Health and Wellness

What’s it like to be transgender in Russia?

JUNE 22, 2013: Protesters in Berlin, Germany decry a Russian law prohibiting "gay propaganda"
JUNE 22, 2013: Protesters in Berlin, Germany decry a Russian law prohibiting "gay propaganda"Photo: Shutterstock

Transgender people in Russia are fighting for acceptance in the wake of 2013’s anti-gay propaganda law, facing both bureaucratic and medical challenges according to an exposé in the Moscow Times.

At current, Russia classifies transgender people as mentally ill, and while there are plans for classifications to shift next year to match World Health Organization guidelines, questions remain if this will actually happen.

“The Russian bureaucratic machine is very slow and clumsy,” said Transgender Legal Defense Project lawyer Tatyana Glushkova to the Moscow Times. Glushkova doesn’t have confidence in the government actually making the change.

At current, transgender people in Russia need to receive a diagnosis from a psychiatrist before they can access hormone treatment. Many opt to self-medicate.

Related: Oliver Stone defends his support for Russian law meant to persecute LGBTQ people 

Complicating things for Russian transgender people is Putin’s “Gay Propaganda” law, passed in 2013, which prohibits actions that might be viewed as promoting homosexuality to minors. While the law itself has proven ineffective, it has served as fuel for anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the country, leading to an increase in hate crimes.

One transgender person interviewed by the Moscow Times, 20-year-old Harry, moved to Moscow to escape threats of violence in a town in Russia’s far east that he would not name. He felt he had no choice but to move to the capital city.

“Either death there or move here to Moscow,” said Harry. “In my native town, I had to act, to be someone else. Although I was wearing unisex clothes, I suffered from violence.”

He now lives in the only shelter for LGBTQ people in the country.

Another transgender Russian interviewed for the piece, Irma, is a 43-year-old trans woman who had fought with the government for seven years to get her documentation changes. 

Even after she received her diagnosis, the Registry Office was unwilling to change her paperwork, only doing so after she had genital reassignment surgery — a move she did not seek.

“Transgender life in Russia — these words are incompatible in one sentence,” said Irma.

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