Today, Russia’s LGBTQ youth is finding a new strength. Digitally-powered communities mean it’s never been easier to connect with peers worldwide, or create networks within the country itself. Yet away from social media, acceptance remains difficult — particularly within families. LGBTQ+ issues often pose a seemingly impassable barrier between children and parents, each standing on opposite sides of a generational gulf.
That’s what a new series of films from Russian queer culture mag O-zine hopes to change. They focus on positive Russian coming-out stories, with the aim of creating a new language of courage and acceptance.
“The topic of coming out is very rarely discussed in the Russian media, even though it’s one of the most crucial and difficult things in life of LGBTQ+ people. Generally, queer people share their coming out stories in personal blogs, where they tend to talk about the experience from their own point of view. We wanted to hear these stories from both sides: parents and their children,” says director Artem Emelyanov, who conceived the project alongside O-zine co-founder Dmitry Kozachenko. “We were especially interested in parents who grew up in the Soviet Union, where any deviation from heterosexual norms was prosecuted.”
Shot on iPhone, with lighting and visual effects staged to create a “warm, analogue look that resembles the VHS-archives of our childhood”, the films tell three coming-out stories — from a lesbian woman, a gay man, and a trans woman — and the way the experience impacted family bonds.
The pair felt it was important to focus on positive coming-out stories. “Russian people are missing out on real-life examples when it comes to acceptance. I’m gay, and I’m 29 years old — but it’s only very recently that I’ve begun to see positive stories and information about LGBTQ people. If things had been this way when I was 16, it would have been much easier to accept and understand a lot of things about myself,” Emelyanov admits.
At the same time, the project highlights the complexity of the coming-out experience for both sides against starkly opposing generational values. “In these situations, it’s hard to say what’s more difficult: to be an LGBTQ+ person opening themselves up, despite the fear of distancing yourself or even losing the people closest to you, or to be an accepting parent, rethinking the heteronormative views which you’ve held for most of your life,” Emelyanov explains. “Acceptance is a testament to a family’s courage, whereas parental rejection is often caused by inner fear. Only positive examples of acceptance can help people overcome that fear.”