Gay Fiction in Red Square
Barry Artiste, Now Public Contributor
Vancouver BC's "Gay Pride Parade" is happening all this weekend and for one Moscovite authour a Pride parade is the last thing Moscow would tolerate in the decadEdite and half of Glasnost. Russians certainly should not be afraid of Gays, this, considering the rash of Muscle Clubs along the Arabat Market. I had witnessed the many Muscle Clubs under the guise of Physical Fitness Clubs during my posting in Moscow a few years ago. Moscow has a Gay Culture, though hidden in the dance clubs, and certainly not openly displayed in the streets due to groups of Militia Units on every corner.
Given Russia's penchant for their Macho Image, Masculinity should not be afraid of Nikolas Koro. Nikolas
breaks ground in writing a series of published Gay Prose for Moscow's Gay Underground. Nikolas is slowly trying to bring to the surface what has been long hidden in underground clubs and Muscle Clubs in the hope of bringing Moscow and Russia into the 21 century.
My Final Thought
Perhaps Nikolas will be Russia's new Shakespeare, opening a Red Renaissance period, Vancouver's Gay Community currently Celebrate and openly enjoy.
Given the climate of homophobia, a new anthology of prose by gay Russian writers steers well clear of politics and explicit sexuality.
http://context.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2007/08/03/102.html"]Nikolas Koro's stories in the new gay fiction collection "Liberty Life" touch on everything from Buddha to cigarettes to an angel with the sniffles. But there's one topic he doesn't openly discuss: homosexuality.
A character who writes fairy tales mentions he's gay. A doctor protests that he isn't. If there's anything else, it's on the level of metaphor.
The stories are about gays "inasmuch as their author is openly gay," Koro said in an interview Monday at the Moscow office of NEIMS Branding & Consulting Group where he's a member of the European board of directors. "It's not obligatory that being involved in the gay community means waving a rainbow flag."
Other stories in the anthology "Liberty Life," released recently in a print-run of 1,000 by Kvir publishing house, also avoid mentioning homosexuality, or focus on straight rather than same-sex relationships. The book's editor, Vladimir Kirsanov, said the theme of freedom is the link between stories, though the downplaying of gay themes also reflects the fraught status of homosexuality in Russia.
"I regularly think in my head about what the grandma in the bookstore who opens the book will say. I'm always a little afraid and am reluctant to have problems with the government," Kirsanov said. "I wanted a collection of authors that wouldn't arouse such a reaction" as previous gay prose books had, he admitted.
The 16 authors are scattered around the world -- in Germany, the United States, Sweden and Belize, "free from the prohibitions of Russian culture," as the book jacket puts it. There are journalists, budding novelists and even a librarian from Cherepovets, north of Moscow. Most communicated with Kirsanov using e-mail, and a few have never spoken with him.
Belize-based Lida Yusupova's raunchy "Attida" focuses on a woman stranded in Greece after her girlfriend, Valya, decides she doesn't want to live abroad. "She met Valya in the company of identical shaven-headed girls, but she didn't see them because Valya outshone them all -- she was red-haired, tall, curvaceous," the story explains.
The woman's only consolation is sex with a "fat and stupid" Greek, the daughter of the owner of a restaurant where she eats, though the mood quickly dissipates when the ex is mentioned.
n "I'll Be You" by Margarita Sharapova, a former circus performer named Rita falls in love with a blind girl, Larisa, whom she's looking after for a weekend. They roll around kissing in a forest and declare their love, though the ending, involving an unexpected birth, is melancholy.
"Blindness is in its entirety a symbol of the heterosexual community's attitude toward homosexuals" in Russia, Sharapova said by e-mail last week. "They try not to see us. Or they see us in a perverted way."
A surprising number of English words appear in the text, often connected with sex or relationships -- "brief encounter" and "blind date," for example. The word "Liberty" in the book's title is also written in English. And the publisher's name, Kvir, is a Russianized version of Queer.
This preponderance of foreign terms suggests that "the idea of queerness in itself is still associated with abroad -- it couldn't be something native Russian," said Kevin Moss, head of the Russian department at Middlebury College in Vermont and editor of a collection of Russian literature on gay themes.
He added that in the 1990s, there was a rash of gay-themed books set on other planets, and even a collection of gay vampire stories, as authors found it hard to imagine being gay in Russia following the lifting of the Soviet-era ban on homosexuality.
A number of the stories finish with bitterness and disappointment. "One Day Alla Pugachyova Picked Up the Phone and Heard My Voice," by Natalya Vorontseva-Yuryeva, weaves a conversation between the pop star and a worshipful fan into the tale of a lesbian love-triangle, but not even Pugachyova can save these characters. And the lessons in Konstantin Kropotkin's "Sidorov. Lessons of Life" are bleak.
"This text is about a lack of freedom," Kropotkin said by e-mail. "Though the text was written with a breathtaking feeling of creative freedom, which is new for me."
Despite the lifting of Soviet-era prohibitions, Moss said gay literature hasn't witnessed a growth in popularity. "Liberty Life," whose jacket features a rainbow flag, will only be sold in two gay stores in Moscow.
"In the Tsarist era, Russia was pretty much ahead of other places," Moss noted, particularly after the publication of the first coming-out novel, Mikhail Kuzmin's "Wings," in 1906.
Today, though, "there hasn't really been a boom. Given the state of Russian society, I'm not really sure that there will be one."
"Liberty Life" is published by Kvir.