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Half-Hidden or Half-Open? Scholarly Research on Soviet Homosexuals in Contemporary Russia

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Gender and Choice after Socialism

Abstract

This chapter explores the historical scholarship on sexualities in post-Soviet Russia, drawing on extensive archival research and scholarly experience on the history of homosexuality in Russia, both pre-revolutionary and Soviet, including the FSB archive. It also reflects on the past and present choices made by Russian and Western historians in relation to the almost untouched history of Russian sexuality. While the scholarship on post-socialist non-heterosexuals is growing extensively, homosexuality in Soviet Russia, despite the availability of plentiful archival materials, continues to be greeted with silence and repression, both by the Russian academic community and by civil society. The only notable publication on the subject is Dan Healey’s Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia, written more than a decade ago. I argue that the repressed memory of homosexuals living through the Soviet era is deeply connected with the Stalinist gender and sexuality policies of the 1930s, as well as with the ambiguous and inconsistent process of democratisation in the 1990s. The policy concerning access to sources relating to homosexuality in the Russian archives will also be analysed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Irina Roldugina, ‘Otkrytie seksual’nosti. Transgressiya sotsial’noi stikhii v seredine 18 veka v Sankt-Peterburge: po materialam Kalinkinskoi komissii (1750–1759)’, Ab Imperio, no. 2, 2016, pp. 29–69.

  2. 2.

    There are a few significant exceptions. Dan Healey, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia. The Regulation of Sexual and Gender Dissent, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2001; Marianna Muravyeva, ‘Personalizing Homosexuality and Masculinity in Early Modern Russia’, in Marianna Muravyeva, Raisa Maria Toivo (eds.), Gender in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (London: Routledge, 2012), pp. 205–225.

  3. 3.

    Eric Naiman, Sex in Public: The Incarnation of Early Soviet Ideology, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.

  4. 4.

    David Halperin, ‘Is There a History of Sexuality?’, History and Theory, Vol. 28, no. 3, 1989, p. 257.

  5. 5.

    Irina Roldugina, ‘“Pochemu my takie liudi?”: Rannesovetskie gomoseksualy ot pervogo litsa: novye istochniki po istorii gomoseksual’nykh identichnostei v Rossii’, Ab Imperio, no. 2, 2016. pp. 183–216.

  6. 6.

    Zhizneradostnost’ would be a correct form in Russian.

  7. 7.

    Dan Healey, ‘“Untraditional Sex” and the “Simple Russian”. Nostalgia for Soviet Innocence in the Polemics of Dilia Enikeeva’, in What Is Soviet Now. Identities, Legacies, Memories. Eds. Thomas Lahusen, Peter H. Solomon, Jr. (Berlin: Lit, 2008), p. 183.

  8. 8.

    V.M. Paneiakh, ‘“Liudi i nravy Drevnei Rusi” Borisa Aleksandrovicha Romanova: sud’ba knigi’, in Trudy otdela drevnerusskoi literatury (St Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 1996), pp. 825–839.

  9. 9.

    Paneiakh, ‘Liudi i nravy Drevnei Rusi’, p. 834.

  10. 10.

    Paneiakh, ‘Liudi i nravy Drevnei Rusi’, p. 834.

  11. 11.

    BSE, 2nd edn, vol. 12, Moscow: Izdatel’stvo ‘sovetskaya entsiklopediya’, 1952. p. 35. Before the recriminalization, the term “homosexuality” appeared twice in two Soviet encyclopedias in 1929 and 1930. Dan Healey. Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia (Chicago: Chicago University Press), p. 170.

  12. 12.

    Deborah Field. Private Life and Communist Morality in Khrushchev’s Russia. New York, 2007, p. 56; Anne Gorsuch, All this is Your World: Soviet Tourism at Home and Abroad after Stalin, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

  13. 13.

    There is, though, a significant exception that does not deny the integrity of the concept. One example is Zalkind’s textbook: L.A. Zalkind, Zdorovyi brak i zdorovaia sem’ia (Moscow: Medgiz, 1948).

  14. 14.

    Rustam Alexander, ‘Sex Education and the Depiction of Homosexuality Under Khrushchev’, in Melanie Illic (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Women and Gender in Twentieth-Century Russia and the Soviet Union (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), pp. 331–347.

