Читать онлайн "My Pink Road to Russia: Tales of Amazons, Peasants, and Queers" автора Franeta Sonja - RuLit - Страница 41

 
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There was no law against lesbian sex in Soviet Russia, but it was forbidden, as Lena said. I felt I had to explain that there was also a lot of homophobia in the United States, too. In Russia I had heard stories of women being institutionalized in psychiatric hospitals and being urged by psychiatrists to either change their sex or to force themselves to date men. I told Asya and Lena that the U.S. was not the mythic land of freedom they thought it was. I had a friend who suffered electroshock treatments in her youth for her lesbian feelings. Gay bashing occurred even in the gay capital, San Francisco. They listened but didn’t seem to believe me.

Asya was not so willing as Lena to talk, perhaps it was just difficult for her to open up. She thought deeply but she was also quite moody. I had to try to catch her when the time was right on our four-day journey to Novosibirsk. I liked watching her shop for food at the train stations, which she seemed to enjoy. I usually went with her out of curiosity but she was fast and I sometimes lost her in the crowds.

Trains and train stations are the very lifeblood of Russia. Everything seemed to happen there. From love affairs to murders, from buying and selling to simply sitting and watching, the train station was the place to be in Russia. I’d also heard that Russian gay men traditionally met each other at train stations, especially at the public toilets.

In large green canopied stands, peasant women sold homemade potatoes, piroshki, pickles. Some carted their products around in baby carriages. I grew fond of kefir, a kind of yogurt milk, and bulochki, sweet breads sometimes filled with jam. People from town would buy cigarettes and vodka from the train personnel. There was lots of yelling and bargaining, then cursing and pleading and women crying. It was as if every train that arrived was the biggest event in town and everyone wanted to participate in some way.

Only a few times did we eat in the dining car. The hours were unpredictable and the food was about the worst I have ever had—greasy, tasteless, and extremely limited. But the dining car had its own peculiar life. I liked going in there just to watch the dining car supervisor smoking and drinking at a table by herself, her hair piled on her head and her lips smeared with red lipstick. The waiter would sashay down the aisle with his collar turned up, looking very important. “Do you think he’s gay?” I asked Lena once. ”Nyet.” she said with such certainty lowering her eyebrows. He would stand at people’s tables shaking his head every time someone pointed to something on the menu, finally admitting in a monotone, “We only have fatty pork and vermicelli today.”

One day when Lena was sleeping, Asya and I stood in the corridor, leaning on the curtain bar at the window, staring out at the Siberian landscape. Two sailors stood at a window further down, leaning against each other affectionately. It was startling for me to see this kind of relaxed intimacy among military men, but it was not the first time. I had seen other pairs of men with their arms around each other’s waists or on their hands on each other’s hips. I later noticed that young women were even more affectionate with each other, often kissing and nuzzling each other in public, as well as holding hands. That was why no one seemed particularly perturbed when Asya and Lena hugged each other sensually in the corridor.

I told Asya what a strange sight it was for me to see men being affectionate. She smiled, and I explained. “If an American came across people of the same sex being so affectionate, he or she would immediately think they were being sexual. I feel sorry for straight women who may want to be affectionate with each other. They’re too afraid of being identified as lesbian.”

Asya frowned. “Who knows, maybe that will eventually happen here!”

“When did you first identify as a lesbian?” I ventured, hoping she would at last want to tell. She kept staring out the window, speaking softly in her sexy, deep voice.

“As young as 18. But you know, it wasn’t that serious. I could never put myself in some kind of a box and say, this is what you are, this is where you belong, and that’s it. No. I very calmly took on that name, lesbian. I was twenty-one when I sent Benjamin in Barnaul a letter connecting with him as a gay man. He wanted to help start a social network among Novosibirsk queers. Even though I had had no experience whatsoever with lesbians, and had never even talked with one, I was very clear and simply wrote: ‘The fact of the matter is I am a lesbian. Therefore, Benjamin, I would like to meet a girl.’ I wrote it with such ease. I had no difficulty whatsoever.

“Did you have any experiences earlier? With your girlfriends?” I asked.

“Some not very serious experiences, when we were all trying to figure out who we were. Later I began to realize that women were really attractive to me. I would think all day and all night about some girl and then come to school and look at her and again think about her.

“But my girlfriends? No, the ones I really wanted were not my girlfriends but women I barely knew or didn’t know at all. For example, once I was simultaneously interested both in a classmate of mine and in someone who sang for the theater where my mother worked. These were women of my age and older.”

We were silent. A drunk soldier passed us on his way to the toilet, brushing hard against us. Asya did not bat an eye. Personal space in Russia was almost nonexistent. I was getting ready to give him a shove, when he walked on. He stumbled on a soft spot in the corridor floor, but he made it to the toilet. The stench descended on us almost immediately after he opened the door.

After a pause Asya went on.

“But did I want a woman physically from the age of eighteen? A women, exactly? Clearly? A woman and not a man? I still didn’t have any experience with girlfriends, beyond a little hug. We may have slept in the same bed, but I had no other experience with them. There was nothing romantic, just friendship. I just never acted on my feelings when I had them. I never permitted that. I don’t know why, why I limited myself. I just knew that the time would come, when I could do this without fear, with someone just like me. I would know, and the person would accept me. I was right. My first experience was with a person who really understood me—that was Lena. For her too I was her first experience. So Lena was my first and only experience.”

I nudged her shoulder and said, “Tell me what you felt with Lena.”

“Oyy… Sonja, the feelings were so amazing. I tried to write them down. I feel there is the beginning of something, maybe a book, something is there inside me. I am not writing now. I left all that home. My feelings were so great that it seemed like wings grew out of my shoulders. That was my first real love. It was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. That’s why I don’t want to lose Lena.

“I didn’t feel any kind of confusion or agitation. Maybe a little, the first few hours we all got together—Benjamin, Alexey, Olga, Lena, there was another girl too. When I saw how Benjamin and Alexey were hugging and kissing each other, I felt fogged up or something—I had to get used to it. But I liked it. I really did. Because it was very dear and they were sweet guys, kind. So when I got used to the idea that I was among my own people, that I could speak freely, completely openly, whatever I wanted, I did what I wanted to do. I took Lena’s leg and stroked it.”

We both laughed. My laugh was unusual for Russia. I noticed people tended to be quiet in public, so as not to be noticed. An older woman in a kerchief came out of a compartment down the corridor and stared at us. She was the only other woman in our car. Men and women share the same compartments in Russia. At first the idea really repelled me, but toward the end of my stay, I was taking the train and sharing compartments with all kinds of men and women I didn’t know. People were polite and considerate for the most part, and very curious. Russians always seemed to know I was a foreigner.

     

 

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