Becoming Openly Gay in Novosibirsk
Getting confirmation that Grisha had, in fact, been killed in 1999 was a distressing way to start our week in Novosibirsk. But on the flip side, it's been heartening to see how well his friends have been doing in the ten years since I saw them last.
Valera was a 32-year-old salesman with a broken heart in 1995. He'd recently split up with his boyfriend, and talked with us about the pain of that separation. Today, Valera is still single, though he's built a comfortable life for himself: he's the manager of the elegant Max Mara store in downtown Novosibirsk and he owns his own apartment in the city center where he lives with his cat, Tasya.
He still sees his old friends from back then, and quickly arranged an evening for us with many of the people I'd met, including Natasha, who in 1995 was a 23-year-old student. At that time, Natasha had recently come out to her mother, who didn't take the news well. She was concerned as to whether our interview with her would be published in Russia, as she didn't want to have her sexual orientation made public in that way.
Today, Natasha is just about as openly gay as one can get: Nine years ago, she became a DJ for a radio talk show about gay issues. The radio station wanted "something scandalous for the ratings," she said. "And what was more scandalous than homosexuality?" Broadcasting from midnight to 7 a.m. four nights a week, Natasha dispensed what she calls "free psychotherapy" to callers. In fact, Natasha says, Grisha even called her radio show on the night he was killed.
This summer, Natasha began dating Lena, an interpreter who lives in Moscow. Next month, Lena will move to Novosibirsk as the first step in the couple's plan to eventually emigrate to Canada.
In 1995, Natasha spoke passionately about her desire to live openly as a lesbian. "I want to be able to hold hands with my lover in public, to kiss her on the street if I feel like it," she told us. "Basically, I want to be able to do anything a straight couple can do without getting stared at or beaten up. In American cities, people can do that." But immigration to the U.S., especially post-9/11, is an unlikely prospect -- and besides, Canada is appealing to the pair in other ways, not least because it's one of the few countries that offers nationally recognized gay marriage.
In the meantime, both Valera and Natasha say that for the most part it's easier now to be gay in Novosibirsk. Tomorrow: more on how gay life here has changed since 1995.
By Lisa Dickey |
October 13, 2005; 10:15 AM ET
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