Mykki Blanco reflects on performing in Putin’s Russia

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“I feel for Moscow because of how misunderstood that city is.”

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Liz Pelly | November 17, 2014

This past weekend, hours before Mykki Blanco was set to perform in Moscow at a club called Solyanka, the venue had been raided by riot police in a situation that “may or may not have [had] to do with my performance and Russia’s anti gay propaganda laws,” Blanco wrote on Facebook. According to the post, Solyanka had long been regarded as a subversive space in Moscow “with more right wing groups expressing discontent for years because it provided one of the only underground and alternative spaces for music and culture.”

According to a representative from Russia’s Federal Agency for State Property Management, the club was raided over financial debts to the city that have been causing conflicts since 2013, reports  News.ruBut as Dazed points out, an extremist Eastern Orthodox anti-LGBT group called God’s Will were rumored to be aggressively protesting the Mykki Blanco show. The leader of God’s Will, Dmitry Enteo, quickly chimed in with a repulsive tweet supporting the shutdown of the club: “The perverts of Solyanka thought they can get away with everything? It’s important for everyone to understand that without respecting Eastern Orthodox faith and the family, you cannot work in Russia,” he tweeted. Dazed says that members of God’s Will have also assaulted Pussy Riot supporters at protests.

Despite everything, Mykki Blanco has expressed nothing but love for Moscow. In said Facebook post, he spent about 1,000 words reflecting on the complexity of playing a place like Russia, where as you may know, President Vladimir Putin signed an aggressively oppressive anti-LGBT “propaganda law” in 2013.  Blanco has performed in Putin’s Russia four times since the law was passed, and part of his recent mixtape Gay Dog Food was recorded there with producer Sasha Dza.

Blanco deconstructs some of the more nuanced aspects of his experiences in Russia, quickly addressing the concept of whether or not he is “brave” for performing there. He points out the differences between his experiences and the realities that exist for people who are transgender: Though I do not ever shed my ‘queerness’ for my performances there … I have to face that fact that my experience of Russia is dictated by my MALE PRIVILEGE not my QUEERNESS and certainly not by any TRANS IDENTIFYING REALITY,” he writes.

Blanco reflects on various memories of Russia over the years, and how experiences in Moscow have differed from experiences in other Russian cities, picking apart how its possible to really feel love for such a complicated place. “I feel for Moscow because of how misunderstood that city is,” he writes. It’s a powerful note. Read it in full below, or on Blanco’s Facebook page, where he has also spent the weekend posting photos and videos from his numerous trips to Russia (including the picture above).

I left Moscow yesterday at 3:30 am immediately after my concert. As you know earlier that morning I had arrived in Moscow and by mid afternoon when usually I would be resting before the show I was being bombarded with news that the club I was performing in had been raided by riot police and that the situation may or may not have to do with my performance and Russia’s anti gay propaganda laws. As it turns out the club “Solyanka” previous to anything having to do with me had been a much disputed venue for some time with more right wing groups expressing discontent for years because it provided one of the only underground and alternative spaces for music and culture in Moscow. Multiple Russians I met that night in Moscow had expressed how shocked and hurt they were that Solyanka was after all this time being closed and many told me how they had practically “grown up” in that space and in the environment and culture that it nourished.

I have performed in “Putins Russia” 5 times now, once in 2012 nearly 4 months before the Gay Propaganda laws were passed and 4 times since. I also recorded part of my fall mixtape “Gay Dog Food” there with producer Sasha Dza. Many have asked how I could feel safe or even why I would risk performing in a country where I could be jailed for simply being who I am and to be honest I had rationalized the situation in many different aspects. Obviously during the day it would not be a good idea or really “okay” for me to cross dress publicly that I had accepted and knew which was fine with me because though when Mykki Blanco began I was living much of 2012 and 2013 cross dressing everyday I still in fact have never been “transgender” and though I have had experiences that I feel mirror what the transgender reality is I still have always had the ability to “take off my trans-ness with the wipe of a makeup swab and the removal of a wig” I still have never occupied a transgender body and so while I have lived a queer trans identifying lifestyle through appearance that is still not in my opinion the same as really truly living ALL of the implications of being transgender.

