...do not give up and do not despair, do what you think is the right thing to do. Russia will definitely be free.
Part 1. Center T
1. Tell us about your project Center T. How and when did it start, what does it do, what have you managed to accomplish during its existence and what do you plan to do in the future?
Center T was created on December 2nd, 2020, it started as a constantly updated base of trans-friendly psychologists and a platform for teaching them how to interact with trans people. Over the 2.5 years of our existence, we have grown a lot. We began to cooperate with doctors and various other local organisations. But the most important thing is that we began to unite trans people, face-to-face and online, first in our city, then in the country, and then all over the world, and we have a large practice of humanitarian work. Thanks to us, transgender people get:
- emergency crisis assistance and accommodation in our shelter,
- possible volunteer assistance in many cities, sharing of warmth, moral support,
- informational and professional consultations.
Every year the situation in the country for the LGBT community is becoming more and more difficult. That is why our main plan and goal for 2023 is to stay afloat and continue to consistently help people, work for the benefit of our community, regardless of all the threats and regular attacks from the government. Over the last few months, our entire team has been under huge psychological, legal, and sometimes even physical strain. That is because the number of threats to the community (including Center T ourselves) is growing, so do the needs of our beneficiaries, and the amount of work we have to do. We are determined to persevere and strongly believe in each other, our mission and goals, and everything we do.
2. How has the transition process been going in Russia in recent years? What difficulties did trans people face?
Until 2017 trans people had to solve the problem of changing their documents through the court. According to the registry offices, there was no single standard of proof that could certify the right to change your documents, so the court was able to decide at their discretion, according to what seemed correct for them. Most of the time it depended on the presence/absence of surgery/hormone therapy, but there was no guarantee. For example, a person going through hormone therapy, but without having gone through gender-affirming surgery, could well be refused a permit to change their documents at the registry office. \
In 2017, form 087/y was finally created, which began to be issued by a commission for the registry office, and it could be given to a registry office in exchange for a new (updated) birth certificate with a changed gender marker and new personal information. So, currently, neither a court decision nor any medical intervention is required to change your gender marker. It is even more discouraging that now they are trying to deprive trans people of such unique achievements for the world.
As for medical transitioning, the number of doctors “in the know” has increased, because there are now educational courses on trans-inclusion and the specifics of healthcare for trans people, and in addition to this information being spread by word of mouth, there is now the internet and social networks. People exchange information and reviews easily, and it is easier to find trans-friendly endocrinologists and other necessary doctors. Due to the adoption of the new law, their activities are now also banned, and trans people will not be able to receive the necessary professional help, even if they have the information about it.
3. What changes with the introduction of the new law, what are the risks for trans people and doctors?
With this law, the government is trying to ban transgender and non-binary people, but we will continue to exist. Nevertheless, it was accepted. Now we will be deprived of:
Trans medical care
People have lost access to the desired hormone therapy and surgery. The Russian Federation still adheres to the ICD-10, according to which transgenderism is a psychiatric diagnosis (let's leave it aside for now that I, of course, do not agree with this and consider transgenderism to be completely normal) and transitioning is indicated as a form of treatment. That is, hormone therapy, surgical operations, document change, and socialisation in the correct gender (and here we will leave out of brackets for now that not all stages of transition are mandatory). As such, this law contradicts the ICD still being used in Russia.
If we consult the current, 11th, version of the ICD, then transgenderism is described as a normal state of sexual health, requiring in some cases outside help (the same surgeries, hormones, etc.), but this is not a disorder, not a disease. As such, according to the 11th ICD, the law prohibits the existence of... normal, healthy people. Sound very similar to something, as if this has already happened before /winks. Oh, yes, it is also interesting how this law, if passed, will affect cisgender people, namely men who are prescribed testosterone for various conditions, or women who are taking hormonal contraceptives. Will it be monitored for “trans-contraband” and if so, how?
Socialisation for transgender and non-binary people
Transgender and non-binary people will not be able to change to the desired name, and letter in the “gender” box of their documents. Consequently, many of them will have to avoid places that require the showing of documents or will face difficulties, stress, and anxiety in such places. For example, at passport controls, train stations, airports, and even the shop register when buying cigarettes, as well as clinics, checkpoints at work, and, by the way, employment is a separate issue. This removes people from society. And it's cruel.
