18 March 2013
Last week the English writer and actor Stephen Fry came to Saint Petersburg to make a BBC film about problems faced by LGBT communities around the world. He interviewed the MP Milonov and tweeted that ‘Milonov doesn’t seem to believe there are teenagers bullied and tormented for being gay’.
Really, so very often we hear, in everyday life and from government platforms: ‘Why do gays puff their orientation out? Do they have to babble on about what get up to in bed, so openly? They should tone it down a bit!’
‘Honestly, why do you have to tell anyone about your orientation, especially if it is non-traditional? It is so personal…It would be fine if it was just about the adults, but why do naïve young teenagers do it?’
This is why. When a person comes to realise their non-traditional sexual orientation or gender identity, they normally open up to one or several people. It is called coming out (a short version of ‘coming out of the closet’). Especially for those who believe that children ‘shouldn’t have a sexual orientation’: according to the research of Caitlin Ryan (State University of San Francisco, 2006), the average age of coming out among American teenagers is 13.
Even if research like that had ever been undertaken in Russia, it must have been kept very quiet. Probably it never happened. So, after I became interested in the topic, I surveyed 115 teens via a social network. This is not a huge sample, but enough to make some sort of conclusions. This [research] does not pretend to be scientific, but it does allow us to identify some key points.
The average age of coming out among those teens was 14.5 to 15 years. 106 out of the teenagers (93%) came out to at least one person, 8 others (7%) did not tell anyone about their orientation before contacting me.
Out of those who came out, 52 people (49%) told about themselves to relatives:
– both parents – 23
– just the mother – 19
– one relative, but not a parent – 6
– just the father – 2
– all relatives – 2
Teenagers come out more often outside of the family:
– acquaintances – 43
– several close friends – 23
– best friend – 22
– classmates – 7
– some teachers – 4.
Just 6 teens opened up to all their social circles, including parents; 5 more said that ‘everyone guesses that themselves, I don’t hide it’.
Why do teenagers confide in their friends most often? It’s all simple. They rarely push away the friends who’ve opened up to them.
Ksenia, Taganrog, 17: ‘Friends understood everything and they do not judge me’.
Liza, Moscow, 15: ‘A close friend of mine found out and was neutral about it’.
However, sometimes teenagers do find rejection among friends.
There are way fewer stories with a happy ending, when a child is not pushed away, among the stories of those opening up to parents. But those parents do exist.
Mark Lis [girl], Sevastopol, 16: ‘Mum found out herself. I don’t know how. She asked me if I loved a girl. I was sitting on a sofa, crying my heart out. I nodded. She hugged me and said that she will love me regardless of anything’.
Olga, Saint Petersburg, 14: ‘Mum knows, even my grandma and grandpa know! My mum is civilized, she is a mentor, takes it normally. She does joke about it sometimes, but she is still a shoulder to cry on, in case of a heartbreak! Grandma cringed for a bit, but she still feeds me pancakes. Granddad is a mentor, as well, he also reacted normally’.
However, as an overall figure, when a teenager opens up to relatives they are accepted and supported only in one case out of five. In other cases they are either rejected or encouraged to ‘mend’ themselves.
Parents ignore the teenager, forbid them to talk about their orientation, pretend that ‘nothing happened’ or don’t believe them. Relatives do more radical things, as well –forbid their child to have any contact with their beloved, take away cell phones, prevent them from going online, call the child sick or a pervert or take them to church. Some try to ‘cure’ the prodigal child at home through medications and hormones, others beat children up or threaten them with mental health asylums. They stalk the child and read their messages in social networks.
Yaroslav, Voronezh, 15: ‘Not long ago, on the 14th of February, I confessed to my mum that I am gay. She said that nobody has a sexual attraction at my age and that people develop only by the age of 18, and even then not fully! She refuses to believe me’.
Olya, Saint Petersburg, 17: ‘Mum became very angry and said many horrible words about my girlfriend. My older sister also knows. She believes in God and so she said that it is filth’.
Dasha, Ukraine, 16: ‘I told my dad. Now he thinks that I am sick’.
Karina, Krasnoyarsk, 17: ‘They locked me up in the house for a week. Said that I am psychologically ill, that I need to get cured; they want to send me to a mental health asylum’.
Andre [girl], Kharkov, 18: ‘Mother tried to ‘cure’ me – filled me up with oestrogen – and took me to church and psychologists…She treats me coldly’.
Very seldom do teenagers open up to teachers. However, in the vast majority of cases teachers help the children who ask for an advice. It seems that this is not connected necessarily to greater levels of tolerance among teachers, but stems from the fact that teenagers choose the right person to talk to – somebody who will not push them away.
Maria, Saint Petersburg, 17: ‘I opened up to our history and social sciences teacher. I am happy that I was bold enough to get it off my chest’.
Reasons for silence in the case of those teenagers who do not open up to anybody or keep their orientation a secret from their families are very similar.
A.[girl], Omsk, 17: ‘They’ll decide that I am a pervert, a drug addict and that I am leading a promiscuous life when they are not looking…’
Sasha [girl], Saint Petersburg, 16: ‘After all this noise in the press a conversation has been often started between us, but it always ends the same way: ‘if I find out anything like that about you I’ll kick you out of the house’. My mum reacts very sharply to anything like that’.
Alena, Yaroslavl, 17: ‘Nobody knows. It is safer for me and my girlfriend’.
Why do teenagers come out?
Dmitry, Belgorod, 17: ‘It is difficult to lie all the time’.
Sasha [girl], Saint Petersburg, 16: ‘It is tough to hide something from the people you spend most of your time with’.
Many of those who keep silent want to open up but do not do it.
