‘They’re taking our futures away’ Transgender Russians on what Moscow’s coming ban on medical and legal transitions will mean for them
Russia’s State Duma is preparing to pass legislation to fully ban gender-affirming healthcare as well as gender marker changes in official documents. Lawmakers say this will “save Russia for future generations, with its cultural and familial values and traditional foundations, while putting up a barrier against Western anti-family ideology.” Meduza spoke with Russians who are currently undergoing gender transitions about what it’s like to go through this experience in today’s Russia and what they expect the future to look like for people like them.
24-year-old transgender man
Changing your gender from female to male is tough — it brings with it the threat of getting drafted into the army. And for me, as a trans activist, it also carries the threat of being put in the male ward of a prison. That’s why I decided only to change my name to a gender-neutral one rather than changing the gender marker in my passport.
There’s a practice particular to St. Petersburg: you’re not allowed to change your patronymic, just your first and last names. This is because the bureaucrats want people to be defined strictly in accordance with the gender indicated in their passport. That’s why I ended up not changing my documents: to avoid ending up in that comical situation.
In 2019, I passed a medical screening and received a certificate with the diagnosis “transsexualism.” In 2020, I began hormone therapy. Some trans people buy testosterone illegally, on the black market. Since I was already at risk of winding up in prison [for my activism], I decided to do everything by the books. For that, I brought the certificate from the medical screening to the district medical center, where I was given a prescription to buy my medication at the pharmacy.
Thanks to the testosterone, I grew a beard and started growing more hair on my legs and my body. My waist disappeared, my shoulders and legs got bigger, my mammary glands shrunk, and my voice became more masculine. I’m not planning on getting surgery; I’m satisfied with my body the way it is now. Plus there’s the fact that post-op recovery takes time; you have to go on leave from work and find someone to take care of you. Also, I don’t want to rush the decision just because it’s my last chance; if I end up deciding to get surgery, I’ll find other options.
Since deciding to transition, I’ve encountered a lot of people [in government agencies] who simply didn’t know what to do with me. But I had previously sifted through a huge amount of legal information so that I’d be well-versed in it all myself. I had to fight tooth and nail to get all [the legal documents] from the various agencies, with no guarantee that anything would come of it.
Everything is highly dependent on what person you happen to talk to [in each institution]: sometimes people are sympathetic and try to help, [though that’s far from guaranteed]. Most of the people I encountered were understanding. The older women in the bureaucracies didn’t ask how to address me, but they didn’t use my passport name either. It seemed to me like they understood: if you’ve taken this step, there must be a good reason.
But no matter what kind of people you run into, all of these processes are fairly humiliating. Every person you meet tries to get in your pants to figure out who you really are. It’s really strange when people try to insist to a person with a deep voice and a beard that he’s a girl, making arguments about chromosomes, usually with no understanding of what role these chromosomes play in the formation of sex.
The law against trans people is genocide. It will make [society] fear and hate trans people more. This will cause the number of people who die by suicide to rise, despite it already being massive.
19 years old, non-binary, name changed at their own request
I had long felt that my gender was different [from the one assigned to me at birth], but the final realization didn’t come until 2020. And I only began transitioning in the fall of 2022. The announcement of the “partial” mobilization was an indication that things were about to get very bad. That’s how I ended up having to make an extremely important decision, which changed my entire life.
I borrowed some money and went to Moscow for a medical screening. (I’m from St. Petersburg.) At the end, the psychiatrist gave me diagnosis F64.0 [“transsexualism”] and issued me a “certificate of gender reassignment.”
I didn’t plan to get surgery, but I wanted to undergo hormone therapy and even started taking the necessary medical tests. But I had to stop because of threats from my family. They tried to make me feel guilty and scare me, saying my elderly relatives would find out about this and it would kill them. I don’t live with my parents, but the emotional power they have over me is enormous.
In May 2023, I began urgently trying to change my documents after the news about the government wanting to ban it. I went to the civil registration office, where they changed my name and my gender marker on my birth certificate. I plan to apply for an updated passport in the next few days.
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At the registration office, there was a guy who was also transitioning, and he and I whispered back and forth a little bit while waiting [in line]. A random woman who was also waiting in line suddenly realized what we were there for and said she’d let us go in front of her, because it was more important. That gives me hope that things aren’t so bad in society and that there are understanding people.
