Queer in Russia

A Story of Sex, Self, and the Other

Queer in Russia

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 9 b&w photographs Published: July 1999

Author: Laurie Essig

European Studies > Eastern Europe and Russia, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Sociology

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. Concluding with a powerful exploration of the surprising affinities between some of Russia’s most prominent nationalists and its queers, Queer in Russia fills a gap in both Russian and cultural studies.


“[A] rich and well-written book. . . .” — Annick Prieur , American Journal of Sociology

“[A] well-written and fascinating account of what the author calls ‘queer subjectivities’ . . . among Russians in St. Petersburg and Moscow in the period from 1989 to 1994. . . . [A]n important book for scholars of sexuality, women, and culture in post-Soviet Russia.” — , Choice

“[E]ngaging and perceptive. . . . Essig has the unflinching eyes and ears of a seasoned reporter. . .” — , Publishers Weekly

“[P]ainstakingly argued. The author supports her argument with hands-on experience and a logical, point-by-point rebuttal of contentions she wishes to discredit. . . . Essig’s book is an informative account of the birth of Russian queer groups, newspapers, and clubs. . . . There is a likeable irony in Essig’s bold and admirable conclusion: that hers is an academic work with the honesty to acknowledge the shortcomings of academic writing.” — Paul Gould , Slavonic and East European Review

“Based on interviews, observations, and analysis of books, plays, and pop music, [Essig’s] study offers a richly readable and fascinating examination of the complicated issues of the post-perestroika queer landscape. Essig simultaneously explores and transgresses the boundaries between self and other, straight and queer, Russian and Western, researcher and subject, public and private, and first-person and third-person narratives, and more. Extensive notes, bibliographical references, an index, and photos contribute to this valuable title. . . .” — , Library Journal

“Essig provides a fascinating survey of the discourses around queer sexualities in Russia and addresses questions of interest to queer theorists and cultural historians as well.” — Kevin Moss , Slavic and East European Journal

“Essig’s work is valuable for the variety of information provided, especially in the parts which deal with the treatment of lesbians.” — Brian James Baer , Kritika

“Exploring the political framework needed for gay people to identify themselves, this book also provides a useful look at the questions of privacy and discretion.” — Sonja Franeta , Gay & Lesbian Review

“In Queer in Russia, Laurie Essig ponders the state of glbt culture in the former USSR. Although a vibrant gay life is found on a local level, Russians have not put together a mass movement. Few Russians involved in same-sex relations claim the titles ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian,’ although perestroika has allowed Russian queers some new freedoms.” — Lambda Book Report

"Queer in Russia raises interesting questions about identity and recognition." — Sandra Pollack , Lesbian Review of Books

“An entirely original investigation of the gay and lesbian scene in Russia and a book of enormous value, Queer in Russia will serve as a beachhead in the field of Russian queer studies. In one volume one finds a concise history of sexual transgression in the Russian context as well as the rise of queer Russian identity.” — Luc Beaudoin, University of Denver

“Laurie Essig’s book is significant both for Russianists and for queer theorists. Essig demonstrates that ‘queerness’ in Russia is not defined as a matter of identity politics, and, in so doing, she raises important theoretical questions about the nature(s) of queerness as it crosses cultural borders.” — Jehanne M Gheith, Duke University


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Price: $26.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Laurie Essig has taught sociology at Columbia University and Trinity College in Connecticut. She is a columnist for New York Blade and Chicago’s Outline.

Table of Contents Back to Top


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





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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2346-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2312-9
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