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Call for papers for a special issue to be released in 2021The Political and Social History of Sexual and Gender Dissidence in the USSR and Post-Soviet Space

Editors : Arthur Clech (EHESS, Paris), Dan Healey (St Antony’s College, Oxford), Francesca Stella (University of Glasgow)

Whether in the Russian Empire, the USSR, or in the newly independent successor states of the region, power framed homosexuality in various ways, sometimes directly leading to medical or legal repression, other times leading to forms of social censure. The Soviet experience offers a sufficiently singular case to justify separate study : the Stalinist anti-sodomy law was enacted in each of the Soviet republican penal codes before the Second World War, while several of the post-war Warsaw Pact socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe either lacked such a law, or eliminated it. In the Soviet republics, there were notable differences in the penalties for sodomy in the law, and such differences in approach would on occasion increase after the dismemberment of the USSR.

Cahiers du monde russe wishes to investigate “sexual and gender dissidence” in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. We wish to take account of medical-legal regulation of this dissent, but also illuminate the effects that this regulation doubtless had on queer subjectivities : moments of self-oppression, denunciation, counter-discourses and other strategies of survival.

Analyses of literary and artistic works are welcomed for they may constitute the most likely place for the construction of queer subjectivities. Likewise, the LGBT press of the 1990s and early 2000s, emerging in the capitals and the provinces, with its readers’ voices reflected in correspondence and other materials, offers opportunities to hear and analyse queer voices.

Titles and abstracts submission deadline : 6 September 2019.

Short project abstracts (500 words maximum) should be sent to : sovgenderdissent_cmr[at]ehess.fr.

Please include name, institutional affiliation, and email address in all correspondence.

Authors of selected proposals will be notified by 20 October 2019.

Languages : French, English, Russian.

Manuscripts submission deadline : 20 May 2020.

Maximum article length : 11,000 words (space characters and notes included)

Publication date : July-September 2021.

For additional information, please contact :

Editors : Arthur Clech, Dan Healey, Francesca Stella : sovgenderdissent_cmr[at]ehess.fr or Valérie Mélikian, cmr[at]ehess.fr

Without seeking to be exhaustive, the following offers some strands of reflection about areas where further exploration would illuminate “blank spots” in current historiography.

Queer spatial and temporal differences

By taking account of different feelings of belonging, whether expressed in gender, “ethnic” or social status, linguistic or religious factors, we can expand the range of our understanding of the history of sexual and gender dissent. Authors probing these areas may well find that adherence to conventional periodization is unnecessary in this realm.

The temporal and spatial boundaries of this issue are intentionally left as wide as possible. Thus, numerous pre-figurings of these issues arose before the 1905 Revolution, and of course the 1917 Revolution is not automatically a watershed for all forms of history.

[Nevertheless,] before Stalin turned to ban sodomy in 1934, the Bolsheviks’ 1922 decriminalisation of male homosexuality marked a point of rupture with the old tsarist regime and its reliance for legitimacy on the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian Federation in 1993 abrogated Stalin’s 1934 anti-sodomy law ; [Ukraine decriminalised sodomy in 1991, and other republics followed suit between 1992 and 2003 (however, the sodomy ban remains in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan).] The Russian liberalisation [of 1993] now appears undermined by the 2013 adoption of administrative penalties for “propaganda for non-traditional relations among minors”.

Behind these legislative twists and turns with their immediate repercussions lies a long history that merits deeper investigation. We seek to illuminate the continuities and ruptures of the queer dimensions of the “sexual question” whether in the “sexual revolutions” of the 1920s in ideology and behaviour, or 1960s and 1970s in social changes, or the 1990s with the banalisation of sex in the public sphere, and the debates over gay pride in the early 2000s.

A renewed focus on all historical agents whether institutional or not, will permit us to illuminate contradictory processes, such as the profusion of discourses on homosexuality accompanied by legal initiatives to supress such discourses. We choose the term “sexual and gender dissidence” because it encompasses men and women who experienced and realised their homosexual desires, but also those inhabiting a sex other than that assigned at birth, as well as intersexed people. By this designation we emphasise the fact that these individuals were the objects of a politics of medico-legal regulation.

We invite approaches that look beyond conventional regulation. We welcome studies of queer subjectivities, analysing how it was possible to live them, understand them, express them. Such study can nourish a social history of the USSR as a diverse set of informal environments, and serve as a valuable indicator for understanding the emergence of the newly independent republics of the 1990s and their trajectory since then.

Vertical and horizontal histories of religion can assist us in understanding its role in framing queer subjects and dissent. We invite studies of approaches to queer subjects not only in Christianity (Russian, Georgian, Ukrainian Orthodox churches, and in the Catholic church on this territory including Uniate confessions, and Protestantism – but also of Islam and Judaism in the region.

