Please welcome S.L. Lahna to The Qwillery! The Silver Bullet Affair, The Bulletproof Spy #1, was published on March 15th.
Queer Culture in Russia: a Brief History
Alright, I’m going to kindly ask my American readers here to take everything you think you know about Russia’s stance on the LGBT community and throw it into a trash can. What you see today is not how it has always been, and not even close to how it began.
Before the Soviets and Stalin and the Bolshevik Revolution, we have the Tsars. The Tsarist period of queer history is its foundation, and while so much is wrong with the Tsarist rule for commoners, being gay during this time period is pretty damn good. At this point in history, there are no laws against homosexuality. It is seen within the culture to be rude and overbearing for a man to constantly want to have sex with his wife. She has better things to do. The notion of women having a sex drive then is ludicrous. But you can’t have sex with another woman, that’s cheating and the Russian Orthodox Church will have a very unpleasant punishment for you should it come out.
What do you do? You go to the local bathhouse and sleep with male prostitutes. Which is completely legal.
The only known sodomy laws were part of the church, and they were so mild in consequence that it was barely a slap on the wrist. There were no public trials or shaming whatsoever involved in the few who came forward.
Peter the Great doesn’t attempt to draft sodomy laws until after his great tour of Europe. When he returns in 1698, his conclusion is that while a law of some sort should be put into place, naming the thing may cause it to spread. To put it simply: Peter the Great is in such denial about the already thriving homosexual subculture in Russia that he believes he writes a law saying sodomy is prohibited, people will realize that sodomy is a thing they can do and then go do it. And so, the first true law prohibiting sodomy is drawn up and reads that “unnatural shamelessness” is prohibited.
This law remains in place for over 186 years. The 1835 criminal code prohibits consensual sodomy on punishment of exile to Siberia. Aggravated sodomy, which was defined as any case of sodomy or under force or the abuse of a position of power, was prohibited on punishment of exile with hard labor.
This lasts less than a hundred years; sodomy becomes decriminalized after the Bolshevik Revolution during the first Bolshevik criminal code in 1922.
So, what does all of this add up to?
It means that homosexuality in Russia has a solid foundation of being both religiously and morally acceptable. You can see this during the dialogue of when homosexuality becomes decriminalized; the mutual agreement by lawmakers is that homosexuality is a private matter and what citizens decide to do in a consensual manner in their own bedrooms is no one’s business but their own.
Journals from 1925 to 1927 estimated that over 5,000 queer men were living in Moscow during that time, with even larger numbers in St. Petersburg, which was regarded as the true center for queer subculture.
However, LGBT subculture was not only limited to cities. Diary accounts detail men from farming villages entering cities and immediately assimilating themselves into the queer culture present there; they know the signals, meeting places, and exactly what to say without having to ask a soul, which astonished Russian doctors and psychologists who were trying to understand where queer culture came from. Was it the cities? Was it the Tsars? What? Later it was even theorized that the Soviets created homosexuality. However, these research leaders were equally outweighed by those who believed that homosexuals posed no threat to society or issue to anyone; this is why the laws regarding homosexuality go back and forth depending on the ruler at the time period.
The answer to the question no medical practitioner or politician could solve was simple, but it wasn’t the one anyone wanted to acknowledge: LGBT culture existed in Russia from the start. And that means that when we go to write characters in Russia at any time period, we have to take in account that the shame we may encounter as Americans is not the same as in Russia; it is far less.
And that’s why its important to never go into a writing project with your own Americanized views on other cultures. Because unless you’re specifically educated on it via college level courses, you can almost certainly get it wrong.
To learn more about the growth and development of queer culture in Russia, you can check out the wonderfully put together and thoroughly researched Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia by Dan Healey. And if you’d like to see this history come to life through a quick ass queer Russian spy, check out the Silver Bullet Affair book one in the Bulletproof Spy series.
The Silver Bullet Affair
The Bulletproof Spy #1
March 15, 2018, eBook
Cover art: Dante Saunders
The year is 1965, and Alan Gable is the best spy America doesn’t know they have. Operating off books and outside the law, Alan has been tasked to do the impossible—get inside a laboratory in Moscow, get the Russian’s lead nuclear scientist, and get out, all without the KGB ever knowing he was there. No human could do it.
But Alan isn’t human.
Yulian’s life is perfect. A top counter-intelligence agent for the KGB, favored by the head of Section 1. His best friend is happily awaiting his first child. His indiscretions have remained discreet.
Until Dr. Tamm and his entire lab goes missing, and Yulian’s life starts to unravel.
The only way to survive long enough to get the bottom of the mystery is for Alan and Yulian to work together. If they can survive each other that is.
A madcap mashup of Hellboy and The Man From Uncle, The Silver Bullet Affair is a winning combination of espionage and the supernatural, an action-packed novella from start to finish lead by LGBT characters. Fans of the genre who’ve grown weary of the same old James Bond song and dance will find a new series to love with the Bulletproof Spy.
S. L. Lahna goes by they pronouns and knows way too much about Weird Things and Cold War history. Will tell you all of the reasons why James Bond is Wrong. They are hard at work on various novels for teens and adults. Some are about asexual magicians and their demonic mentors, some are about mentally-ill monster hunters, some are about pansexual teenage boys trying to survive a horror movie. Their day job is tearing apart books for money as a freelance editor at Word Vagabond. The Bulletproof Spy series is their debut novella.