Russian Trans* Stories: Collective Transgender Autobiography as Activism




This article explores contemporary transgender collective autobiography published by Vykhod (Coming Out), an LGBTQ+ activist initiative in Russia. It contributes to the growing literature on trans* issues in Russian Studies by bringing a range of trans* voices to the forefront of discussion, situating them within the Russian context, and bridging literary analysis with trans* life writing theory. At the centre of this analysis are three collections featuring ‘trans* stories’: We’re Here: Collected Trans*Stories [My zdes': Sbornik trans*istorii, 2017], Who I Am: From Sex and Roles to Queer [Kto ia est': Ot pola i roli k kvir, 2018], and Everyone Has a Body [Telo est' u vsekh, 2018]. These collections defy easy categorisation, combining autobiographical essays, poetry, diary extracts, art, and comic strips. The unifying factor is the first-person perspective, with authors drawing on their lived experiences as either trans* individuals or their loved ones. The article determines the distinctive features of this ‘trans* story’ genre and demonstrates how Vykhod has mobilised autobiography in their trans* activism. It argues that rather than seeking to establish political visibility, activists are crowdsourcing trans* stories in attempts to create a sense of solidarity and community, achieve better trans* representation in LGBTQ+ projects, and provide a source of advice and self-help for Russian trans* readers facing similar issues. Although the collections aim to generate the impression of ‘unity’ in these respects, the article equally illustrates that trans* stories are intended to showcase the diversity of trans* people and experiences. Narratives were intentionally curated to unsettle normative trans* life writing structures and work against the limitations placed on trans* bodies, sexualities, and gender expressions by the medical establishment. Specifically, Vykhod’s trans* stories spotlight a remarkable spectrum of gender and sexual identities and are particularly concerned with how trans* and queer (transkvir) experiences can intersect. Tracing these transkvir themes and aesthetics, this article shows how Russian trans* life writers are employing innovative linguistic and stylistic strategies to address the failures of the identity paradigm, the Russian language, and normative discourses to articulate trans* subjectivity or gender ambiguity.
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