I didn’t open up to everyone at my university, but the people I did tell [about my transition] were understanding. [The university administration] even let me take academic leave. But I had to leave the dorm, because the rules are fairly strict. My transition is still in its early stages, so they couldn’t assign me to the women’s dorms because of the high likelihood of people’s misunderstanding, violence, and complaints from neighbors. And since my passport still says female, they couldn’t put me in the men’s dorms.
I only came out to a small circle of people at work, too, and they were understanding; I’m lucky. But for everyone else, I’m going to keep using my old name — it’s safer that way.
The law [banning legal gender transitions and gender-affirming surgery] will effectively prevent people who haven’t managed to undergo a medical screening and change their documents from having a future. I’ve already seen a lot of people saying they simply don’t know how to go on after this.
I managed to change the gender marker in my documents to female, but [if the law is passed], I’ll be banned from the [hormone therapy] I need to align with my new gender. What am I supposed to do then? It’s not clear.
19 years old, transgender woman
At 17, I realized I was a trans person, and I found the medication I needed for hormone therapy online. Buying it without a prescription is illegal, but I couldn’t go to an endocrinologist because I was a minor and I had problems with my parents.
Thanks to the hormones, I started to have less hair growing on my face, I grew breasts, and my cheeks filled out. After that, I was physically assaulted twice at my college.
In mid-May, the project Center-T [which helps transgender people in Russia] paid for me to undergo a medical screening in Moscow as part of an initiative it was putting on (I live in Yekaterinburg). I received two certificates: one for the civil registration office and one for doctors, so that I could begin hormone therapy. On May 30, I applied for a new passport. Everything went fine; there were no problems.
The bill [against trans people] is very scary. It’s a violation of people’s human rights. I want to get a vaginoplasty, but if the law is passed, that will become impossible. In the future, I plan to emigrate.
45 years old, transgender man
I’m from Adygea, and I began my transition at 37 years old in 2015; I started acting in society the way I was comfortable. Before, I had tried to fit into my assigned role — a recipe for depression. I came to the conclusion that I could either lose my mind or start doing something different.
Changing my documents and undergoing medical interventions is something that concerns me and my own body — it doesn’t affect others, so why should I have to get somebody’s permission? Why should anybody else have the right to control my life?
I contacted a clinic about getting a medical screening done so that I could get a certificate of diagnosis and start the hormone therapy. The specialists on the commission were kind to me, but I nonetheless felt as humiliated as I ever had been in my life.
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In 2018, I wanted to change my gender marker in my documents at the civil registration office, but I was refused. So I took the issue to court and won. After that, I changed my gender marker and name, first on my birth certificate and then in all my other documents. The court hearings were the only difficulty; everything else with my document changes went smoothly. I had to face quite a few shocked bureaucrats, but there wasn’t any aggression, nor any refusals, which is just one more sign that there’s no need to protect society from trans people.
I got top surgery — a mastectomy. I decided not to get bottom surgery. […] A mastectomy and hormone therapy are enough for me to feel comfortable.
A gender transition isn’t something abstract. It’s a way to get rid of the dissonance and start living in harmony with oneself, to make life more fulfilling. Nobody transitions for entertainment or to avoid their obligations. It might seem to some people like it’s not an especially important issue, since people can be who they want in private and don’t need to change their documents or their external characteristics for that. But living that way is much harder.
The way lawmakers have embraced the issue of LGBTQ+ people in recent months is a sign that the bill [against trans people] might take the worst possible form: a total ban on everything, including document changes and medical interventions. What worries me is that I’ve been on hormones for several years already and I feel wonderful, but if they ban it, it will be harmful to my health.
In the past, when they’ve discussed or passed similar laws, my friends and I have written letters to [State Duma] deputies. Maybe I’m a pessimist, but I don’t think there’s any point in doing that this time. We should probably do something, but it’s hard for me to think of anything that would be useful right now.
If the law is passed, it will ruin a lot of people’s lives. They’re taking our futures away day after day, and now they’re going to take practically the last thing we have. There are people for whom this amounts to taking away their entire lives. I can’t abstract away from this, and that’s hard for me. But until the law is passed, I want to advise everyone not to despair. Nothing is forever, and the situation will change. The important thing is to have an image of the future you dream of and to work towards it.