Stop colonising Russian LGBTQI!

Recently countless discussions about the life of Russian LGBTQI people are held around the world. While the organizers claim that they’re expressing solidarity, as a Russian trans* woman I feel demeaned and frustrated by these events. I read about some foreign activists and politicians inventing strategies how to “save” us here, but they don’t ask us whether we want to be saved this way. I read about “experts” attending these events who have very superficial knowledge of the situation. And I’d like to ask: what do all these people have to do with Russian LGBTQI movement that makes them welcomed to such events while actual Russian activists are not invited?

But when they invite us, we’re not allowed to talk freely. That was the case with the conference “Gold for equal rights” in Berlin (1-2 Febryary), where I was invited as a speaker, however these were the German activists who defined the program and the themes each participant to speak about, that’s why I couldn’t express my opinion about whatever besides trans* issues. I was even more disappointed to learn that these German activists responsible for the organizing of the event were so unfamiliar with LGBTQI activism in Russia that they had to ask Transgender Europe for the names of trans* activists they had to invite. If you have no idea on what’s going on, why would you feel eligible to organize a conference in that field?

As a trans* person, I often face the situations when cisgender so called “experts” gather together and discuss what’s better for me without even asking my opinion. As a woman, I experience the same situation with men making decisions about my life. What all these Western activists are doing makes me feel absolutely the same. What’s going on is not solidarity but neocolonialism, and it makes me mad. By discussing the situation in Russia, these people assert that they already solved all the problems in USA/Europe. A large part of this belief comes from the fact that organizers of these events are white cis* gay men, who believe that if they are allowed to enter partnership with each other, there’re no more problems to discuss in their own countries. And those are their male and cisgender privileges that make them think so.

I have a strong belief that those discussions outside of Russia are useless for LGBTQI people inside Russia, as it is only the movement inside the country that can actually make changes. Instead of holding the events about Russia, I’d suggest to discuss legal gender recognition and forced sterilization for transgender people in USA/Europe. You could address transphobia in feminism or lack of intersectional approach within mainstream LGBTQI movement. That’d make Russian LGBTQI activists empowered when they see positive changes in other countries, but not when they feel colonised.

If you still are interested in discussing Russian issues and becoming an ally, that’s no problem, if you speak with us and not instead of us, when you let us highlight our real concerns but not restrict us within your own framework. Instead of focusing on one particular country, let us talk about common problems, share strategies on the equal basis, while keeping in mind our privileges.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Yana Kirey-Sitnikova is a transfeminist activist from Moscow, Russia and a PhD student in chemoinformatics in the University of Strasbourg.

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