When I was 20 years old, I moved from my hometown to Moscow. I moved for the same reason anybody would: it’s a big, rich city. It was great. I worked as an administrator in a hotel and lived right in the middle of town. I talked to people from all over the world. Those were very liberating years: I remember how there were little gay parades right in the center of Moscow, and nobody attacked them. Now, it’s hard to believe things were every that way at all.

In Moscow, I met a guy from abroad and fell in love. We left the country. We got married and lived in Europe. It was an ideal world with real democracy, real rule of law, and all the rest. Life was good: we traveled and visited more than 40 countries. I had my own business organizing tours in Russia. But we got divorced, and I came back to Russia. That wasn’t an ideal world, but it had its advantages. It’s easier to develop a really close friendship here than in Europe, for example.

I didn’t go back to Moscow. I moved to a different city because I wanted something new. I worked in tourism again, this time as a guide and a hostel administrator. At one point, I had the urge to do physical labor to really understand what it was like. I got a job helping people move. Through that job, I found a new friend. He’s not gay, but we got to be close, and then we became roommates to save on rent.

My friend has had a hard life — problems with his parents and so on. So by law, he should have housing provided, but nobody ever gave it to him. I got involved in that situation, we started fighting, and a little more than three years ago, he got to rent government housing. It’s in a village with a couple thousand people about an hour’s drive from the city where we used to live downtown. My friend very kindly offered to let me move in with him. I agreed. Now, we live together as friends.

There’s nothing difficult about this arrangement because I’m not looking for anybody. But our neighbors in the village would ask us directly, “Are you faggots?” We told them we weren’t. Of course, some people suspect, but, I mean, they’re wrong. I don’t tell people about my orientation. There might be complications, and there wouldn’t be any advantages.

No gay person can slip through the cracks in a small town or village. Everybody knows you. And I think people’s actual attitudes toward gay people are worse. All the most tolerant and open-minded people usually leave and move to big cities. But you can’t expect much else when it’s propagandized everywhere that this is something abnormal. I don’t think there will ever be anything else under this regime.

In all other respects, life in the village isn’t nearly as bad as it might seem. Yes, there’s not much money here, but there are a lot of beautiful places, and we have a view of the forest from our window. I’ve fallen in love with these places. I’ve been studying their history, and I’m thinking of writing a guidebook about them. It’s calm here.

 Yes, I used to live in Europe and work as an entrepreneur. Now, I live in a Russian village and work in the most ordinary job you can imagine. But I value what I have. Of course, I aspire to become a writer. To live for a while in the capital of the world, New York. But life is good for me here, too. This is an important experience.

Sergey Bezgodov / Shutterstock.com

“When we had just moved to the village, we said we were sisters”

Tatiana, 42, Moscow region

I’m a Muscovite by birth. I’ve built a solid career for myself — I’m an economist; I deal with taxes. I was married for six years and had two kids with my husband. But then my husband started drinking, getting violent, and we got divorced.

And there I was, turning 30. By then, I was already divorced, I was in graduate school for psychology, and I was thinking I should probably put together something of a personal life as well. But things didn’t work out for me with men for some reason, and I remembered that, as a teenager, I’d had strong feelings for a girl. I thought, why not try again?

I needed somebody who had a spiritual connection with me. It made absolutely no difference whether that person was a man or a woman. I went on a dating site and saw a profile for a young woman named Viktoria who wrote that she was looking for someone, and whether they were a man or a woman didn’t matter. Our hopes and our situations were exactly the same. She had even been married and had a baby. We were on the same wavelength.

We met up. I went over to her place, and in the morning, I said I felt that she was the person for me. She was surprised, and she didn’t really respond. She kept dating other people at the same time. About a year went by, and I said I didn’t want that kind of relationship anymore. Vika came to me and apologized. We’ve been together ever since.

For about a year, we dated in Moscow. We were always together over the weekends. And then, we decided to move out of the city. We wanted to live together, but that would have been problematic if we didn’t move. We’ve got three kids, after all, and it’s pretty hard to buy an apartment in Moscow that could fit five people. We ended up renting out our apartments and buying a plot of land in a village 100 kilometers [62 miles] away from Moscow. We built a house there to live together with our kids.

But the hardest thing wasn’t organizing the move — it was explaining it to all our relatives. I just said it straight, and my mom reacted really harshly. We had a very complicated relationship — she thought that my relationship with Vika was somehow unnatural. Last year, my mom died, and she never accepted us. My grandma, too — she even tried to live with us, but she said it was unpleasant for her even when we just smiled at each other. Grandma passed away, too.

I’ve stopped talking to my dad, as I have with a lot of my other relatives. I made a decision, and I chose Vika. Vika’s mom, by the way, reacted more calmly. Vika hasn’t said anything to her directly, and she just pretends that she doesn’t suspect anything.

