The book Gay Propaganda, edited by Masha Gessen and Joseph Huff-Hannon, provides a platform from which LGBT Russian voices can be heard. Gay Propaganda includes stories form gay couples raising their children, people living in exile to escape the anti-LGBT climate, advocates who have been arrested, and LGBT people from all walks of life.
The following excerpt from Gay Propaganda tells the story of Olga and Maria, a couple who met at a psychology seminar. They told their story to Masha Charnay.
Seven years ago, Olga, a psychotherapist, traveled to the Crimea for an intensive summer seminar in Gestalt therapy. Olga was 27, married, with a 4-year-old daughter. There were over one hundred participants in the seminar. The majority of them were clients who had come for psychotherapy. Among them was 28-year-old Maria, an artist working as a designer in Moscow. She’d been suffering from a case of unrequited love for a woman who wasn’t available. She came to the Crimea in order to turn over a new leaf.
OLGA: I came to the seminar, as Vladimir Ilych Lenin said, to “study, study, and study more.”
I arrived a day early and settled into my hotel room. We were two to a room. I was supposed to have a roommate. The next day, when I was coming back from the beach, I heard the other participants arriving from Moscow. They were very loud as they moved in, and from the next room, I heard this voice.
Because of my background in music–I graduated from the vocal department of the Gnessin Academy of Music–the sound of a person’s voice is important to me. I didn’t see who was talking, I just heard their voice, and it didn’t matter to me whether it was a man or a woman. Everything inside of me turned upside down. I really wanted to see who it was. It turned out that my room shared a balcony with the one next door.
MARIA: It became our meeting spot.
OLGA: That evening, my roommate and I bought some Crimean wine and decided to make friends with our neighbors on the balcony. That was the first time I saw Maria.
MARIA: My first impression of Olga was that she was cold. I was kind of wary around her. I didn’t want to get close to her, especially when I found out that she was married and had a daughter. I’d come to the seminar in order to figure out why I was always choosing unavailable women. I knew that she was not at all what I needed.
OLGA: The next day, when the clients were assigned to their therapists, I found out that Maria was supposed to be my client. I was horrified. I went to the administrator and said that I couldn’t be Maria’s therapist because I was in love with her. She asked me when we had met. I said, “Yesterday.” She then asked whether anything had happened between us. I said, “No, but it will.” She tried to find another option, but she wasn’t able to. So I had to go and fulfill my duties as a therapist.
MARIA: I really liked the way Olga worked. First and foremost, I saw what a strong therapist she is. She really helped me. When we met outside of therapy, she could come up to me and touch my hair, and I saw that she was interested in me. She would sing a song, and it would turn out to be my favorite song. She liked the grey hair on my temples. We were leading two lives: our life as client and therapist, and our relationship outside of therapy.
OLGA: Then the seminar was over. After we had fulfilled all our duties, she came to me.
MARIA: This time, I wasn’t going to pass up what had come to me. I climbed over the barrier onto her part of the balcony, sat down in front of the open door, and started watching her change. I wasn’t hiding my presence: it was more of a provocation.
OLGA: I saw her and thought: “The therapy was successful!” I responded to her call. That was the first night we spent together.
MARIA: We saw each other again when we got back to Moscow. Several days later, when Olga was at her father’s birthday party, she sent me a message that said that she’d told her parents that she was going to get a divorce.
OLGA: My husband and I had a bad relationship. For the previous two years, I’d been attempting to save the marriage for the sake of our daughter. If it weren’t for her, we would have broken up ages ago. We started splitting up our property and I moved my daughter into my parents’ house. I had to work a lot to buy out his share of the apartment. Maria really supported me. But it all took time, and for five years I had two homes: one with Maria and one with my daughter. I couldn’t move my daughter in with me and Maria for a long time because I wanted to be certain that I would be moving her into a stable situation.
MARIA: We couldn’t have moved her in earlier because we were both working a lot. I was saving to have my own child. I really wanted children and knew that I wanted to do everything I could to make it happen. We started trying to conceive a year after we met. Three years later, I was pregnant. Two-and-a-half years ago, I had a son. After he was born, Olga was finally certain that her daughter should be living with us.
OLGA: That was when she was transitioning from elementary to middle school. I decided that since she was going to be changing schools anyway, it was the most logical time for her to move. Since then, we’ve all lived together.
MARIA: When they started discussing the law about taking away the children of same-sex couples, I got scared. How would I defend myself and my children? We called a lawyer we knew and tried to figure out how much a law like that would affect us. We considered emigrating.
We worked so hard to be together and have a right to our lives. We tested our love with care and patience. Now someone is telling us that all of this is subject to penalties or other dangers.
My son won’t have a father. This upsets me as it is. But this is the way I am and it’s all I can give him. That is my choice; my cross to bear. I will definitely ask his forgiveness for not giving him a choice. But I don’t want anyone else blaming me for this.
OLGA: Because we’re not allowed to get legally married, we have “unsanctioned” weddings. They’re spontaneous. We had a wedding in Verona where we hung a little lock by Juliette’s house. Everyone clapped for us and cried: “Hooray!” We also had weddings in Ryazan and Suzdal. In Moscow, we had a wedding with a limo and doves.
MARIA: Olga is the kind of woman you want to give the stars to. Our family is the most important thing in my life. It is always changing. Our plans change, the number of children we have gets bigger. But I know for sure that I adore Olga.
OLGA: I used to think that marriage and strong feelings didn’t go together. Thanks to Maria, I am finally living the life I’d always dreamed of.