-- a rendez-vous of political ideas, analyses and experience ... and more. Pilot Issue (Source: the Swiss lesbian magazine "die", Number 9, Fall 1998, pp.
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
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
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or through the Tusovka editors' collective.
I personally guarantee that the donations will reach the archive.