In my opinion, this can affect doctors in two ways:
new rules and complications of work for some categories of doctors (for example, endocrinologists)
the risk of an increase in underground medicine (which threatens both doctors and patients from different sides).
It is difficult to understand why such a large group of people decided to “ban access to medical care” as if they do not understand that such a change will not save any people, but only ruin them. Even if you do not consider all the social, moral and other aspects: one who seeks will always find. If there are no legal medical options, people will find illegal ones—it will become dangerous. But for now, the people in charge of this country call a couple of percent of the population a threat, which the majority can take out its anger on.
4. What do you think is the true reason for the adoption of this law?
To me it looks like this is, firstly, an implementation of the “divide and rule” principle, and secondly, a distraction from the events that are objectionable to the population. It's not hard to guess what these events are, you can fill in the blanks yourself.
This is not the first time in history when those in power chose a “victim” among the vulnerable parts of the population and used them to completely divert the people's attention in the direction they need.
5. Has the attitude of Russians towards LGBT people changed since the beginning of the war? If yes, how?
I can't say specifically about LGB people, but transgender and non-binary people have become even more vulnerable. For example, by default, according to current laws, we do not serve in the army. It is obvious why this is the case for transfeminine persons, who have already changed their passports, and transmasculine ones usually receive either a C or D category[^1], according to one of the medical categories:
endocrinology (lifelong hormone therapy),
surgery (absence of penis),
psychiatry (“diagnosis” F64.0).
But with the changing political situation in the country, I periodically hear rumours about how they’re trying to conscript trans men into service. And in general, there is a feeling that military enlistment offices work according to their own separate laws.
Evaluating it rationally, I do not feel that there is suddenly more pressure on me as a transperson from the passers-by on the street. But anxiety about this has greatly increased. But from the state/politically—yes, there is a lot of pressure, and it manifests itself in many ways. The lack of hormonal drugs that our community faced from the beginning, numerous sanctions against various organisations, many frightening laws being proposed, etc. all of this has left a mark.
6. What options besides migration do transpeople have if this law is passed?
If you think about it… Apart from emigration, almost none. Either continue the fight where you are or accept the situation as is. Both options are valid, because everybody is different, and acts based on the possibilities they do have. Someone has more, someone has less—this is normal.
7. The main difficulties faced by your project and volunteers?
Not enough financing, definitely. We have a huge team, more than 200 people. Many people have a lot of tasks, that they manage to complete on pure enthusiasm and the reactive drive of activism. We admire these people, their resilience and ambition, but you won't get far on that. Burnout spares nobody after all. We dream of an opportunity to provide a salary for people with serious workloads, develop our projects, and expand our capabilities. But this requires more resources, including financial ones. In an era of all kinds of restrictions, this is especially difficult. But maybe there are different ways to support us.
8. How can the European Community help them and your project in particular?
The easiest thing to do is to subscribe to our Patreon, and recently we have enabled the option to support us via cryptocurrency 1 2. You can support our volunteers directly, for example, with retreats and/or training programs. I felt that such opportunities, even the training ones, help you unwind and continue developing in your volunteering career. Or maybe there are possibilities to organise some kind of training about taking care of yourself, about burnout, dealing with stress and things like that—this could really help support our team in the current conditions we're faced with. Thank you very much.
Part 2. Max Goldman
1. Tell us about yourself and your life before the war (where were you born, studied, what was your family like growing up, where you worked, etc).
I was born in Moscow, Russia, and have been living here all my life so far. But I hope that I won't spend the rest of it here. I studied in a regular Russian school, without any real specialisation, and spent a year and a half in a pedagogical college. And since then, I've been studying independently. A lot of it comes through practice, including my work and activism (these two are very closely connected for me right now), another part of it is my multiple hobbies, everything I know, I learned by myself. I am very curious and prone to the constant analysis of whatever is on my mind.
I don't like talking about my family, but I can tell you that it's pretty much the same as my school situation, relatively normal, and not that different from anybody else.
