Zum zweiten Mal nimmt Ed Wolf – Wer ist Ed Wolf – am Queerfest in St. Petersburg, Russland, das vom 20. – 30. September 2018 stattfindet, teil. Während dieser Tage wird er, wie vor Jahren schon einmal, täglich in Tagebuchform über seine Eindrücke, Erfahrungen während dieser Zeit in Englisch aus St. Petersburg berichten.
Queerfest in St. Petersburg is a cultural festival, which raises issues of human rights, identities, gender, and sexuality. We are creating the space for learning more about ourselves, the society, and the world. We oppose xenophobia, sexism, discrimination, and violence.
«I am Proud of My Culture» is the theme of Queerfest 2018. Who are we: a tree without any roots, or a part of centuries-long resistance against artificial normalization of bodies, sexualities, and self-expression? How do we experience the intersection of LGBTI identities and our religions and traditions? What have we brought into culture, arts, science, sports? What is the impact of LGBTI communities into sexual liberation, emancipation, equality, and human rights?
August 28. 2018 „A Visa to Visit Russia“
On the 656th day since Trump’s election I received a visa to travel to Russia. In 3 weeks my colleague and co-conspirator Terry Cavanagh and I will travel to St. Petersburg Russia to attend Queerfest. Here’s their statement of intent: “QUEERFEST in St. Petersburg is a cultural and educational event concerning human rights, identities, gender and sexuality. We create the possibility for learning ourselves, society and the world outside. We oppose xenophobia, sexism, discrimination and violence.” We’ve been asked to speak on various topics and will host a special screening of Eric Slade’s documentary, “Hope Along the Wind,” about the life of Harry Hay. We are honored to have been invited and are very inspired by the work this community is doing to further LGBT rights in Russia. More to come . . .
September 19. 2018 „On Our Way to Russia“
It’s been 679 days since Trump was elected and my friend and colleague Terry Cavanagh and I are heading off to St. Petersburg to participate in Queerfest, a 10-day event that celebrates, supports and elevates the lives of LGBT people in Russia. Since some of our friends and family are a little worried about us going there, we decided to reassure them by just blending in with these authentic Russian hats. My husband Kirk Read stopped us as we were leaving. “No!” he said. “Just no!” and so we reluctantly left them behind. More to come . . .
We are here, safe and sound. 20-plus hours in transit, we arrived at the Saint Petersburg airport, strolled through border control and hopped in a taxi who took us directly to the Queerfest Opening Ceremony. The drive through rush hour St. Petersburg traffic was more hair-raising than Gene Hackman’s in „The French Connection;“ for the last block and half he drove BACKWARDS! When we arrived, there were hundreds of people cheering on the organizers and other guests in a gallery with a lot of reassuring security outside the entrance. The night ended with Queen’s „We Are the Champions“ and indeed, we all are!
A gorgeous day around the city with our spectacular guide, a transman who knows first-hand the risks of trying to live out of the closet in Russia. Harassment and jeers for wearing a Trans Pride button on his backpack, knocked down into the street for holding a handmade poster on Trans Visibility Day. There is nothing I could do today but listen and tell him I am inspired by his courage and determination. I told him that many LGBT people and their allies here in the US are following his and other stories that make it into the media. “The whole world is watching,” I say and he tells me it really helps him to know it. I know it’s not enough to simply reflect back the courage and conviction we see in others, but today it was the best I could do.
The sun rose beautifully, a giant dove, over Saint Petersburg this morning. But there’s been sad news overnight. Festival organizers report that police visited QueerFest last night, checking passports, looking for anyone under 18, which could be cause for shutting the event down. Afterwards some people wearing rainbow symbols where attacked at the nearby subway station. We are slow to leave the hotel and head down into the deep subterranean subways. The stations are incredibly vast and as we move through the crowds, we know there are gay people here (7 million people live in this city!) . . . but they aren’t visible. We can feel the persecution that awaits them should they suddenly appear. When we come up out of the metro it’s raining; it feels appropriate. Tonight is the screening of Eric Slade’s documentary about Harry Hay called “Hope Along the Wind.” But for now, we’re off to the Russian Museum.
