Queer homes: a glimpse into the domestic lives of Russia’s LGBTQ+ community

6 November 2020

Throughout 2020, domestic spaces have become places of comfort and refuge, love and loss, hopelessness, and hope, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Home is where we bake banana bread, scroll through news feeds, and contemplate the shifting world – but also the space we use to define and ground ourselves against the turbulent outside world.

People who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, especially in conservative countries like Russia, have long been familiar with the power a home can provide. In Russia, especially outside of Moscow and St Petersburg, safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people are scarce. The street, workplaces, and family homes, all have potential to turn hostile. Personal spaces have always been queer sanctuaries of peace, pleasure, and self-actualisation.

Especially for The Calvert Journal, photographer Miliyollie captured Russia’s LGBTQ+ people in their homes. Conducted remotely through subjects’ phones, the shoot has allowed LGBTQ+ people to shine and embody their true selves — all from the comfort and safety of their own domestic spaces.


Sasha Rakhmanov and Roma Danilov

Blogger/LGBTQ+ activist and Musician

Sasha Rakhmanov:

Our home is very important to us. We spend most of our time here, and it’s important that it’s comfortable. We rent our apartment: I am not 100 per cent happy with the refurbishment but I generally have a feeling of home, of my own place. I feel like I recover myself here. We have had certain conflicts with the neighbours who knew about our sexuality, but they seem to have ended. Now, I feel safe at home.

In Russia, it’s hard to feel 100 per cent comfortable anywhere because we live in a difficult time. It’s very obvious how the state interferes with people’s lives: anything can happen at any moment. I wouldn’t say that I feel safer in a gay club than in a random cafe. Logically, I understand that I’m not safe really, but I do not feel in danger either. Overall, I feel comfortable.


Roma Danilov:

[Home is where] I can recharge: outside, I’m always in the state of ambient stress. I’m usually not particularly comfortable around people; home is probably the only place where I feel 100 per cent at ease. But everything is relative. At gay clubs and parties like Popoff Kitchen you can truly relax, dance, and be yourself.



Suzy Diop

Teacher

Due to the pandemic, I packed my things and moved from St Petersburg to Moscow to live with my friend, Tolya. Now that I’ve been living with him since April, I can definitely say that his apartment reflects both of us: there are paintings we bought together, the synth we play together, our shared clothes, shared jewellery. This apartment is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of home; it’s the first thing I want to come back to after a long day.

As a lesbian, I tend to feel unwelcome in most spaces, even seemingly safe ones. I find it especially difficult to feel welcome and comfortable because of how sexualised [LGBTQ+ spaces] can be, like in a club or at a sex party. I’m at my most relaxed when I’m surrounded by my friends (90 per cent of whom are also part of the LGBTQ+ community).



Alice Che

Language teacher, musician and activist

For me, it’s very important to talk about being part of LGBTQ+: it’s part of my personality. I am pansexual and genderqueer, and it’s important to me to be visible. I like to publicly be who I am. But society can be hostile, and being on the street is often uncomfortable. I live in a rented flat with my partner and a cat. We have created a calm, cosy place, where everyone’s comfort is important. There are lots of things related to our favourite pastimes: musical instruments, paintings, artefacts from trips. I am an interior designer by profession, so aesthetics and functionality are important to me — they influence my mood and the feeling of control over my life. I also like buying interior objects and throws at secondhand stores, and some things I modify or make myself.



Alyona Levina and Anya

Artist/disability activist and Musician


Alyona:

Unfortunately I am not very comfortable in my home space because I spend so much time here: this is where I sleep, eat, work, paint, make love, meet friends. When your home is your place for work and leisure, it’s hard to make that switch and see it as a cosy space to recuperate. But I think that any space where I live becomes mine through personal possessions that I cherish.


Anya:

I’ve lived in more than five different places over two years, so I don’t think home has a special spiritual significance. I’d say I’m around 25 per cent comfortable here. When it comes to my general comfort being in Russia, I’d say the situation is very bad, especially after the pandemic, and with the recent constitutional amendments [which defined marriage as solely being between a man and a woman). Being openly LGBTQ+ on the street is for brave people with their pepper spray handy.



