Russia’s Campy Cultural Blind Spot

by Brendan James

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Olga Khazan puzzles over how Russians enjoy and support flamboyant pop stars despite their society’s widespread homophobia:

One theory holds that the success of such performers in Russia today is an extension of a type of dandyism that’s been prevalent in Russian theater and music for centuries. Popular variety shows feature men (and women) who act out zany, satirical sketches, often with the help of puppets, miming, dancing, and the occasional use of drag for comedic effect. The historic appreciation of these types of colorful displays, combined with Russians’ love of ballet and opera, means effeminate or even drag performances aren’t generally associated with homosexuality, explained Boris Dralyuk, a lecturer in Russian literature at UCLA.

Stephen Amico, who is writing a book about homosexuality and Russian pop, said Russians in smaller cities have told him that they like the pizazz of gender-bending acts, which seem to brighten an otherwise dreary provincial existence. Older women in particular seem to love Moiseev for his emphasis on beauty and tenderness — two aspects that were lacking in Soviet life. Amico’s personal theory, though, is that Russians simply need an outlet to escape the binary heterosexuality that’s been imposed on them. The law says you can’t promote gay rights, but you sure as heck can rock out to a indefatigable drag queen.