Love In Putin's Russia
By Chadwick Moore
A high degree of emotion is set free in the secret labyrinth of gay nightlife. There was Amin, a 21-year-old Muslim sex worker from Chechnya, a dapper, muscular, self-conscious little charmer with black eyes and acne-kissed cheeks who twice cried on my shoulder in the downstairs lounge at Central Station, a diner-like space varnished in Soviet manila. Both times were because a man had just rejected him for sex — not the paid kind. And Tatiana, the 40-year-old divorcee, her only friends a gaggle of 20-year-old hairdressers, also cried on me while recalling her ex-husband, and spent the night asking strangers for beers.
I was invited here by Vince, a preppy, clean-shaven American who is out tonight with three expatriate friends from Western countries. Vince and his friends have lived in Moscow for nearly a decade, have white-collar jobs, and are in their thirties or forties. I stand in a circular formation with the guys listening as they discuss their gay Russian lives for my benefit.
At left: Unnamed gay couple, Moscow, 2013
Vince: “They don’t need a gay pride. It’s way too early to talk about a gay pride when most people aren’t even out to their closest friends.”
Mark: “Don’t you think there is more acceptance of us being gay than if it were one of their own? Because, as Westerners, they already think we’re weird.”
Vince: “A lot of them don’t go out to the gay bars, they don’t want to see someone they know. I also think a lot of it is snobbery. They’ll go to gay bars in foreign countries but not at home.”
Paul: “I’ll tell you right now, they’re all bottoms and they’re all under 25 and they’ve all got amazing bodies because they don’t eat.”
Mark: “One of the reasons they’re all under 25 is because the people who are over 30 are all weird, because they’re from the Soviet Union, they’re all cagey.”
Zach: “In every Russian relationship there has to be a power dynamic, one who is the man, one who is the woman. You’re never on equal footing.”
Zach: “The relationships are fucked up and they are fraught with complexities.”
Mark: “Dating a Russian has its own set of joys.”
Vince: “And notice none of us are doing it.”
We order a round of beers and the bartender changes the music from a Russian pop song about not having Wi-Fi to Madonna. Vince leans into me, “He did that because we’re here.” The dance floor clears in a heartbeat and the rippling silk shirts mope back to their meat plates.
Zach: “Most of the people in this country are probably secretly tolerant toward gay people. But they don’t want a parade — gay people don’t want a parade and straight people don’t want a parade. A small group of people have hijacked the LGBT movement, and it’s all ego-driven. Things change quickly in this country, and they are extremely rational, but things don’t get done here by having a parade.”
Vince: “You have a gay bar that is relatively openly gay just outside the Kremlin... That’s activism.”
Zach: “Russia is really good at enacting laws, but the people just do whatever they want. This country is lawless. There is a disconnect between society and politics. The propaganda law is disgraceful in what it represents, but the practical effect is still yet to be seen.”
Mark: “Gay people have it so much worse in other parts of the world, but because Russia is a white country and we think we have white people figured out — how they’re supposed to behave — we put European standards on them that simply don’t apply. If you scratch the surface here, it’s way more like China than Europe.”
Vince: “And there’s this huge rebirth of the Orthodox church here. I fucking hate it. This is used as justification for a lot of these laws.”
Paul: “That’s the whole hypocrisy of Russia. Religion was fucking banned, the most beautiful churches in this country were warehouses, left to fucking rot, and all of a sudden there’s this fucking rise of religion.”
Zach: “If you don’t have a doctrine to subscribe to as a national identity, you have to create it. And if you wipe out 70 years of Soviet history, you need to go before then. You say, ‘What were we before this?’”
Mark: “This is a country that is 96% Russian Orthodox and 100% atheist.”
Zach: “The thing that’s great about Russia, the reason we’re all here, is that it’s fucking fun. It’s crazy, it’s exciting, Russian people are off-the-wall. They’re great and they’re smart.”