Russian LGBT press emerged in 1990* on the wave of the publishing boom brought about by glasnost. Its numbers grew with the newfound freedom of the press resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union the following year. Its creators were mobilized by the AIDS epidemic and the campaign to repeal Article 121.1 of the Soviet penal code that had criminalized gay male sexual practices. Many of these early publications perished in the financial crisis of 1998, but a new generation of glossier publications appeared in the early 2000s. These in turn gave way to the online format and for the most part vanished even before Article 6.21 of the Russian code of administrative offenses, banning "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors", was adopted in 2013.
Russian LGBT press varied in purpose, content, style, production values, and circulation. It ranged from weekly newspapers and glossy entertainment magazines to radical newsletters and self-published literary journals. Many early publications combined elements of all categories, offering a curious mix of human rights news, sexual health information, publitsistika**, fiction, poetry, and art, alongside erotic images and personal ads.
Most early publications were small operations, produced by a few enthusiasts, sometimes by just one person. Most appeared rather irregularly, reached very small audiences, and had relatively short life-spans. Some titles served as mouthpieces for nascent LGBT organizations, though the extent to which these were functional organizations, as opposed to institutional platforms for a few prominent personalities, is debatable.
Not surprisingly, most publications were produced by men for a male audience. Few, apart from a couple of journals aimed specifically at lesbians, dealt with topics of interest to women, and few included women as contributors.
While the louder voices speaking through these publications may not always be representative, the publications remain essential primary sources that are still awaiting their researchers. They constitute a rare record of public LGBT lives from the period, a reflection of evolving identities, and a chronicle of notable personalities, events and places in Russian LGBT history.
Because of their marginal status, small print runs, limited distribution networks, and perhaps also because of the presence of erotic imagery, few American libraries have them in their collections. Furthermore, the ones that are held tend to be from Moscow and Saint Petersburg, with few, if any, other cities or regions represented. This is a major omission given how LGBT lives in the provinces differed from those in the capital cities.
Below are several exemplars of this publishing culture, focusing on titles held at UNC (this is a work in progess).
* A few samizdat publications did tackle the topic of homosexuality earlier. See, for example, Mamonova (1984).
** Publitsistika (публицистика) is a hard-to-translate term whose meaning ranges from opinion journalism to advocacy journalism, to any kind of non-fiction writing on social and political issues of the day.
Image: cover the 2013 "gay" issue of the now defunct (in the print format, anyway), but at the time very popular Moscow entertainment/lifestyle magazine Afisha in response to the adoption of the "Gay Propaganda" law. Coverage of LGBT topics in maintstream Russian press is a subject for a different guide. Image source: web.archive.org/web/20130228050511/http://www.afisha.ru/magazine/afisha_msk/archive/339/
1/10 was a newspaper aimed at gay males and featuring articles about culture, politics, AIDS, sex and sexual health, selected gay rights news from around the world, fiction and poetry, and book reviews, all delivered in a rather playful tone. It also included letters to the editor, erotic photography, bawdy cartoons, horoscopes, crossword puzzles, personals, and advertisements. The name of the newspaper refers to the Kinsey Report statistic that 10% of males are homosexual (Essig 1999: 210). 1/10 varied in length, from 10 to 35 pages, and was printed with a "suggested for boys and girls over the age of 18" recommendation. With its 18th issue, the newspaper's production moved to Prague along with its editor-in-chief Dmitrii Lychev. The sole issue of the English-language version of the newspaper, 1/10 International was published in 1994.
2-3(1992), 4(1993), 6(1993), 1(1994) - 1/10 International , 18(1995) via Archives of Sexuality & Gender: LGBTQ History and Culture Since 1940
13-14(1993-1994), 17-18(1995) in print at University Libraries
Agens was a glossy magazine aimed at lesbians. The pilot issue included LGBT rights news from around the world, reactions to the "Gay propaganda" law, interviews (founder of LGBT basketball league in Saint Petersburg, club owners, Russian student in France), a report on an LGBT film festival, a how-to article on making short films, articles on coming out, sex, fitness, fashion, advertising aimed at LGBT people, a primer on LGBT symbols, and plenty of photographs. It seems like only two issues of this magazine were published.
ARGO, acronym for Association for the Equal Rights of Homosexuals (Assotsiatsiia za ravnye prava gomoseksualov), was an entertainment magazine aimed at gay males and one of Vladislav Ortanov's two major publishing projects after his split with Tema (the other being RISK). The thick (70-80 pages) publication became full color with the third issue and achieved impressive print runs. Ortanov created ARGO when RISK got into trouble with authorities for its erotic content (Кирсанов 2005: 427). ARGO focused on lighter topics, largely avoiding politics or health. The magazine featured erotic photography, reprints from Western gay press, erotic fiction and poetry by Russian authors, excerpts from authors like Oscar Wilde, Jean Genet and James Baldwin (translated into Russian, of course), articles about gay entertainment and travel, film reviews, interviews, bawdy cartoons, personals and advertisements.