At the same time, there were no problems at all with our friends. A lot of them were extremely surprised at my decision, but there weren’t any conflicts at all. They all just said it would be interesting to see how things would turn out for us.

Another interesting bit happened with my ex-husband. We aren’t close, but we stay in touch. After our divorce, it turned out he was gay. He was even beaten once because of it.

Even though everyone around me was surprised, I didn’t give a second thought to my relationship status. On the contrary: it was like I had shaken off come kind of chain. I stopped caring about what people thought. Vika took it a good deal harder, though. She couldn’t bring herself to hold my hand in public. For me, it actually felt like a kind of challenge: yeah, this is who I am. What are you going to do about it?

And now we’ve been living together for 10 years in our house in a beautiful village in the Moscow region. Only a few dozen people live here, and in the winter, there’s practically no one left. We have a big house and a plot of land. It’s total freedom — we don’t have neighbors down the street, let alone upstairs. In that sense, I definitely don’t want to go back to Moscow. It’s like a human anthill. Here, the only people who come into our space are people we want to be there.

All in all, I can tell by my village and the towns nearby that a good number of people are moving here from the city. There are doctors moving out to work in rural hospitals, for example. People are looking for spiritual calm. They’re tired of chasing after something in Moscow all the time.

In terms of disadvantages, I’ve only recently started working remotely, and until then, I commuted for 10 years to my job in Moscow, and it was two and a half hours each way. It was hard, but it’s impossible to work in the village or in the towns near here. There are people who work here, but their salaries are small — 30,000 ($470) or 40,000 ($627) rubles per month is considered quite a good sum. The fact that you can’t make a decent salary here is the biggest disadvantage. The fact that there’s only one store in town, home maintenance issues, no gas in the house — that’s all less of a priority.

As far as attitudes toward LGBT people go, I haven’t noticed a significant difference in comparison with Moscow. People’s attitudes aren’t particularly bad, but to have two people actually living together — we’re the only ones doing that. We don’t flout our relationship, we don’t walk around holding hands, but we don’t hide it, either. At first, when we had just moved to the village, we said we were sisters. And then, when people got to know us a little better, we would tell some of them, and some others figured it out on their own. Generally, if someone asks, we don’t deny it. People have asked our kids at school, too, but nothing bad came out of it. That said, it would probably be harder for two men.

I think people just have a stereotype that being LGBT is something bad, but when they start talking to you on an individual level, they realize everything’s all right. Now, I think it would even have been harder to live in Moscow. People run into each other more there, and it would have been more noticeable. There would have been more pressure from other people.

Three years ago, we got a marriage license in Denmark. On the day we officially got married, we went to the local city hall, and a group of strangers was there to congratulate us. Everyone was smiling, and nobody pointed and whispered. People even gave us gifts. I remember how a car stopped near us with a retired couple who must have been around 80 years old. They were so happy for us, but they said they didn’t have anything to give us, so they gave us a little bag of toffees. We still have it at home.

I don’t think there will ever be that kind of attitude in Russia. It’s stressful. We still don’t show our relationship in public in the village, for example. Why provoke people? It’s like a skeleton in the closet. Everybody knows, but they pretend they haven’t noticed. It’s a kind of psychological defense mechanism.

For me, the way LGBT people are treated in the legal world is more important. For example, we don’t have the right to own property jointly, meaning that Vika isn’t my legal heir. And she wouldn’t be able to get into the ICU if something were to happen to me. So in fact, she’s the person closest to my heart, but by law, she’s nobody. We don’t have any rights in our relationship with each other.

But the most frightening thing that could ever happen is if they started taking children away from LGBT families en masse. That would be a big problem even though all three of our children have already grown up and moved away to Moscow. As for all the rest, I don’t care if our State Duma keeps stroking its own ego. All these laws even have a positive effect in that gay people can get political asylum more easily in Europe or the U.S.

Being LGBT in Russia is hard. You have to be strong-willed, and you can’t be scared of anything. If you’re scared, it’ll feel like everything’s really bad. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s possible to get by even though we don’t have the same level of freedom there is in Europe. And as long as we have the regime that we have, everything’s going to stay the same. It’s going to be bad for a very long time yet.

Sergey Bezgodov / Shutterstock.com

“Supposedly, it brings shame on our family”

Anna, 19, Kirov. Lived in rural areas in the Kostroma region until age 18.

Until I was seven, I lived in a village with a population of about 200 people. I spent first grade in a totally ordinary village school — a wooden building with two floors and only six people in my grade. Then, we moved to the next town over, where there were several thousand people. It’s quiet there, and there aren’t any cars on the roads, but I don’t think there’s anything good in that life. Everyone knows everything about everybody else, and there’s nowhere to go out. When kids or teenagers there want to have fun, they just walk around the roads in town for miles.

