The first proud pages meeting in our new venue of Waterstones Café was a small, select group. There were only six of us this month but that did include one new member. The book we were discussing was “Queer in Russia” by Laurie Essig. Only two members of the group managed to finish the book, I made it just over halfway. Some people on Facebook said they didn’t attend this meeting because think they could contribute as they hadn’t completed it.
To put the book into context it was published in 1999, although the research and anecdotes don’t seem to go beyond 1994. While it was interesting to read about the history up to this point, there was an obvious missing piece of the story in terms of what has happened in the last 26 years in Russia. Tonight’s discussion focused on; labelling identities and sexualities, the arrogance of the people from the West acting like missionaries and imposing their view on what it means to be LGBT+, how different communities within Russia view homosexuals and they view themselves. Some of the questions asked included; how did a country like Russia get to be so intolerant when other non-western countries are so accepting? and why were transsexuals accepted more than gam men and lesbians
There was also a lot of discussion about how the book was written. There was a general feeling that it was a PhD thesis converted into a book with minimal editing/updating. There was frustrations over the structure of the book and how the narrative of some chapters didn’t seem to flow that well. While it was felt that the book came across as a series of anecdotes, some felt this gave the book a more human/relatable quality. Some took issue with the ethicacy and validity of her research methods, such a disguising herself as a man in order to observe cruising behaviour in men’s toilets.
Between us our average score out of ten for the book was 5.2 (scores ranged from 3 to 7). There were a few caveats to this though:
– Only 2 people completed the book
– Of the six of us, one hadn’t read the book at all, so the average for the other five.
– One person had just finished another book on the same subject which influenced their vote.
There was a plea to say in this blog post that if you want to read a book on this subject you should read “Cracks in the Iron Closet” instead.