How important is your sexuality to your identity?
I spent my queer teenage years in Russia, where looking gay was both an act of resistance and a sign of conformity. It was a rebellion because wearing short hair and boy clothes were like screaming “yes, we exist, we are here, we are taking up space, despite all the fear and violence we deal with”. It was conformity because at the time there was only one way to be a “good queer” – you had to have short hair and boy clothes if you wanted to be taken seriously by the community.
Since then, the community changed and I changed. I moved to Scotland, and, for a few years drifted away from actively seeking queer spaces. I also started experimenting with femininity. In fact, I finally allowed myself to be feminine and discovered an immense amount of strength in it. To me, my sexuality stopped being the primary part of my identity when I became entirely comfortable with it, both within myself and in terms of feeling safe in my community and the country I live in.
Queerness started feeling so much more expansive and organic, unconfined by a set of rules – both in terms of appearance and social groups. And let’s face it, Scotland is gay as heck. But even in Russia, queer culture looks nothing like it did 10 years ago – it’s broader, it’s playful, it’s more accepting. And yes, we do have a queer culture – all of it underground and well hidden away, but no less powerful. There are queer artists, queer parties, queer magazines… No matter how hard the government tries to pretend we don’t exist, we are still here.
And here I am talking about how much the notion of being queer expanded, but listen to this – last spring I cut my hair. For fun, for a change, to experiment. After something this innocent and something that clearly had to do with my body and my body only, I faced a violent onslaught from my family. To them, short hair still means “lesbian” and the fact that I grew out my hair made them think that I was “cured” while cutting my hair signalled that I “caught it” again. Outside of queer communities, stereotypes are alive and well. I can't even start listing everything that is wrong with this.
I hope one day we move past binary notions of gender, past stereotypical definitions of masculinity and femininity, past “traditional values” and appreciate individuals for how complex they truly are, paying attention to all the memories, choices, likes and dislikes that make up their identities. Past identity dictated by stereotypes.