  15. 15.

    A.G. Stankov, Polovaia zhizn’ i sem’ia, Kiev: Gosudarstvennoe meditsinskoe izdatel’stvo SSSR, 1958; T.S. Atarov, Voprosy polovogo vospitaniia, Moscow: Medgiz, 1959; R. Peter, V. Shebek, I. Gyne, Devushka prevrashchaetsia v zhenshchinu, Moscow: Medgiz, 1960; Lynne Attwood, The New Soviet Man and Woman: Sex-Role Socialization in the USSR, London: Palgrave, 1990.

  16. 16.

    The secretary of the Moscow Komsomol’s speech at Moscow State University cited in Deborah Field, Private Life and Communist Morality in Khrushchev’s Russia, New York: Peter Lang, 2007. p. 56.

  17. 17.

    I. Gyne, Iunosha prevrashchaetsia v muzhchinu, Moscow: Medgiz, 1960. p. 36.

  18. 18.

    The word ‘horrible’ in particular is mentioned by the Russian pioneer in the history of homo/sexuality Igor Kon, who had been working in the Soviet context for most of his life, in his memoirs One Hundred Years of Solitude, when he describes his colleague’s reaction to his work on homosexuality: ‘The most astonishing thing about your book is that you are talking about horrible, unthinkable things as if they were a part of everyday life, and as if it is not so horrible’. I.S. Kon, Sto let odinochestva, Moscow: Vremia, 2008, p. 337.

  19. 19.

    Mikhail Bakhtin’s term which in this case characterises the situation in which the knowledge of homosexuality itself exists, but is not supported publicly either by the authorities’ discourse or by medical discourse.

  20. 20.

    It is no coincidence that Deborah Field’s book is based on the analysis of official sources and the official discourse on ‘sexual morality’. Another significant work, by Lynne Attwood, is in the same vein. The author also analyses the works of Russian psychiatrists and scientists in the field of gender role socialisation. In both works homosexuality remains out of the focus of the study.

  21. 21.

    Francesca Stella, Lesbian Lives in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia. Post/Socialism and Gender Sexualities. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015; Arthur Clech, ‘Between the prison and the clinic: was there a shared homosexual subjectivity during the Soviet period?’ Russian Review (in print).

  22. 22.

    Roldugina, ‘Pochemu my takie liudi?’.

  23. 23.

    Roldugina, ‘Pochemu my takie liudi?’.

  24. 24.

    G.S. Zelenina, ‘“I nas po-inomu ne zastavish”. Portret odnoi subkul’tury v iunosti ‘, Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, no. 88, 2007, pp. 270–276.

  25. 25.

    Zelenina, ‘I nas po-inomu ne zastavish’, p. 273.

  26. 26.

    Zelenina, ‘I nas po-inomu ne zastavish’, p. 273.

  27. 27.

    Zakhar Eradov, Chaikovskii byl golubym www.kp.ru/daily/26136.7/3026572/ (accessed 18.02.2017)

  28. 28.

    Evgenii Fel’dman, U zdaniia Sledstvennogo komiteta proshla aktsiia v podderzhku ‘Novoi gazety’ https://www.novayagazeta.ru/news/2012/06/13/57142-u-zdaniya-sledstvennogo-komiteta-proshla-aktsiya-v-podderzhku-171-novoy-gazety-187-5-chelovek-zaderzhany (accessed 18.02.2017)

  29. 29.

    This is a widely used phrase in the Russian political discourse, first used by Vladimir Putin in 2012, meaning the values that bring together Russian citizens into a single whole.

  30. 30.

    Tolerantnost’ Naval’nogo: bez prav, bez detei, bez golosa http://lgbt-grani.livejournal.com/1876075.html (accessed 18.02.2017)

  31. 31.

    The Archive department of the FSB for St Petersburg and the region (AUFSB RF for SPb and the region). F. P-82888. Vol. 7. L. 56.

  32. 32.

    Anna Krylova, ‘Soviet Modernity: Stephen Kotkin and the Bolshevik Predicament’, Contemporary European History, Vol. 23, no. 2, 2014, pp. 167–192.

  33. 33.