September 23. 2018 – QueerFest Day 3, Part 2. Hope Along the Wind
The LGBT Community Center hosted a screening tonight of “Hope Along the Wind,“ documenting the life of Harry Hay and his involvement with the Communist Party, the creation of both the Mattichine Society and Radical Faeries, his early lover Will Geer (grandpa on “Walton’s Mountain) and so much more. Our guide from yesterday transcribed the entire film and one of the organizers created all the Russian subtitles; hours and hours of work. There were tears and laughter during the screening and Harry would have so enjoyed hearing Terry describe meeting the iconic elder at Harbin Hot Springs decades ago. There were many questions regarding the nature of the Radical Faeries and what happens at a gathering; we are going to host several Heart Circles next week. Afterwards we had a meal with two of the young men who work at the Center. We found out that the festival-goers who were harassed the previous night were fine; shaken, but fine. As Terry talked about the inter-generational nature of Faery gatherings, one of the young men said, “This is a challenge for us; we can’t find our queer elders.“
September 24. 2018 – QueerFest Day 4. Where are the Queer Elders?
Our 4th day in Saint Petersburg is cold and blustery; autumn approaches. We spend the day at the magnificent Hermitage museum. The question about older Lesbians and Gays follows us through the stunning galleries. Where are they? Was it too dangerous to come out in the Soviet Era? Did many of the gay men die of AIDS as occurred in the West? Are they all around us but invisible? Harry Hay said one of the reasons he liked the word Faeries is that it hearkened back to those ancient magical beings who could suddenly appear and disappear at will. Terry and I have seen this superpower already; inside the QueerFest venue, all the faeries emerge in their full glory. But when they step out into the street, they disappear. Is it like that? Are the elders simply waiting to suddenly appear? And if they did become visible, would the LGBT community here, who needs them so much, be able to see them?
The moon shines bright over everyone in this gorgeous city tonight. We climbed the 232 steps to the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral earlier in the day. The view was so clear, I was sure I could see Finland, though Olga smiled and shook her head; “No.” Afterwards we found a café to get out of the cold. Our gaydar begins to go off: our waiter is gay! Such a simple occurrence back home, it feels like a good omen given all our soulful conversations about the situation for Russian LGBT citizens. Surely, step-by-step, won’t things change here? Won’t queer people slowly emerge as they have in so many other countries in the world? There’s no way to know, of course, though I keep repeating: “You have to believe something before you can see it.” The only thing for sure tonight is that the moon is full.
The moon belongs to everyone,
The best things in life are free.
The stars belong to everyone,
They gleam there for you and me . . .
September 26. 2018 – QueerFest Day 6. Mapping Your Desire
Terry Cavanagh and I attended two outstanding QueerFest programs tonight. The first was sponsored by Grindr, the networking mobile app geared towards gay and bi men. Titled “Mapping Your Desire” it focused on creating a space were LGBT people could talk openly with each other about their sexual lives and desires and how to realize them more fully. While we were waiting for the program to start we asked a young man why we don’t see older LGBT people at these events. He suggested that many had been imprisoned in the past and also that its difficult for older queer people to believe that real advances have been made by the emerging community. The evening ended with an amazing concert by a gay singing string quartet called “Well Strung.” A stunning event! Tomorrow we host our first Heart Circle!
September 27. 2018 – QueerFest Day 7. The First Heart Circle
I woke up not feeling well so stayed in the hotel and slept all day. Terry ventured out however, and wrote this update:
Queerfest update. Here in Russia with Ed Wolf. Today I saw one of Dostoevsky’s St Petersburg’s apartments and writing studio, had coffee and talked with a brilliant grad student who showed me around heart of the city, and saw the brand new train museum, (biggest trains I’ve ever seen!) Then I facilitated a Heart Circle, which Ed set up for me some days ago, for a full room of Russians, (where I photographed myself.) Very deep. I don’t speak Russian but I GOT IT. Doing another one with Ed this week. They get it! It’s now a new curriculum skill for activists here.
We met with the ED of a local LGBT rights organization, a woman born in the US of Russian émigré parents, who moved to St. Petersburg to support the LGBT movement here. She told us there are currently over 30 different LGBT organizations working on a variety of issues. Her organization works with queer parents who have adopted children, different media outlets, a lawyer’s group that takes cases for them, and parents of LGBT children, among others. She told us they see slow steady advancement. Police harassment has lessened due to successful litigation; it’s easier for police to do their job and protect LGBT people rather than harass them and be sued. The media perspective is slowly changing as well; where once they would have reported a “meeting of perverts,” they now say “LGBT meeting,” etc. She said they are hopeful that over time, there will be more and more visibility and tolerance. She reminded us that homosexuality per se is not illegal in Russia. The repressive laws are trying to stifle what is referred to as “Gay Propaganda,” events and materials that show the LGBT community in a positive light. We left her office feeling more hopeful as we prepare for our presentation tonight at Queerfest.
