Gay Propaganda and Russia’s Shrinking Public Space


Meara Sharma interviews Masha Gessen in Guernica:

Guernica: What was your initial reaction to Joseph Huff-Hannon’s proposal that you document the love stories of LGBT Russians?

Masha Gessen: There was this very strange moment when the world discovered what was going on for LGBT people in Russia. It was very gratifying: I thought, there is a world out there, a saner world. It had felt sort of desperate and bizarre until that point.

At the time, I was getting all these phone calls and letters from people who wanted to do projects. Everyday, there’d be somebody interviewing me as a “lesbian living in Russia.” It got to the point where I would joke that I now have two jobs. I work as a writer and a journalist, and I also work as a lesbian. There’s a big difference between being out and having that be your sole identity, the only reason that someone is talking to you. My twelve-year-old daughter said, “I have a new job as well. I work as the daughter of a lesbian,” because she was also giving all these interviews.

So I was skeptical because I thought this book was going to be a “let’s show the Russian public that gay people aren’t so bad” project. And that would really miss the point. What’s going on in Russia is not that the public is homophobic, but that the Kremlin has unleashed a war. You don’t fight a war by distributing well-meaning books about how the other side really isn’t so bad. But when I talked to Huff-Hannon it became very clear that what he had in mind was much more localized: communicating to the people who felt most alone that they’re not alone.

More here.