This history will re-interrogate the role of experts whether medical, juridical, pedagogic in framing sexual and gender dissent. We seek to understand better the role of the family, of the school, of homosocial institutions like the army and prison, in perpetuating models of heterosexual masculinity and femininity. These influencers’ role in shaping heteronormativity through accommodations and resistances that illustrate the margins for manoeuvre merit further description.

Finally, thinking of the work of Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizelińska and others, we invite histories that question the teleological contours of so-called Western histories of sexuality. These histories will attend to the circulation of knowledge and of experiences at local, regional, and global levels at global “centres” and local “peripheries”, and acknowledge the opportunities and obstacles they encounter.

Homosociabilities and suspicions of homosexuality

Since the 1990s a rich historiography of “daily life under communism” has demonstrated that by studying individual experience as closely as possible, one may uncover individual agency in as people make use of the resources available in Soviet social structures

Women’s employment, always relatively high in the USSR than elsewhere brought with it greater financial autonomy, regardless of the economy of shortages. Such autonomy made it possible for some women to engage in homosexual relations. Men’s frequent absences including the postwar demographic absence allowed women to develop female solidarities. Women’s homosociability became significant in the USSR in the workplace and at home : single mothers received more state aid after the Second World War, enabling forms of female cohabitation. This homosociability could be reinvested by some women to give it a queer content, in the form of affective or sexual relations between women. We know very little about how such relationships were experienced, how women interiorised them, or what meaning they assigned to them. We also know little about how they were viewed by those around them at home or in the workplace, nor whether bystanders understood or were ignorant of the kind of relations they witnessed.

Today the invisibility that sheltered homosexual relations under the umbrella of homosociability is a topic of debate : the suspicion of homosexuality [in such relations] now appears more systematically for women as well as for men.

Homosociability in the army and prison

Crucible of Soviet citizenship, and locus par excellence of homosociability, the army was able to contribute to modelling sexuality around a fetishized hierarchy notably based on fixed gender roles, which did not denote belonging to a specific sex : a woman pilot could display the same “virile” courage as her male counterpart. However, like all homosocial sites, the army could shelter homosexual relations, consensual or non-consensual, although the historiography has been unable to illuminate the question due to the lack of accessible sources. In many republics in the 1990s the question of the social status of military institutions has come under question while the practice of hazing and dedovshchina with its undercurrent of same-sex sexual violence, remain little studied from queer perspectives.

While we know that negative representations of male and female homosexuality have come principally from the experience of violence in the penal world of the Soviet Gulag, new contributions could illuminate relations within these institutions. Moreover, new studies of our theme, taking into account advances in Gulag Studies informed by post-1991 archival and memoir sources, may allow contributors to make significant contributions to knowledge of Soviet queer subjectivities.

Religious and medical discourses

In the USSR perhaps because of the long-standing visibility of penal homosexuality to the authorities, the state associated homosexuality with the corruption of minors. [More recently,] the “propaganda” law of 2013 affects activists and adolescent queers directly by censoring information that authorities deem to be corrupting. In so doing the law renders perennial Soviet representations that fluctuate between the pathologising and the criminalising, between pedophilia and homosexuality. Meanwhile new post-Soviet religious arguments against sexual and gender diversity circulate with little studied effect.

We understand even less the nature of religious condemnation of homosexuality at the debut of the twentieth century. Better understood, however, are the pathologisation and the criminalisation of sexual and gender dissidents in the USSR ; but this description can be refined with reference to the development of late-Soviet criminology, psychiatry and other disciplines. As control intensified, possibilities for resistance made individual tactics realisable thanks to unexpected solidarities rather than collective strategies, which would not appear until the mid-1980s. Public debates about the criminalisation and pathologisation of sexual and gender dissidence scarcely began before the 1990s. Queer sociability relied upon spaces that sexual and gender dissidents acquired or forged for themselves, but such spaces were increasingly under threat in Russia and other independent republics, from the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Methods and practices of queer historical reconstruction

Almost thirty years after the opening of the archives in the former Soviet Union, our understanding of the queer material in those archives remains underdeveloped. In part this is because of the heteronormative information regime that constructed the archives. But that does not give us the right to ignore official archives. In our region as well, some archives and researchers are actively homophobic, and others simply do not know how to read queer materials.

Historians in Europe and elsewhere have shown how careful study of the “straight state’s” institutions, “reading against the grain,” and empathetic reading practices can generate new queer knowledge. Healey has called for more “queer eyes” in the archives of the former Soviet Union, arguing that there is still much to be gained by conventional historical study of these materials, if researchers are properly trained to look for them. Historians of queer Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union must take istochnikovedenie (the study of sources) seriously.

We welcome papers that consider methods and problems of historical reconstruction for queer researchers working in the former Soviet Union. These papers may be analytical surveys of a particular archive or set of documents, and their “framing” in the archival fonds and catalogues ; accounts of research in specific collections and the reading practices employed ; discussions of methodology related to conducting queer oral histories ; or other aspects of developing a “queer eye” for valuable material in our region.