People have said I’m “brave” for continuing to show my support of Russian LGBT youth/persons and performing visiting the country but if I were actually transgender, if I wasn’t able to shed the skin of that reality would I actually be safe there at all? Would it be “brave” or merely “foolish” for me to think I would not be harassed…. Would I be free to so easily go to the beach or go hiking, dance in the bars or walk around the streets taking photos, drinking beer under highway overpasses, experiencing the freedom that my birth male body gives me….. I do not think so… and so I do not think its brave.

Though I do not ever shed my “queerness” for my performances there ie (my makeup, my wig, my choice of clothing, my costumes, my body language, the “show girl” elements of my punk rap show) I have to face that fact that my experience of Russia is dictated by my MALE PRIVILEGE not my QUEERNESS and certainly not by any TRANS IDENTIFYING REALITY.

I’m a tall skinny black guy covered in tattoo’s who many because of the sheer fact that I am covered in tattoo’s do not assume for whatever stereotyping that I am gay. I am able to slip under the radar to infiltrate like a spy, to go through airport security and passport checkpoints and the like without anyone blinking an eye. This past Friday in Moscow was the first time I have had ANY trouble of ANY kind in Russia and to be honest with much reflection now I feel it had little to do with RUSSIA and EVERYTHING TO DO WITH MOSCOW.

St Petersburg, Vladivostok & Nihzhy Novogrod where I have performed in Russia have all had extremely different attitudes than those I’ve faced in Moscow much more open with almost no feelings of a “police state” or “watch dog” atmosphere places I would call “relaxing” “tranquil” and “cosmopolitan”… and even when I performed in Moscow in 2012 before the laws were passed the city still had much more of a tension to it than anywhere else. Moscow is the capital and the country’s political and economic home so it really should come as no surprise that ANYTHING of a political or transgressive nature would be heightened there…

OH RUSSIA you mean so many different things to so many different people….. but what do you mean to me?……..You are the other dimension that I have had the chance to spend so much time in, the fabled and vilified dreamland

When I think of Russia I think of the secret gay house parties I have been too kissing boys drunk on vodka and caviar… I think of smoking weed in the Siberian forests and stumbling drunk in the Russian ghetto’s with my straight male friends. I think of going to the underground Russian gay clubs packed with muscle bound men in skin tight shirts and emo twinks softly gyrating to ear splitting trance.. seeing 6’3 Glam Queens perform in thigh high boots and polyester wrap dresses like a Pre-Aids New York I never experienced. I remember having to run from the club to the car because gay bashing thugs had started a fight in the parking lot outside. I think about being embraced arm over arm collapsed on the beach reeking of booze and cooked fish listening to Gucci Mane on an iPhone and being told affectionately “I love USA “Negry” People, they so much more nice than the USA white people” (Negry meaning Black). I think about talking, flirting on gay social apps and sites like Grindr and Planet Romeo, exchanging pictures but being too afraid to actually meet given the horror stories of false profiles being used to lure gays into traps where they are humiliated. I think of my friend Sasha’s mother’s cooking and how she made sure I was fed mulitple times round the clock in the comfort of her home.

Russia is more to me than Moscow and I feel for Moscow because of how misunderstood that city is… really maybe I love Russia so much because I can relate to it’s “outsider status”, because the west is afraid of it, because of all of the preconceived notions and rumors because I relate to the feelings of alienation from the USA, the mistreatment, the provocative attitudes, the hypocrisy’s of America, how I feel my art, my music my identity are still not really understood here in the USA but scattered with my pockets of fans across the world.

I see in Russia pieces of myself and through self love I in turn love Russia.

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