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Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia: The Regulation of Sexual and Gender Dissent

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The first full-length study of same-sex love in any period of Russian or Soviet history, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia investigates the private worlds of sexual dissidents during the pivotal decades before and after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Using records and archives available to researchers only since the fall of Communism, Dan Healey revisits the rich homosexual subcultures of St. Petersburg and Moscow, illustrating the ambiguous attitude of the late Tsarist regime and revolutionary rulers toward gay men and lesbians. Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia reveals a world of ordinary Russians who lived extraordinary lives and records the voices of a long-silenced minority.

376 pages, Paperback

First published July 15, 2001

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Dan Healey

8 books5 followers

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Displaying 1 - 7 of 7 reviews
43 reviews15 followers
December 4, 2017
Dan Healey presents a description of homosexuality and gender dissent in Russia & the Soviet Union, centering on the debates which led to the decriminalization of "sodomy" in 1917, and its recriminalization in 1934. Healey also mentions how even in the 1920s, the state would use 'homosexuality' as a political propaganda tool, publicizing the misdeeds of the church. This book is well sourced, and sometimes seems a bit too thorough, the main points could probably be condensed to 10-20 pages, but the case-by-case story of how the courts judged homosexual behaviour from Tsarist Russia to Stalin's USSR is a good picture of how the thoughts evolved during this period, and of the dual character of the Bolshevik's approach to homosexuality. The story of homosexuals has interesting parallels with the story of women during the same period of 1917-1934, where they also gained and lost rights (cf. "Women, the State and Revolution" by W. Goldman).
Profile Image for Dasha.
269 reviews5 followers
November 10, 2021
Healey shifts the focus on gender and sexuality studies from Western nations such as America, Britain, and Germany, towards Russia. The study contributes to understanding how heterosexuality gained the dominant, naturalized position in society and modern notions of feminine and masculine by analyzing same-sex relations and gender dissent. Healey comparatively demonstrates that the regulation of same-sex relations and gender dissent took a different form than in much of the rest of Europe. The culture of late Tsarist Russia, which included access to same-sex relations in private spaces, continued in new forms after the revolution and with the purposeful removal of antisodomy laws in 1922, only seeing a severe crackdown after Stalin re-criminalized sodomy in the 1930s. Russia also possessed a different relationship with medical and psychiatric bodies in comparison with Europe, thus contributing to the different culture of same-sex eros. Indeed, by understanding the cultures of homosexuality, and the state’s changing reactions to these cultures, the better historians will understand the development of heterosexuality.
Profile Image for Kalle Id.
Author 5 books1 follower
August 25, 2019
A superbly interesting and well-researched to book. But also arduous to read, in part because of the darkness of the subject matter itself (what would you expect to be the fate of sexual minorities in a repressive single-party state?), but also because the author has put a lot of information in the notes – and, presumably on decision of the publisher, these are endnotes and not footnotes, so I spent an awful lot of time jumping to the endnotes to check if this note had information other than the source on it and the main text. (Minus points also to whoever chose a font where 3 and 5 look similar, especially in small print; on more than one occasion I went to the wrong footnote).

Still, recommended reading if you are interested in the history of sexual and gender minorities and/or the Soviet Union.
Profile Image for Eve.
489 reviews
January 23, 2023

Starting out with what I liked, followed by what I didn't like:
I liked the profiles on the sexualities in prisons & how brothels & private parties were the main social venues available. I also liked the discussion of cruising culture such as that bathroom where all the stalls were in a circle & everyone faced each other as they peed or something. Basically I enjoyed hearing about different gender & sexuality labels in addition to various social infrastructures.

The rest of what I didn't like is more systemic to the research field, but it's some major ass problems that need to be pointed out. Basically these are from my journal entries

Chapter 8 is pissing me off because it conflates older adults like 40+ with kids & teenage kids based on genitalia... It's 1 thing to say the Soviet legal system did this but it's another to be talking as if CSA is gay or based on attraction instead of desire to abuse

Chapter 8 was frustrating as hell

The abuse is the sexual gra[m]mars all around with chapter 8 of "homosexuality in revolutionary Russia" is triggering this mess.

They'll conflate a 16 year old with a 20 something with a 39 year old all on the basis of sex designation

They say the government's goal was to get rid of the gay hookup culture, yet they wouldn't get rid of the bathrooms???

But yeah it reminds me how a lot of CSA research refuses to investigate incest. Further, it used to categorize CSA as hetero or homo orientation instead of as abuse

So this has a lot of problems

Further with the discussion of homosexuality among females, s[u]re the age or consent gets based around fertility & ability to give birth, but even some of the victims in these accounts would still count as children, at least when these relationships begin. Neither this book's framework of homosexuality nor the Soviet development of compulsive heterosexuality work here.

However the epilogue focusing on prison sexuality is especially interesting. Like there's the use of the word camp to describe prison vocabulary, there's effeminmania discussed, there's "ono" prison butches, there's more open "homosexuality" in the prisons than there is on the outside. But importantly it shows that even with sex separatism, the other axes of oppression will be used & therefore foundational oppression is bullshit

So the book is done at this point, now it's a bunch of notes which considering how i don't know much about this topic feels like I should do. However, the lens of hetero vs homo is still problematic & it acts like the liberalization was democratic in the concluding paragraph. The rephrasing would be censorship of these criminalization records is used to further scam Russians under the Washington consensus.

Also this book uses terms like cultural revolution inaccurately since it was coined in Mao era China. The usage here along with its powers is little brietbart saying Mike Bloomberg is a maoist .

Also this book uses the term stalinist a lot, which sucks because it takes a monarchist view of power instead of actually holding people accountable

By the way, the notes in the book didn't help me out that much because I'm not familiar with any of the authors cited basically. There might be better sources that can give this same information if not more, but I don't know for sure. This book I've seen cited commonly for reading lists since it came out in 2001 & there was a bookstore called Borders that my family would shop at. I think it's because the title is blunt & even provocative. But the lense of heterosexuality & its other are in fact CSA apologia, and developed as a means to fire everyone in the "new deal infrastructure" (as was detailed in another gay & lesbian theory book titled "the lavender scare" from 2004, which was about 3 years after this book came out).

I finished reading the book sans reading the notes section on 2022 December 5. I finished reading the notes section on 2023 January 22.
Profile Image for Cat.
410 reviews
March 9, 2020
Interesting look at sexual dissidence in late tsarist and early Soviet Russia and the move from decriminalization to recriminalization, though I wonder if more details have come out from the archives since this was published (~2000?)
Displaying 1 - 7 of 7 reviews

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