Maia Demidova

Trans activist

Thanks to therapy, I recently realised just how important it is to make my home the way I want it to be. I have a lot of things which give me comfort and power: my princess bed, my mirror, comfortable armchairs, and flowers.

My real safe space is my support group, which I created as part of the AIDS.CENTER. This is a place where everyone is equal, regardless of age, gender, or HIV status. We have created a great place where we can come and be who we are — not just in terms of how we dress, but a space where we can talk about our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and pains, with no judgement.



Nikita Andryanov

Founder of a project on Russian gay history Izvestnye Tetki

For us, home is the only place where we can kiss, so of course it’s important! I’m joking — until recently I was always saying that I’d be happy anywhere, but after a few months in self-isolation I realised that wasn’t the case. By the second week, I’d ordered a set of houseplants from IKEA and a wooden board where I put up photos of myself with my boyfriend. Now I also have a “gay shrine” (which is how my friends refer to it): a big shelf with all the books, pins, paintings, and posters I love.

For me, my safe space is my best friend’s tattoo salon. She positions herself as LGBTQ-friendly, and everyone takes that into account. It is a small room in a former factory, with rainbow flags, Judith Butler books, and Mitski on the speakers. Of course, I am very lucky in that respect: I live in Moscow rather than a smaller town, and there are a lot of people here who help me to feel safe.



Nikita Privet

Non-binary activist and model

I have lived with my parents all my life. For a decade now, I’ve had my own room, where I could feel somewhat safe, but I’m not sure that is still the case. Since I started exploring my identity and being more self-aware, my parents and I have only been growing apart. Several death threats from my father have only fueled that feeling of distrust between us. All of that means that I have a strange relationship with our home. My room reflects my past self, and because I’m not able to change it to fit the “present me”, it feels strange.

What makes me happy is the knowledge that people are becoming more open, both online and offline. I am rarely jeered at on the street, or harassed on the internet. I’ve had the chance to go outside wearing makeup and dresses, and to return home in one piece. I am very lucky to live in a big city like Moscow.



Zhe:

Home is where I never encounter judgement about who I am and how I express it. Thanks to the objects I make or gifts I have received I can make this rented space more my own.

When it comes to safe spaces, the place itself isn’t important. It’s more about people who are in that space and our attitude towards each other — whether it’s mutual support, judgement, or indifference.



Katerina

Queer activist and part of the Vidimost team

At the moment, I rarely leave the house, so my domestic space is particularly important for me. I recently moved to a new house: my room only just got a door, the walls are still not painted, and the mattress lies on the floor. But I feel very comfortable here. Every week, I pick fresh flowers from the garden, and on the walls I have posters from my favourite films, Mamma Mia and The Walking Dead. The room reflects my identity. It’s not complete, but it’s cosy and calm, there is a beautiful view from the windows, and lots of soft spaces where I can lie down.

Apart from my home, my safe spaces are my close friends. In Sochi, where I live, there aren’t public safe spaces, or if there are, then I haven’t discovered them yet. I feel like the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community is definitely increasing — more and more people are open about their queerness in their online bios, and you can see queer couples who hold hands. But offline visibility is still mostly confined to Moscow and St Petersburg. That’s why at Vidimost, we want to create more content to show that there are queer people all over Russia.



Boris Konakov

Artist and founder of Queer Biennale

I live in a shared apartment with my friends, who are also activists. Half of the artworks from the Queer Biennales [which I organise] are actually stored at my house. Every detail in my room means something to me. All of this is my personality, and I have invested a lot of work, creativity, and time into it during self-isolation. Before that, my space was not so looked after, because I suffer from depressive episodes. But when I started self-isolation, I realised that I need to do something about the space I lived in.

For me, [the idea of a] safe space is a notion which we can and should criticise because the whole world can’t be your safe space. The world doesn’t owe us a safe space: there has to be dialogue and compromise.



Sonya Sno

Activist

I wish I had a minimal white room which would reflect my personality. I don’t have a huge need to create a cozy home. Home is a place where it’s comfortable to sleep and where you can hide from your problems. But that’s not going so well for me at the moment: in the summer, I was detained at a single-person picket, and the police came to my parents’ house. Now it feels like the cops could come after me anytime. My anxiety means that I never feel safe in public places. But a place where I feel 100 per cent comfortable is any place where I am with friends whom I trust.

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