The Gay Games
I’ve been a fan of Russian history and culture since my teenage years. (Full Disclosure: I used to believe that if Trotsky had become the leader, the Soviet Union might have prospered. Since learning that Stalin was always waiting in the wings for his power grab, I understand how naïve this belief was.)
I was somewhat shocked to see Stephen Fry (also a Russophile) calling so vehemently for a boycott of the Olympic Games in Sochi due to their new law deeming the discussion of homosexuality to be a criminal offense. It’s not that I don’t agree that these laws are heinous, but it just seems like so much grandstanding and, pardon the expression, ‘clutching of the pearls’.
It’s foolish to think that the Olympics could be moved at this late date, or that a boycott of a Russian Vodka distilled in Latvia might change any policy. But I give credit to the protestors bashing bottles of Stoli outside Russian consulates like some hellbent Carrie Nations – at least they are drawing attention to the situation.
And what an appalling situation it is. The law, while somewhat vague, forbids any “propaganda” that may “promote homosexuality” or “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” which raises the threat of athletes and spectators being jailed for even mentioning that they have gay and lesbian friends. But all the righteous indignation mustered at protests around the world won’t change this draconian stance.
The Russian people are used to being scolded by the western powers about their policies. And the International Olympic Committee is supporting the Russians by declaring that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas” which completely ignores the fact that this is a human rights issue. But such distinctions matter not to this governing body who in essence want gay athletes to stay in the closet for the duration of the games.
So what are the options to counteract this travesty? Individual countries could boycott the Olympics, but that would deny their athletes a chance to compete for a long held dream. Indeed, many countries like the United States and Great Britian have already ruled this out, so it seems unlikely. The I.O.C. could take it on themselves to bar the Russian contingent, but this also seems unlikely given that they support the Russian stance.
The most likely scenario is that the Olympics will go on as planned with some athletes (and maybe spectators) willing to risk arrest by flouting the law. Indeed, there is a Gay Pride Rally planned for a few hours before the opening ceremonies begin which will be a test for the authorities to see if they feel like using force right before their time on the world’s sporting stage. (Interestingly, Nick Symmonds has already defied the ban by dedicating his silver medal at the World Athletics Championships to his gay and lesbian friends in an interview with Russian media without any ill effects. So far.)
There is another option.
There is an old Slavic tradition of the “yurodivy” – a ‘holy fool’ – a person who gave up all his worldly possessions to become a solitary monk or hermit and used unconventional means to challenge authority. By the 17th century however, the yurodivy is seen more as a symbol in artistic works than in real life. Solomon Volkov in his book “Testimony” has an excellent defintion:
The yurodivy has the gift to see and hear what others know nothing about. But he tells the world about his insights in an intentionally paradoxical way, in code. He plays the fool, while actually being a persistent exposer of evil and injustice. The yurodivy is an anarchist and individualist, who in his public role breaks the commonly held ‘moral’ laws of behavior and flouts conventions. But he sets strict limitations, rules and taboos for himself.” Volkov, xxi
Certainly a figure skater (male OR female) wearing an over-the-top sparkly outfit and performing to “Macho Man” by the Village People would qualify as a subversive act, yet is not illegal. Because here’s the thing about this ridiculous decree. No one is denying homosexuality exists. The law merely refers to trying to keep the idea of “non-traditional sexual relations” from minors for their own protection. But anytime you forbid teenagers to see something, they are going to do anything in their power to find out what it is. And that may be the most insidious weapon of all in this fight.
Any gesture of support for the Russian LGBQT population, overt or in code, will reinforce the notion that they are not alone and that others like them around the world continue to make strides towards equality. And it seems like many are willing to risk being detained and hassled by the Russian authorities to prove that.
And if the Village People isn’t figure skating music, perhaps this:
Eric Pinder is an actor, writer, and Director In Residence for the Florida Opera Theatre. He is fond of the Russian composers Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Scriabin. Maybe not Glinka. His long awaited hockey opera will not be in Russian. Follow Eric on twitter: @operahockeyguy