Liza, Saint Petersburg, 17: ‘I will definitely open up to my family. It is easier that way. Though I am afraid. I am afraid for my health, afraid to spoil the relationship with my family and afraid to lose the roof above my head’.
Julia from Perm, 17, made a following point: ‘I believe that the people’s attitude to your orientation depends on yourself. If a person thinks of themselves as abnormal a negative reactions from those surround them is not surprising. While we are silent homophobia will still prevail in society’.
It is difficult to be silent, but it is even more difficult not to hide. Once they come out, teenagers most often encounter both psychological and physical violence. Out of the 115 surveyed only 19 (16.5%) said that it never happened. The other 96 (83.5%) responded that they regularly encounter all sorts of discrimination.
Physical violence was experienced by 12 respondents once, and by a further 3 more than once.
Psychological violence, such as insults, offensive comments and bullying were encountered by 68 respondents. 11 out of them received that treatment from teachers and the rest from classmates and parents. 9 respondents encountered threats; 9 more, rumours, gossip and jokes;another 6 described their experiences as ‘despising and non-acceptance’; 6 more, as ‘humiliation’ and a further 5 as ‘total boycott’.
Alice, Saint Petersburg, 14: ‘In one of the schools I went to all the girls were removed from desks around me on the insistence of their parents, who suspected that I am a lesbian’.
Anastasia, Serpukhov, 15: ‘They caught me with a club one evening and beat me up, bludgeoning my face. The second time it happened they sprayed some sort of acid into my eyes’.
Alice, Saint Petersburg, 15: ‘I am often humiliated at the place where I’m studying. They beat me and throw things at me. Put all sorts of rubbish into the pockets of my jacket. Teachers say that I am to blame’.
Every tenth teenager encounters insults from teachers.
Maria, Saint Petersburg, 17: ‘I was so disappointed in my geography teacher, after the phrases he once used during one lesson: ‘You have to be careful with what’s happening in the world, all sorts of faggots keep breeding’ or ‘how can you count nanajtsy [an informal name for members of a Russian pop-band; sounds very similar to names of some of the smaller peoples of Siberia – translator] as one of the Russian peoples? They are faggots!’…I came up to him after the lesson to talk about his non-professional behaviour. But he sent me away, saying that I ‘shouldn’t teach him’.
Having received these results I was not surprised to sum up the stats from the question, how do these teenagers see their future? 53% of the respondents want to leave the country because of their orientation, 16.6% more want to leave due to ‘other reasons’, a further 7.8% said that they ‘might leave’ and only 22.6% want to remain in Russia.
Why do teenagers want to immigrate?
Dasha, Omsk, 15: ‘I deserve to live in a state which does not pretend that I don’t exist’.
Anna Sh., Moscow, 17: ‘I want a family, a big and friendly family. It is impossible in Russia’.
Eugenie, Moscow, 13: ‘One day I would want to have children. I want to give them a bright future in a country where they wouldn’t be pointed at with words ‘phew, your mother’s a lesbian!’
So, coming out for LGBT teenagers is not ‘puffing out’, ‘boasting’ or ‘trying to win someone over to the dark side’. They are looking for support, help and understanding. They don’t want to lie to their friends, families and those close to them. They need to share it with somebody, to get some advice or simply to talk. This way LGBT-teenagers are no different from LGBT-adults, the reasons for coming out are usually very similar.
But every single one of them who opens up faces a difficult challenge – from simple dislike and having to ignore insults, offensive comments and being beating up. That’s why many are silent. Often teenagers do not open up and keep it all in themselves because they are crushed by the societies’ opinion and that of their parents. Nobody is inured to a surprising confession from their children, and not only children – from your neighbour, friend, colleague or acquaintance. Because so many are silent. Because opening up is not that easy and safe in Russia, with its politics of hatred of all and everything, and not only for those who love in the other way…
A specialist’s comment. ‘Opening up is necessary’.
Lev Tsheglov, doctor of medical sciences, professor, president of the national institute of sexology:
– Teenagers can realise their homosexuality in a very early age – as early as 11-12. According to the recommendation of World Health Organisation children are considered to be adolescents from the age of 11. They are past the romantic stage, when feelings do not have a physical element, by then the feelings are starting to acquire a physical aspect. These feelings in homosexual adolescents – fantasies or dreams – are expressed to somebody of their own gender. There are two options regarding the development of events after that. If a child does not know much, is lonely and frightened and has no one to talk to, he or she would start to feel that they are ‘not like others’ and would not understand what is happening to them. If an adolescent has more access to information about LGBT, they would realise their homosexuality and understand what it means.
Either way children would feel different and lonely. The teenage environment is harsh – kids like that often get insulting nicknames. Without proper information – or with negative information – homosexual teenagers will get anguished, strained or extremely nervous.
That’s exactly why opening up to somebody is necessary. It lowers down the level of strain and fear. But talking about oneself has to be with either a very close person who definitely will not push you away, or a professional.
Homophobia in modern Russian society is not spontaneous, it is organised and fuelled by these anti-human laws. Parents would be in a very difficult situation under these conditions. But it is necessary to be on the side of your children, and not that of archaic prejudices. If you find out that your child is homosexual the first thing to do is to consult a professional. In 90% of cases it is genuine homosexuality, and one in 10 it might be a tribute to fashion or an experiment.
If the adolescent is really homosexual the advice is very ordinary and simple – accept it. Yes, your child will have a more difficult life. Yes, they will have more problems. But they are not to blame for that. It doesn’t matter how often it is said that it is a sin, that it is curable or can be stopped: a blonde would not become a brunette. These prohibiting views are nothing but ignorance.
The original can be found here.