2(1994), 3(1995) via Archives of Sexuality & Gender: LGBTQ History and Culture Since 1940
3(1995) in print at University Libraries
Gay, slaviane! was a "thick" literary journal published by the Saint Petersburg LGBT organization The Tchaikovsky Fund (Fond Chaikovskogo). It was especially notable for counting as one of its editors Gennadii Trifonov, the openly gay author and poet who was imprisoned in the 1970s for his homosexuality and his dissident literary activities (Essig 1999: 212). The journal published fiction and poetry, including by Trifonov himself, Ol'ga Krauze, and a new generation of authors, as well as translations into Russian, investigative journalism by Ol'ga Zhuk and articles on legal persecution and prison experiences of Russian gays.
Image source: http://az.gay.ru/pub-img/book/483_1.jpg
Impul's was a newspaper established by Nikolai Sivolobov. It was rare publication from this period to include contributions from women and an entire lesbian section, although most of the content remained by and for men. Staff of issue 1/2(1993) included Misha Anikeev, Irina Mal'tseva, Sergei Vereshchagin. The newspaper included LGBT news items, fiction, poetry, art, letters to the editor, interviews, articles on AIDS and sexual health, personals, and advertisements.
The generically titled Informatsionnyi biulleten' was the newsletter of Treugol'nik, Moscow's organization of gays, lesbians and bisexuals, after it was revived by an ILGA grant. A predecessor publication, called simply Treugol'nik (later Treugol'nik soobshchaet), was produced sporadically 1993-1994, and at least 9 issues were published (Essig 1999: 72); however, I was not able to locate any holdings in the US. Treugol'nik's board of directors included some of the most prominent Moscow activists of the time: Masha Gessen, Evgeniia Debrianskaia, Roman Kalinin, V. Kurskaia, Dmitrii Lychev, P. Masal'skii, N. Nedzel'skii, Vladislav Ortanov and IU. Sarankov. The newsletter varied in length from 2 to 12 pages and featured the organization's manifestos and reports on activities, gay rights news from around the world, chronicles of events, conference reports, book and journal reviews, press digests, announcements about gay clubs, and, starting with issue 5(1996), personal ads. The newsletter was also notable for including a separate section for lesbians and devoting half of issue 3(1996) to transsexuals.
1-3 (1995), 4-5(1996) via Archives of Sexuality and Gender: LGBTQ History and Culture Since 1940
1-2(1996), 4-5(1996) in print at University Libraries
Kvir was probably the most successful print periodical aimed at gay men in Russia. It ran for nearly a decade, enjoyed high print runs and a distribution that extended well beyond the capital cities and even into other formerly Soviet republics. At 64-80 pages, this glossy entertainment magazine had high production values. In addition to erotic photography it featured celebrity interviews and a range of articles, from profiles of prominent cultural figures like Sergei Paradzhanov or Keith Haring, to travel, fashion and sex, as well as book, film, and music reviews, and, of course, advertisements. Kvir also had a book publishing division, producing chiefly works of fiction and literary anthologies.
Organicheskaia ledi was a newsletter aimed at lesbians that also published fiction and poetry, interviews, club reviews, horoscopes and crossword puzzles (Харитонова 2013).
Ostrov was a quarterly journal that featured prose and poetry, primarily, though not exclusively by lesbian authors, interviews, essays on cultural topics, feminism, LGBT rights and homophobia by female and male authors, book and film reviews, and occasional letters to the editor. The journal also offered "archival" publications, such as Sofia Parnok's correspondence, and translations, such as chapters from David Tuller's book Cracks in the Iron Closet. The only advertisements were for Elena Grigor'eva's Archive of Lesbians and Gays and for LGBT support and rape crisis hot lines. Starting with 2010, Ostrov began to include more explicitly political content, peaking in 2013. Issues 24(2005) and 37(2008) include indexes to 2002-2008 content. The editors also produced 29 thematic literary supplements. UNC copies of issues from 2000-2005 appear to be 2006 reprints. Ostrov was the longest-running out of all Russian LGBT publications.
29 issues of the Literary supplement to Ostrov have been published. Each issue typically featured the work of a single author.
Initially issued as a "literary supplement" to newspaper Impul's, Partner(Sha!) outlived its "parent" publication and evolved from consisting primarily of erotic photographs and bawdy poetry (chastushki) to developing a consistent anti-AIDS focus and including domestic and translated fiction, sexual health and AIDS information, essays on homophobia, gay culture, etc., as well as letters to the editor, advertisement, and personals. Consequently, the magazine also expanded in size and format. Editor Mikhail Anikeev explained the title in a 1994 interview in issue 4 of Treugol'nik: "'Sha!' is a separate word. It is aimed at those who considers gays defective. Something like 'shut up!'." With its final double issue from 1997, the title changed to simply "Partner".
Pinx was a glossy magazine aimed at lesbians, published by Lesbi.ru and initially co-published with Prosvetitel'skii tsentr "IA i IA". The 16-page magazine featured celebrity news, profiles, and interviews, short articles on lesbian issues and centerfold posters. In its final year, the magazine transformed into a 90+ page literary journal, retaining a short glossy celebrity section, but devoting the rest of the pages to fiction and poetry. 35 issues of Pinx were published.
