I’m not dead. Yet.
I don’t live in Russia. No.
But you don’t need to be in Russia to know about what is happening there. Even if it all sounds like a bad series of Onion articles: MP calls for law allowing gays to be whipped in public squares; Gay Teenager Kidnapped and Tortured by Russian Neo Nazi Group Is Believed To Have Died From His Injuries; Orthodox priest who supported Pussy Riot found stabbed to death; Partygoers attacked in Moscow bar for ‘looking gay’; Olympic athletes will be subject to anti-gay law; Gay author receives threats from Russia about children’s book and Russian LGBT Activist Attacked by Angry Mob of Russian Military Paratroopers in St. Petersburg.
The truth is, innocent people are dying, being abused, being doused with water bottles filled with Neo Nazi piss and forced into hiding in fear of death and persecution. It is all real, and it is all not okay.
That should be your basic understanding of queer Russia to date, as it exists in 2013.
We have even been asked to ‘relax’ and ‘respect’ Russia’s anti-gay policy by Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko.
Suitable reactions include: anger, sadness, rage and panicked sobs. This isn’t a happy time for queers in Russia, nor should it be for those outside of the direct anti-you policy.
But as I discussed yesterday, silence has become a popular choice among queers and media, from Fox News’ zero minutes of Russian anti-gay propaganda coverage to Johnny Weir’s stance on not doing anything but showing up to Sochi to IOC Vice President Ng Ser Miang’s assurance that Russian authorities are being engaged in “quiet diplomacy” and that the situation will be resolved for the “satisfaction of all.”
There are times to keep quiet, and this is not one of them.
While some might criticize my position as an outsider, I submit the following reaction: click here.
It doesn’t matter that I am not on the front lines. I wish I could be, but unlike the Olympic athletes who refuse to boycott and Tilda Swinton (who is amazing, obviously), I don’t have that kind of immediate access. But if I did, I wouldn’t just “be myself.” I would, as an outsider, be myself, raise a flag, kiss my fellow man in public, document everything, say everything, and not stop until I leave.
Because I am an outsider, I can leave. That fear I would be living in during the short period of time I’d be there is nothing compared to being Russian in 2013. By showing up to perform as an Olympic athlete—and only to perform—there is a distance established between queer athlete and fearful queer. A performance or an IOC sanctioned quiet conversation that establishes protection for athletes and tourists is self-serving, and motivated by the Olympic spirit and sponsorship money.
The more we say, the more we do, is pressure, whether you think it is accomplishing something or not. In what world is it okay to be gay and not queer? The thought produces the same reaction I have when I meet a woman who doesn’t subscribe to the most base form of feminism. Shock. Outrage. Why any subjugated community wouldn’t be prone to be politically minded is an indication of our immense privilege. It is as we feel there is no more we need to accomplish from inside our western world bubble(s). Our post-Stonewall complacency is showing. Just because you are here, doesn’t mean you can’t be there. In actions, words, anything you can think of. Create a network. Build toward a boycott that will force Russia to rethink its value systems. It isn’t a lofty proposition. Crazier things have happened.
So, continue reaching out to Olympic sponsors. Continue boycotting Russian exports. Find out who the queer athletes are in your community and campaign for them to spread the word that a Sochi Olympic games will not be supported. They’d rather risk their sponsorships than feed an economy that feeds on queer oppression. And if a boycott isn’t possible, it better be the gayest fucking Opening Ceremonies the world has ever seen. We are in a position to not suffer in silence.
Queer isn’t an insult. Except yesterday on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, my messaging “Johnny Weir is a self-involved queer” was treated as such. The scary thing is, it wasn’t just Olympic figure skater Weir fandom that took offense. Facebook banned me for the expression, and cited the slogan as the offensive, term-breaking message. The experience has left me shaking my head.
I initially responded to Weir’s interview on CNN, where he and fellow queer athlete Blake Skjellerup made refusing to boycott the Sochi 2014 games their official position. Weir believes his “performance and presence of just being there” makes a greater statement than a refusal to participate.
“I am very well-known in Russia,” says Weir. “I’m out and just myself,” says Skjellerup. When asked what they would do to challenge the anti-propaganda law in Russia, Weir says he has spoken and connected with people in a very real way, and he’ll perform and do his best for them.
He believes that being himself and performing is the best thing he can do.
My belief is that is isn’t. My position is that it is selfish.
The issue isn’t about Weir personally. His representation in gossip magazines in Russia isn’t relevant. “I am not a propagandist,” suggests that Weir believes that his life is not overt propaganda. And there we agree. It isn’t. But he says that the Olympics aren’t linked to politics and that it is a time of peace, sport and excellence, and it is there we disagree. The Olympics in Sochi is the perfect stage to send a message, as a gay man and athlete, that the actions regionally are disgusting, perverse and backward. It isn’t a time to remain stoic and to “put on a good show.” This dead queer teenager didn’t want a good show, he wanted his life back.
The reaction from Weir’s fandom proved to me what I already believed: he has devout followers who hang on his every word, who derive some kind of understanding from his thoughts and actions. And yet, with this level of influence, his refusal to do something leaves his networks with the feeling that resistance to change is the ultimate sacrifice. That simply being gay (Weir does not identify as queer) is enough of a statement because he is a “well-known” gay man.
As someone worthy of being in Russian gay gossip rags, and who has platforms like CNN to raise awareness, I implore Weir to make it known that he does not accept the injustices in Russia, and I believe he should do so by raising his voice while he is at Sochi 2014, given that boycott is not an option. I don’t care if he lands the quad. I care about queers being assaulted, being denied basic human rights, and being murdered.
Your gay white male privileged perspective highlights how little we can be affected if the crimes are not committed locally. As someone who has the power and influence to make change, but refuses to do so, their blood is on your hands. If you have the power to make change and raise awareness, you have a responsibility to do so. Because why wouldn’t you.