From Russia With (only hetero) Love
Besides the political not-quite butting of heads between Russia and the US, of course I thought it would be the perfect time to visit. No lines at the visa processing center in NYC? Even better! I have a special hatred of crowds and being stuck with that special breed of super loud and nonstop talking type of US person who makes it clear to the entire neighborhood they're from the US and their opinions on everything and nothing. Yes. I bet you know the type. Because non-US people know the type. People from the US are quite well known for being loud and voluminous with their words when they are in other countries.
Anyway, since I'm not a fan of the toxic digital bromad (including women) white appropriative culture that dominates the digital nomad space, I am trying to steer clear of the huge digital nomad hubs where all the people I didn't want to see in NYC ended up. Like, why would I leave NYC just to hang out with other remote workers from NYC while in Thailand, for example? I travel to meet and learn about other people and their lives and their cultures and customs. I'd rather be uncomfortable and fumbling with my horribly Spanish or miming what I want at a coffee shop because I don't speak Russian. And considering 7 trips to Thailand over a decade, I've seen how much Chiang Mai has changed since it became a DN hot spot with the ubiquitous "trendy cafe" that is usually out of the price range of the locals who live there, the jacked up local economy (songthaew prices were almost double what they were in a space of three years), etc. I could go on and on about this stuff, but I won't. Yet.
But this is how I ended up in Saint Petersburg--by trying to avoid the places where DNs typically work from--despite knowing Russia's reputation for homophobic laws and a dramatic increase in hate crimes and murders. It is one of the few places I've been where homophobia is deeply institutionalized. "Russia introduced nationwide legislation banning "the promotion of non-traditional relationships to children" in 2013, building on older legislation on individual Russian regions." I only semi-jokingly said that if I disappeared, it would probably be because of being queer (entrapment of queers by app can happen). Again, it must be really awesomely amazing if you're completely hetero and you never have to think twice about that. Because in addition to the normal fears that one has as a solo female traveler, you get to tack on the possibility of someone hating and fearing you because of your sexuality. Which is a fine line I tackle with everyone I meet. Have you ever had to think to yourself, well, this person is super cool and friendly so far but it's a possibility that they could become enraged/violent/murderous if they found out about my sexuality? It's not off base, FYI. People in the US do it all the time, so don't think people in other countries don't do it.
Anyway, I am actually surprised by the number of women on Tinder. Perhaps impressed. Then again, Saint Petersburg is a city of almost 5.3 million people and it has a reputation for being more artsy than elsewhere in Russia. With the few women I've initiated conversations with, it's been pretty interesting hearing their perspectives. As in, it's generally okay-ish to be queer but mainly in Moscow and SP. And many Russian celebrities are queer and people are aware of it. If you're in Chechnya, you're shit out of luck. And given the political situation with Russia vs the world, Russian queers don't have good options if they want to go to a more queer-friendly country due to visa restrictions and whatnot. As one article title reads, "A lot of girls would probably rather die" re: living life as a lesbian in Chechnya. If you're still okay with this kneejerk hate and violence towards queers, don't eve get in my face and tell me that. You're a horrible human being. End of story. No ands, ifs, or buts.
I think what really drove home the rampant homophobia here was when I came across the Labor Day rallies after visiting the Hermitage Museum on Tuesday. Although I had no idea what was going on. I wasn't expecting to see a series of vehicles that looked like police detention vehicles. I thought it was for police to ride in until one vehicle passed by and I saw a man holding a rainbow flag to the window. I had a millisecond of eye contact with him and it broke my heart to see someone, one of my people, disenfranchised so openly. And I wished I could help him, but I couldn't. This is the kind of experience that really drives home what you read about. What people experience. It's invaluable even if it's distressing. Because it's so easy to shut your eyes and pretend it doesn't happen. That humanity isn't shitty. That people can't live their lives without fear. Especially for me, someone who comes from a place, from NYC, where being queer is fine, the community is huge (even if I don't like being part of it for various reasons), and you have way more rights and privileges. And it reminds me of what conservatives are trying to do, to strip us of our rights and take us back to times that currently exist in repressive countries. It makes me so angry.