Tusovka -- a rendez-vous of political ideas, analyses and experience ... and more.
Pilot Issue 

(Source: the Swiss lesbian magazine "die", Number 9, Fall 1998, pp. 6-8)

Interview with Jelena G.

Anne Bütikofer spoke with Jelena G. in Moscow. Jelena G. is the initiator of the B.L.G. (Biblioteka Lesbijanok I Geev/Library for lesbians and gay men, or Library of Lena G.).

Lena, how did you start working on this archive?

Well, I have always been interested in the subject of homosexuality, and when at the end of the 80ies, beginning of the 90ies, so many articles on it were published in the press, I began to collect all the material on that topic. Words like "lesbian" or "gay" then appeared for the first time in the Russian media - now not only in medical-scientific books or in the criminal code! I was very interested to see how this topic was approached by journalists, medical doctors, sexologists and heterosexual people who probably came across these terms for the first time.

What made you decide to make your material publicly accessible?

In February 1990 there was a press conference (held by Jevganija Debrjanskaja, Roman Kalinin and others to announce the magazine TEMA and the decision to found a Moscow association of sexual minority). At that moment I realized for the first time how important it would be for all these people to have a place where they could meet and speak to each other free from worries. There we had a lot of people gathered in one place, who barely knew each other but were connected among each other through one common problem - their sexual orientation and their adapting to society. They belonged to completely different social segments, were of different ages and had different education, but all of them were moved by the same wish - to meet like-minded people! So I had the idea of arranging a kind of lecture room.

How could you finally realize this idea? Were you on your own?

Well, that was indeed not so easy. The greatest problem at first was to find an appropriate room. When in the summer of 1993 the organization Treugol'nik (Triangle: center for lesbian, gay men and bisexuals) was founded and started really working, the activists of that center offered me space for all of my material at their center. They gave me a room, gave me the possibility to work there, and helped with all sorts of other things. The center itself already had a small archive of its own, which they as a matter of course they handed over to me.

Was your reading room really used, then? What kind of people came there?

Indeed, a lot of very different people came. Here, a lot of like-minded people could get to know each other and at last speak freely about homosexuality and find information. For most young people here in Russia it is still unthinkable to ask for such material at a normal public library . And it was not entirely easy to buy gay magazines, which have been published in Russia since the beginning of the 90ies, because they were available only in sex-shops and in selected kiosks. First of all you had to know where you could buy them, and then you don't necessarily always go into a sex-shop to buy a magazine - not to mention that they are expensive . At my archive in the center, however, they could use all these magazines without fear, without being looked at. By the way, many young women also came from Germany: students who worked here and were collecting material. They worked extensively with the archive - they knew about it from somewhere. Once a young man from the gay museum in Berlin dropped by, so even they knew about it!

But now the Treugol'nik center does not exist any longer .

That's right, after the funds Treugol'nik had gotten from the ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) were spent, the organization was unable to pay the rent for the rooms, and I had to pack my material into cardboard boxes and temporarily store at my house and with acquaintances. For more than a year I was looking for some publicly accessible place where I could store all that - but such a place could not be found. Noone was interested in the material, since the organization is really in no way commercial, i.e., we could not guarantee anybody an income, and I also don't want to draw any profit from it. I did not want to hand the collection to some normal public library, either, because in this way I would just have made it inaccessible. Because of the insufficient financial resources the situation of the public libraries in Russia is extremely difficult, and this is why even the most common archive are in a desolate state - in the best of cases, my collection would have been packed into boxes and would have landed in some dark, dusty and probably locked room. But my collection must be worked with all the time.

How did the library finally get here?

After some one and a half years a few people were finally found who decided to give us continuous financial support. They created a sort of sponsors' board which advises them about our financial problems and raises money. They have rented this one-room apartment for us from their own pockets, and we have installed the library here. Of course it would also be very important for us to have some money available to regularly buy magazines, books and newspapers, for at the moment we have to be content with gifts from friends and with the things I buy myself sometimes.

The library is now quite far from the city center, though, and is not so easy to find. How do people who are interested find out about its existence at all?

For one, the information about the library is available on the internet or from the Dyke club, and of course all the old activists from Treugol'nik are well informed about the work in the archive. In fact many people turn to them, since Treugol'nik was very well know and was after all the only openly accessible center for lesbians and gay men. The people ask the old activists what has remained of it all.

Do really many people come here?

Of course it is much more complicated to come here than before in the center of Treugol'nik, and in addition we have decided to accept visitors only one day a week, because it is a private apartment. But each time the archive is open, some 5 to 10 people drop by - this is how many we can provide space for . They call me at home beforehand, or here in the library, and we discuss when is the best time for them to come here. I should say, by the way, that the archive has not been available in this apartment for a long time yet, i.e., the people are only starting to hear about it.

Do you know of other similar archives in Russia?

I only know that there are similar collections - e.g., the GENDER library of Viktor Oboin. He regularly publishes the bulletin "Zerkalo" (The Mirror), and I have worked with him earlier and published the first three issues of the bulletin. However, his library is not publicly accessible, and I do not know of any other publicly accessible library.

What does your library consist of, concretely?

First of all I have made an effort to have at least one copy available of each issue of the Russian homosexual press, which gradually spread after the first magazine TEMA came out it 1990. Then, there is what I call the archive - newspaper clippings from the general press which in some way touch upon homosexuality, e.g., homosexuality and art, the army, criminality, the church, feminism, lesbianism, etc., but also the topics transsexuality and transvestism. In addition, I have a small collection of subculture literature - the texts are mostly direct gifts from the authors. Finally there is also foreign literature on the subject - gifts from our foreign friends, but for me the most important thing is to collect everything there is in Russian language, because by far not all our visitors are willing to read something in a foreign language .

How have you found to your own lesbian identity?

Well, I am now 50 years old, and I must say that I perceived myself as a lesbian very early on. Unfortunately it oddly turned out that although I have been living with a woman for some years already, I have never been able to completely identify with my being a lesbian. I just lacked the right environment and the right people with whom one could have talked about this subject. The strangest thing was certainly that my girlfriend and I never touched on the topic. Although I cannot say that I have been exposed to any persecution at any time, I can just as little say that my sexual orientation has never preoccupied me - the topic of sexuality, whether hetero- or homosexual, was however a complete taboo. This means that I was indeed lacking possibilities for debate and discussion, and that is precisely the reason why I started to get involved with the topic of homosexuality as soon as it was possible. People like me should in the future have the opportunity to live a complete life - that life which was given to them by nature. They want to feel normal with their sexual orientation and also be able to go ahead and make contact with like-minded people! If that was still so enormously important for me with 40 years, how important it must be for young people who are perhaps confronted for the first time with their seemingly so odd sexual orientation and the defying attitude of the society linked to it, to have such places of refuge where they can feel normal.

Interview: 26 February 1998

It would be very nice if now some women felt concerned after reading this interview and would like to contribute to the continuing existence of the archive. Thus if someone wants to help the archive financially or through donation of books, please contact the author over e-mail (chydo@mailcity.com) or through the Tusovka editors' collective. I personally guarantee that the donations will reach the archive.

We are eager for comments and suggestions!
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Tusovka: Pilot Issue / Interview with Jelena G. / tusovka@savanne.ch
Last updated 1999-02-15