    Adi Kuntsman, ‘“With a Shade of Disgust”: Affective Politics of Sexuality and Class in Memoirs of the Stalinist Gulag’, Slavic Review, Vol. 68, no. 2, 2009, pp. 308–328.

  34. 34.

    An exception to this are the memoirs of Elena Bonner, who describes the lesbian relations she saw during her transfer to the camp with sympathy and compassion.

  35. 35.

    Kuntsman, ‘With a Shade of Disgust’, pp. 324–325.

  36. 36.

    I have a photograph of this letter in my possession.

  37. 37.

    It makes no sense to compare the situation in the 1990s with the current time for LGBT activism in Russia, which is now under double pressure, first because of the ‘law against propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors’ and second because of the law ‘on foreign agents’, which seriously complicates the work of non-profit organisations not affiliated with the state.

  38. 38.

    Anastasia Kayiatos, ‘Shock and Alla: Capitalist cures for socialist perversities at the end of the twentieth century’, Lambda Nordica, Vol. 17, no. 4, 2012, pp. 33–64.

  39. 39.

    Kayiatos, ‘Shock and Alla’, p. 46.

  40. 40.

    Kayiatos, ‘Shock and Alla’, p. 46.

  41. 41.

    LGBT aktivizm. Sokrashchennyi put’ k peremenam, Omsk: Bez izdatel’stva, 2010. s. 6.

  42. 42.

    Igor Kon, Klubnichka na berezke. Seksual’naia kul’tura v Rossii, Moscow: Vremia, 2010, pp. 318–321.

  43. 43.

    Kon, Klubnichka na berezke, p. 329.

  44. 44.

    Andrei Shental’, Predannaia revoliutsiia ili devianostykh ne bylo. http://www.colta.ru/articles/raznoglasiya/13743 (accessed 21.03.2017)

  45. 45.

    M. A. Gessen, L. I. Bogoraz (eds.), Prava gomoseksualov i lesbiianok v Rossiiskoi Federatsii. Otchet Mezhdunarodnoi komissii po pravam cheloveka dlia gomoseksualov i lesbiianok. San Francisco, 1994. p. 25.

  46. 46.

    M. A. Gessen, L. I. Bogoraz (eds.), Prava gomoseksualov i lesbiianok, pp. 24–33.

  47. 47.

    Kon, Klubnichka na berezke, p. 338.

  48. 48.

    From a conversation with a colleague at one of the universities in Krasnoyarsk.

  49. 49.

    Nikita Petrov, Desiatiletie arkhivnykh reform v rossii http://index.org.ru/journal/14/petrov1401.html (accessed 29.01.2016).

  50. 50.

    The first historian to get access to this case, apparently using a special procedure, was Professor Viktor Ivanov. See V. A. Ivanov, ‘Kotrrevoliutsionnye organizatsii sredi gomoseksualistov Leningrada v nachale 1930-kh godov i ikh pogrom’, Noveishaia istoriia, 2013, no. 13, pp. 126–144.

  51. 51.

    Thus, the convicts under this case of 1933–1934 remain the only Soviet homosexuals to be rehabilitated by the authorities, and that is only because of their conviction under Article 58 of the Russian SFSR’s Criminal Code, as the article prosecuting for ‘sodomy’ did not exist yet.

  52. 52.

    GA RF. F. 9492. Op. 6. D. 49. L. 13 ob.

  53. 53.

    GA RF. F. 9492. Op. 6. D. 100. L. 2.

  54. 54.

    GA RF. F. 9492. Op. 6. D. 533. L. 2.

  55. 55.

    This episode reminds me of the rhetoric of Soviet archivists of the 1970s, when a staff member at TsGALI explained to a researcher that there was no access to Mikhail Kuzmin’s diaries, kept in a special repository, not for political reasons, but because of their ‘obscenity’. For details see V. Kozlovskii, Argo russkoi gomoseksual’noi subkul’tury. Materialy k izucheniiu. Vermont, 1996.

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Roldugina, I. (2018). Half-Hidden or Half-Open? Scholarly Research on Soviet Homosexuals in Contemporary Russia. In: Attwood, L., Schimpfössl, E., Yusupova, M. (eds) Gender and Choice after Socialism. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-73661-7_1

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