Twenty minutes into our panel presentation on “Queer Consciousness: Spiritual Dimension of LGBT Culture,” blue lights flash outside. A security guard hurries in: we all need to evacuate, a bomb scare had been received. We regroup outside in the cold wind. A common strategy to disrupt events, there’s not been a bomb scare at QueerFest for over 2 years. As we wait to return, the cold settles in. We’re invited to a nearby apartment where we drink tea, listen to Elvis Presley cover songs, wait for the word to return. When word comes, it isn’t good: we can’t return to the venue. The organizers quickly find another site, and though we lose some of our audience, those who travel across town and squeeze into the smaller space are attentive and kind. The resilience of queer people emerges once again: we find ways forward, we keep moving, we continue.
September 29. 2018 – QueerFest Day 9. The QueerFest Organizers
Terry and I met with the QueerFest organizers today. They feel bad that our presentation was interrupted last night but we assure them we are fine and appreciate how quickly they came up with an alternative plan. The news is that the man who called in the bomb threat has already been identified and will hopefully be apprehended. We declare our ongoing support and admiration for the work they are doing. I tell them I’m writing to all of you each day and that many people are aware of what is happening here: this means a lot to them. A videographer arrives and Terry and I make video statements for the staff and volunteers of Queerfest. I tell them that I see them and the movement they have already created and how inspired we all are by them. I end my video saying that I think they are the “bomb!” but I’m not sure if it translates the way I mean it.
September 30. 2018 – Day 10 Part 1 Can the Oppressed Sing?
When we arrive at the QueerFest venue, one of the organizers runs out to meet us. There’s been another bomb scare during the night; the security guards are tense. The organizer escorts us in, whispering, “Men with beards make them nervous.” The workshop today is entitled “Can the Oppressed Sing” and it turns into a 3-hour epic presentation about the history of the music of LGBT liberation. It’s been compiled by our comrade Valery and begins with early Russian songs from the war years before moving into German songs of the 1920s. One of them, “The Lavender Song,” is especially poignant:
“Since we are all children of a different kind of world
We only love lavender night, who is sultry, because
We are just different from the others.”
The songs then move into folk music of the 60s and 70s to “I Am What I Am,” from La Cage Aux Folles, to the Bronski Beat and Jimmy Sommerville in the 80s before ending, as we are all in tears, with this:
September 30. 2018 – Day 10 Part 2 Final Night in Saint Petersburg
We leave QueerFest and retire to the Community Center where we’ll host another Heart Circle. I’m still humming “We Shall Overcome” and have tears in my eyes as we set up the chairs. Slowly the room fills; 31 for this final circle. I’ve brought Harry Hay’s Sun Medallion and we use this sacred relic as a talisman. The shares are in English and Russian. We decide to let go of translation as we’ve all agreed to speak from the heart; words seem not to matter. There are tears and deep sighs and soulful sharing. Several hours later, as we draw to a close, I ask the group to say after me: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for; we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” We end by singing one of our queer anthems:
Let me tell you how I’m feeling
You have given me such pleasure
I love you so, I love you so, I love you so . . .
Terry and I are so full as we hug everyone good bye and return to the hotel to pack. In the morning, we leave.
September 30. 2018 – QueerFest Day 11. Coming Home
Suddenly it’s over. Terry and I are tired and tearful, in ways, good ways, that underscore the profound power of our journey here. Oh, the glory of these activist citizens of Saint Petersburg and their Movement towards freedom is undeniable. Thank you dear readers for coming along on this experience. Your words of encouragement for us and the wonderful people we have met here makes such a difference; it changes the world actually. As I hurriedly pack my bags this morning, I find these words from QueerFest program:
“From LGBT invisibility and isolation; through careful attempts to build a dialogue and the first steps in the public space; through negligence by media; through comprehension of gender and feminist issues; through protests, threats and refuses; despite persecution by the state and prohibitive legislative initiatives; due to words and actions of support from around the world; towards comprehension of us being one whole and a clear understanding of our right to be ourselves: this is a short story of our festival.”
This is the work they are doing . . . and they know we are watching.
Oh, by the way, after 10 days of asking “Where are the elders,” we passed by a mirror and looked in; they were with us all along.