When Nina stopped by the office with their daughter, a local colleague of Katya’s asked, “Is this your daughter? ” She was addressing both women as though two women raising a child together were the ordinary phenomenon it is in much of the world. “She had no idea what kind of gift she was giving us,” Katya said. “When we leave Russia, we relearn the habit of holding hands in public. ” But fear is a habit that lodges itself in one’s brain. “I was watching ‘13 Reasons Why,’ ” Katya said, referring to a television series that features a couple of gay teen-age characters. “I keep thinking that they are about to get beaten up. But nothing happens.
Simply moving, the way a lot of well-off Russians have, is not an option: Latvia, which grants E. U. -resident status to people who invest more than two hundred and fifty thousand euros in property there (and where a lot of Russians have established residency in the last five years), doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, so Marina and Lyudmila couldn’t move as a family; Spain, another popular destination, requires too large an investment. “Also, we don’t want to leave,” Lyudmila said. “We like it here.
For fear of having him find out that they are a couple, the women have hired a nanny from the Philippines. (There is a considerable number of Filipino migrants in Moscow, many of them engaged in domestic work. ) “She doesn’t speak Russian,” Katya explained, “so she is not going to hang out and chat with other nannies on the block.
Location is important: central Moscow is more cosmopolitan and more tolerant than the rest of the city, and the presence of another lesbian family nearby provides a sense of comfort. “We feel safe because we live in the [city] center, we have a supportive social circle, and we have money,” Marina said. “It’s hard for me to imagine what life is like for people who are missing at least one of these three components.
Why haven’t they left yet, then? “It’s hard to be a refugee,” Nina said. “I say this as someone who has been working with refugees since the age of seventeen, as a volunteer. ” (As a teen-ager, Nina founded a school for refugee children in Moscow. “In my field, I’d have to descend three rungs down the career ladder,” Katya added. “And it’s scary to go into uncertainty.
Both women say that they assume that they will leave the country eventually. “But not until Putin barges into the apartment brandishing a Cossack whip,” Katya said. “But we have done everything to insure that, if he does, we can keep the door locked and, the next morning, board an airplane,” Nina added.
Mandrykina enjoys a peculiar perspective on emigration: she often sells the apartments of people who are leaving, but she also helps those who are staying invest in real estate. “In 2013–14, I was selling a lot of apartments of people who were leaving the country, mostly going to the West,” she said. “Three or four years ago, I was planning to leave myself, because so many people were leaving.
Nina is out at her job as a television executive, but Katya, who is a high-powered tax attorney in the Moscow office of a multinational company, is closeted at work. “The office is full of homophobes,” she said. “It’s like living in Channel One. ” She was referring to one of the Russian state’s main propaganda channels, which constantly spews homophobic rhetoric.
Even if the choice seemed inevitable to me, most of my queer friends have stayed. https://t.co/IfNMRePlDq— Allure (@Allure_magazine) June 11, 2019