I identify myself as a part of the proletariat: hard physical labour was the only option for me for the first 7 years of my career. Then I managed to get an office position in technical support. I even worked in a sex shop. It certainly was a peculiar experience, but I liked it and it gave me some expertise in the field of sex education, which is something I'm still engaged in. And now, finally, I have my dream job at Center T, one that is for the people and about the people. \
2. When did you have that wow-moment? What did you feel?
For me, the world turned upside down when I understood what was happening to me and what to call it, how I could explain that long period of searching for myself, many points of discomfort and rejection of the gender roles assigned to me by society. This happened when I was 26, I met a transgender guy, and a big part of his personal story and experience resonated with me. Not long before that I was reflecting on myself a lot, first abandoning gender stereotypes and no longer limiting my appearance and behaviour, then realizing that I am non-binary. After carefully thinking about it, I “came out” (not for the first time) and transitioned, but the reflections didn't end there. Eventually, I came to understand my identity as a non-binary transmasculine person with “he/they” pronouns. What's interesting, is that I am still gender-nonconforming, as I was before my transition.
3. After that, how did you see your life in Russia?
Living here has become a little bit more anxiety-inducing. Because in addition to being oppressed because of my sexual orientation (I am grey-pansexual and polyamorous), I also have to hear all kinds of transphobic comments such as: “You're just a sick self-mutilating woman”, “You can't be a man”, “decide who you are”, “why do you need makeup / manicure / dyed hair / colourful clothes/ etc., if you're a man” and so on. A lot of people have trouble with, for example, having to “come out” whenever they visit a medical or some other institution, but I'm an open person, and it's not a problem for me. Our local legislation is another thing that scares me, of course. It limits us. And considering that activism is my job, in addition to that I am a public person and a blogger, there's a real risk that I will be threatened with political persecution because of “LGBT propaganda”. Doesn’t this sound absurd? I think it does.
4. How did your family and loved ones (friends, partner) react?
After the transition, friends told me that “Now everything seems to be in its place,” and my relatives… They reacted differently. Some completely accepted me, some reacted completely opposite. I am grateful to the former for respecting and accepting my boundaries, choices, and the right to live my own life, and the latter I treat according to this principle: “This is my choice, it does not concern anyone else but me.”
Both partners, which were with me before and during the transition, accepted and supported me the entire time. I find it amusing that my relationship with both of them went from being hetero/homosexual to the other category but in different directions.
5. Have you tried to “be cured”: went to a psychologist, psychotherapist, etc.? Either voluntarily or by force?
My family and society tried to cultivate some sort of “femininity” in me and periodically I tried to do that too, but never for long, I always ended up getting really annoyed and returning to an appearance and behaviour that were comfortable for me. Fortunately, nobody tried to “cure” me. I have not turned to doctors or psychologists about this. I was okay with the situation, and my skills of reflection, and analysis, in addition to all my knowledge, were enough to sort myself out, understand what's what, and figure out what to do about it. And now we're here.
6. Tell us about the stereotypes that are spread in Russia about transpeople (short life span, worse health, heightened risk for diseases, etc.), and how information about them is presented in schools, on TV, social media, etc. Have you encountered any of these misconceptions personally? How did you handle it?
I haven't watched TV for about 10 years now, so I can mostly judge just from the feedback I get on my blog. My audience is very supportive, but sometimes my content goes beyond my target audience and then I get a lot of typical negativities in my direction. Namely, that: I am sick in the head, a self-mutilator, went against nature, spreading the “LGBT-sickness”, will soon succumb to cancer, will definitely change my mind and be distraught from the irreversibility of my condition, am undecided, a creature of an incomprehensible gender (who even cares about this?). For some reason, people are also really interested in what my genitals look like, am I planning to/already have received surgery (people call it a “sex change”).
In schools, they don't talk about trans people at all. I don't even remember intersex people being mentioned at all in my school. In Russia, there is a huge problem when it comes to sex education, and I would consider gender theory a part of it too. In the media, the situation with this is slightly better, but it depends on the publication. I am grateful to the publications that include the LGBTQIA agenda and specifically the trans agenda. We are a barely visible group even within the LGBT community itself, it is important and necessary to talk about us.
7. How do you see the future of LGBT+ people in Russia, and why?
I still have a small hope that sooner or later, there will be an adequate political regime with a real democracy, focused on the people and really run by the citizens of the country. Only in this case, when the country is governed from the bottom, and not from the top, there is a chance that there could be less oppression. I still believe that someday the LGBT parades during Pride Month will be celebrated on the same level as Labour Day parades in May. At least, that's what I want to believe. But under the current regime, this is impossible, because the government operates with the time-tested and actively used capitalist scheme “divide and rule.”
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