We moved to the town because my dad worked there in a prison colony — he was kind of like a warden. Before we moved, he had to drive to work from the village every day for seven or eight kilometers [four or five miles], and that’s not very convenient. My mom worked as a counselor in an orphanage in the village, and after we moved, she found a job in human resources at the same colony where my dad worked. Now, my dad’s retired — he had to leave work because he got sick.

When I was a kid, I was always playing soccer and running around with the boys while the girls were off doing something else — I don’t even know what. But the situation gradually started to change. By seventh or eighth grade, I was an outcast. People started bullying me at school. The thing is that I dressed like a boy, and people teased me for it even though people theoretically aren’t supposed to have those kinds of stereotypes anymore. They came up with a nickname for me — “Vanya,” “Vano,” “Ivan.” Nobody ever explained what they didn’t like about me. They just kept teasing me. They were just kids.

That all spilled over from school into the streets. I practically stopped leaving the house. I just watched TV shows or read books. I only went out with my best friend. I just couldn’t click with the other kids.

In eight grade, I moved to a new school, and things got better. There was a uniform, and that eliminated the problem even though I still went to school in pants, not a skirt. At around the same time, when I was 15, I figured out my sexual orientation. At my new school, I started having feelings for one of my classmates. Until then, I had tried to date a guy, but nothing good came out of it. I think I only tried it because that’s what I was supposed to do.

When I figured it all out, I started learning more about being LGBT on the Internet. I didn’t tell anyone, and I went through everything on my own. It was hard. The hardest thing was that everything about the topic interested me, but [instead of reading more about it] I had to just sit and do homework.

About half a year later, I told my friend from class. We had a good relationship, and her reaction was completely fine. The way she treated me didn’t change. A couple of months later, I told the classmate I liked about my feelings for her. It was very scary, but I decided to do it. We were walking home from school together. I was scared to say it out loud, so I wrote out a text on my phone and showed her the screen. She didn’t say anything — she just started walking faster. After that, she stopped talking to me; she ignored me. She pretended none of it had happened. Later on, the summer after 11th grade, we went on a walk together and talked about it. I bet her a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey that I would find a girlfriend before I was 20. I won the bet.

I only started dating girls in Kirov, where I moved to go to school after 11th grade [the final grade in Russia]. There had been an institute in our town at one point, but it closed a long time ago, so I didn’t really have any options. Everybody moves away from there. I always liked math in school, but I did badly on my exams, and now I’m studying agronomy.

Kirov is a big city, and things are better here than they are in our town. I don’t spend all my time at home here like I did there. There are a lot of people you can meet and talk to. I didn’t know any other LGBT people in our town, but here, they just seemed to pop up right away of their own accord. I’ve met girls through special VKontakte groups for LGBT people and through mutual friends. Now, I have a girlfriend, and we’ve been dating for more than a month.

I don’t hide my relationship with her from my friends or at my university. Everybody accepts it just fine. I didn’t tell my parents anything, but they figured it all out on their own. The thing is that we’re living together now — they also moved to Kirov. Last winter, my mom was cleaning up at home, and she found a picture of me with my girlfriend.

My parents started yelling at me. They said that it wasn’t normal. They asked me not to tell anyone. Not to broadcast it to the neighbors. They said I should get married as soon as possible.

They’re still hoping it’ll pass. And even though my dad is all right with it at this point, my mom still treats me much worse than she did before. Most of the time, she either doesn’t talk to me, or she insults me. Just because of my orientation. Sometimes, there are moments when she’s kind, but they’re rare. I just have to bear with it. I don’t have a way to move out.

My parents have such a negative attitude toward my orientation because it supposedly brings shame on our family. They want the bloodline to continue even though that’s entirely possible in homosexual families, too. I think they just don’t know much about it because they’ve never encountered it before. I try to explain everything as best I can, but it doesn’t work. I think everything will be all right at some point. Probably when I move away from them and they can only hear about my life from me.

That said, people’s attitudes toward LGBT people in Kirov are more or less all right. You can even walk hand in hand with your girlfriend or kiss, and nobody will care. If someone asks about my orientation, I don’t hide it then, either. All that would have been impossible in our little town. If I had stayed there, it would’ve been impossible for me to start a relationship — I just wouldn’t have been able to find anyone. If there is anybody there [who’s LGBTQ], they hide it assiduously. You have to hide it because people have a really negative attitude about it there. I think that generally, the smaller the population in a given place, the worse they treat LGBT people. People just know less about it, so they’re more afraid, though it’s not clear what exactly they’re afraid of.

There’s a ton of work left to be done on this in Russia. But there’s hope. I can see how people of my generation have better, simpler attitudes toward LGBT people. I think it’s very much a generational gap. My parents have a different upbringing, a different culture. There’s a lot still left over from the USSR.

Recorded by Pavel Merzlikin

Translation by Hilah Kohen