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Queer in Russia: A Story of Sex, Self, and the Other

by: Laurie Essig
published by: Duke University Press
pp: 272
ISBN: 9780822323464
price: € 19.26 (paperback)

Book's frontpage

In Queer in Russia Laurie Essig examines the formation of gay identity and community in the former Soviet Union. As a sociological fieldworker, she began her research during the late 1980s, before any kind of a public queer identity existed in that country. After a decade of conducting interviews, as well as observing and analyzing plays, books, pop music, and graffiti, Essig presents the first sustained study of how and why there was no Soviet gay community or even gay identity before perestroika and the degree to which this situation has—or has not—changed.

While male homosexual acts were criminalized in Russia before 1993, women attracted to women were policed by the medical community, who saw them less as criminals than as diseased persons potentially cured by drug therapy or transsexual surgery.
After describing accounts of pre-perestroika persecution, Essig examines the more recent state of sexual identities in Russia.
Although the fall of communism brought new freedom to Russian queers, there are still no signs of a mass movement forming around the issue, and few identify themselves as lesbians or gay men, even when they are involved in same-sex relations. Essig does reveal, however, vibrant manifestations of gay life found at the local level—in restaurants, discos, clubs, and cruising strips, in newspapers, journals, literature, and the theater.


Table of contents

Part 1: The Other 
The Expert Gaze 1: The Law 
The Expert Gaze 2: The Cure  
Part 2: Self 
Identity Politics and the Politics of Identity
Queer Subjects and Subjectivities 
Part 3: Intersections  
Clothes Make the Man: Gender Transgression and Public Queerness 
Patriots and Perverts: The Intersection of National and Sexual Identities   
Part 4: Sex  


Here the reader finds an explanation of the volume's concepts and methods - namely, the author defines her use of the word "queer".
Part 1: The Other 
This section discusses public policy approaches to homosexuality in Soviet Russia, with special focus on criminalisation (for male homosexuality) and medicalisation (for female homosexuality).
Part 2: Self 
Here the author explores the rising of queer movements and subcultures in Russia as well as their relationship with Western-style identity politics.
Part 3: Intersections  
The chapters in this section deal with the performative aspect of gender identity and sexual orientation as well as with the relationship between sexual and national identities.
Part 4: Sex 
This final chapter draws on narratives of sexual encounters in order to discuss the role of sexual attraction and sexual practices in the construction of the self.



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