Prilozhenie k Adelfe was a photocopied journal produced by the lesbian arts association MOLLI (Moskovskoe ob"edinenie lesbianok literatury i iskusstva). It was billed as a supplement to the journal Adelfe, which seems to never have been published. The first issues contained much of the material intended for Adelfe (with third issue, the journal adjusted its name to Adelfe. Prilozhenie). MOLLI was founded in 1990 with the aim of developing tolerance and respect for lesbians among Russian heterosexual majority by promoting lesbian art and writing. Journal contents included fiction, poetry, translations into Russian of various English-language materials (Martina Navrátilová's autobiography, articles from American LGBT press), essays on lesbian identity, interviews, and health information.
RISK (acronym for Russian words for equality, sincerity, freedom and compromise) was conceived as a less radical alternative to Tema by former Tema creator Vladislav Ortanov. It offered LGBT rights news, legal and sexual health advice, articles on gay culture, reports on gay events, erotic photography, humor, personals, and advertisements, aimed primarily, though not exclusively, at a male audience. 7 issues (including a few double issues) were published between 1990 and 1994, and the magazine doubled in size, from 24 to 48 pages. UNC unfortunately does not hold any issues from this early incarnation of RISK. In 1995, Ortanov handed the publication over to Dmitrii Kuz'min who transformed RISK into more of a radical high-brow literary journal exploring the topic of homosexuality through fiction, poetry and essays, and attracting as contributors a who's who of Russian experimental letters, from Dmitrii Prigov to Dmitrii Volchek to Linor Goralik. The journal also published translations into Russian (e.g. Michel Foucault) and reprints of older texts that touched on the subject of homosexuality (Zinaida Gippius, Anastasiia Tsvetaeva). 4 issues of the revamped RISK were published.
Tema was the first ever newspaper aimed at gays and lesbians in Russia and had one of the widest circulations out of any such publications. Initially it billed itself as a mouthpiece of the semi-fictitious Association of sexual minorities (Assotsiatsiia seksual'nykh men'shinstv). It was first produced as a photocopied 4-page zine/newsletter, then, from 1991 as an officially registered newspaper, growing in length to 22 pages. The newspaper was explicitly political and for the time rather radical and provocative, focusing on gay rights and actively campaigning for the repeal of Article 121 and publishing accounts of individuals persecuted under this law. The newspaper was also associated with radical political parties of which its editor-in-chief Roman Kalinin was a member -- the Democratic Union, the first opposition party in the USSR, and the Libertarian Party of the USSR. Tema featured human rights news from around the world, articles on politics, sexual health and gay culture, including translations from Western LGBT press, interviews letters to the editor, and personals. Although Tema retained its slogan as a "newspaper for gays and lesbians" throughout its existence, the content became almost exclusively male-centric after the first couple of issues. An ideological split over radicalism led to the departure of Vladislav Ortanov after the third issue.
Cover image source: Онлайн музей истории ЛГБТ в России
Ty was an illustrated magazine aimed at gays and lesbians, though primarily at gay men. It was affiliated with the AIDS support organization My i Vy (Essig 1999: 92). The journal contained reports on activities of LGBT organizations, AIDS and other health information, interviews, and articles about gay culture (Давыдов 2017).
This is the sole issue of this ambitious magazine aimed at gay males, established and published by Andrei Men'shikov. Although a second issue was announced, it was never published (Кирсанов 2005: 407). The first issue included translations of essays by sexologists Siegfried Schnabl & Kurt Starke, William Masters & Virginia Johnson, extracts from Jean-Paul Sartre, Stanisław Lem, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Vasilii Rozanov, and Petronius' Satyricon, fiction by editor Mikhail Anikeev and Evgenii Popov, Anikeev's essay on homosexuality in the Bible, Beardsley-inspired art by Vadim Valov and interview with the artist, a preview of the art of S. Grekov (intended to be featured in subsequent issue), erotic photographs and erotic drawings. The magazine had higher production values then some of its contemporary publications, used higher-quality paper and was printed in full color.
Zerkalo was the newsletter of the Library of Lesbians and Gays (AKA GenderDoc). It offered a chronicle of gay and lesbian news and events (conferences, performances, film screenings) with brief editorial commentary, an annotated bibliography of coverage of gay and lesbian issues in mainstream Russian press, and book and film reviews. Давыдов (2017) cites an English-language version with a circulation was 50-60 copies.
Essig, Laurie. Queer in Russia : A Story of Sex, Self, and the Other. Duke University Press, 1999.
Mamonova, Tatyana (ed.). Women and Russia: Feminist Writings from the Soviet Union. Beacon Press, 1984.
Wockner, Rex. "Soviet Gay Movement Splits." Gay and Lesbian Times, May 16, 1991, 17. Archives of Sexuality & Gender (accessed June 21, 2019). http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/AHeHb1.
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