Introduction: Queer Life Writing in Russia and Beyond




This piece introduces the special issue of AvtobiografiЯ on ‘Queer Life Writing in Russia and Beyond’. It begins by reflecting on the current climate for LGBTQ+ people in contemporary Russia, noting the legislation prohibiting the promotion of non-traditional relationships, and how the Kremlin has weaponized LGBTQ+ issues as part of Russian national exceptionalism. In place of this binary narrative, which pits a gay-friendly West against a traditionalist Russia, the introduction advocates an alternative course for exploring Russia’s queer culture, one that is dialogic, transnational and multidirectional, revealing how Russia’s homegrown LGBTQ+ community does not exist in isolation, but within a dialogue, speaking and responding to the rest of the world. Indeed, themes of border-crossing – literal or metaphorical – often figure prominently in Russian queer life writing, and the search for gender and sexual identity in these texts is often bound up with a search for national identity. Such journeying also happens at the theoretical level, and the introduction argues against methodological nationalism, suggesting that, when used sensitively, theoretical tools that emerged in one context may prove illuminating in another. Yet queer life-writing itself tends to resist the strictures of existing narratives, genres, and language, and the queer autobiographical ‘I’ often defies easy categorization. The piece concludes by summarizing each of the articles in the special issues, as well as the texts in the ‘Materials’ and Translations section.
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