Russia Still Keeping Tchaikovsky Straight
By Andrew Belonsky
Nearly all serious historians and biographers agree that Swan Lake composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky was gay. Living in Nineteenth Century Russia, however, he couldn't be out, so he had mostly anonymous sex while living in marriages of convenience. Some experts even claim Tchaikovsky told his brother about these trysts and felt deep shame for his natural inclinations. It must have been brutal for him.
But with Tchaikovsky dead for over a century, and nearly 50 years since the sexual revolution, one would think the musician's true story could be told, that he could be posthumously outed and liberated from lies. But, no, because the Russian government doesn't play that way.
The Guardian reports that a planned Tchaikovsky biopic was going to include glimpses into the composer's gayness, but filmmakers struggled to find funding for an honest depiction of homosexuality. And that was before the Kremlin officially backed homophobia. Now that hate has become official law, and now that the government has "selected" the film for a contest it funds, Tchaikovsky's authentic story will remain untold.
In fact, it will even take Tchaikovsky's own anguish and make it not about his conflicted, inherent self, but about "gay" rumors that hurt because they're untrue.
"A partly government-funded biopic of the composer of Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and the 1812 Overture will downplay his sexuality amid the homophobic political atmosphere in Russia, which passed a law in June banning the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" among minors.
"The film's screenwriter, Yuri Arabov, denied Tchaikovsky had been gay and said his script had been revised to portray the composer as 'a person without a family who has been stuck with the opinion that he supposedly loves men' and who suffers over these 'rumors,' he told the newspaper Izvestiya.
"Larisa Malyukova, a film columnist at the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, said that in a version of the script she saw last year, Tchaikovsky suffered over his love for a younger man. Arabov's comments, however, suggested that the portrayal of the composer as gay had been edited out of the script. The Tchaikovsky screenplay went through five revisions, and the final version 'has absolutely no homosexuality, it's entirely not about that,' Arabov said."
The Russian gay law is so powerful, and the government so terrifying to its people, even its artists, that not even gay ghosts are safe.