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Positions for Slavists: Writing about Sexuality in Russia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTransnational Russian Studies
EditorsAndy Byford, Connor Doak, Stephen Hutchings
Publisher or commissioning bodyLiverpool University Press
StateIn preparation - 2019

Publication series

NameTransnational Modern Languages
PublisherLiverpool University Press


In her work on transnational sexualities, Jasbir Puar offers a critique of homonationalism, highlighting how western, neoliberal powers have come to utilize gay rights discourses in order to vilify the Other, often imagined as a primitive, homophobic fundamentalist in opposition to the enlightened, gay-friendly Westerner. Puar’s focus is on the Muslim world, yet her work also raises troubling questions for Slavists. When Westerners criticize the homophobic turn in contemporary Russia, the anti-gay laws, the self-consciously masculine rhetoric of Putin, are they too guilty of homonationalism? How far do contemporary representations of Russia, particularly in the media and popular culture, make use of the Othering that Puar describes? Moreover, as researchers and students of Russia, how can we acknowledge our own positionality as we navigate the ethical bind that faces us: the need, on the one hand, to offer a robust response to state-backed homophobia while also, on the other, recognizing our own privilege as researchers and our possible complicity with a neoliberal agenda?
This chapter addresses these theoretical questions through the case study of recent media coverage of homosexuality in Russia, including such BBC documentaries as Stephen Fry: Out There (2013) and Reggie Yates’ Gay Under Attack (2015). While such shows do provide an effective critique of how Russian policy-making has produced tragic results for individuals in Russia, they eschew deeper analysis of the motivations of Russian homophobia, and the chosen format often recreates the kind of Othering that Puar warns against. I then turn to David Tuller’s memoir Cracks in the Iron Closet: Travels in Gay and Lesbian Russia (1996), a book that offers a different model for a transnational encounter between Russia and the West. Tuller confronts the problems of projecting Western concepts of sexuality onto Russia and imagines the country as a space for queer alternatives to emerge after the fall of the USSR. I conclude by returning to questions of methodology, suggesting ways in which queer theory might teach students and researchers alternative ways of writing about sexuality in Russia.

This chapter is in preparation for Transnational Russian Studies, ed. Byford, Doak and Hutchings, under contract with Liverpool University Press. Projected publication is in 2019.

Research areas

  • gender, sexuality, Russian studies, transnational


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