The politics of in/visibility - Public space, collective agency and the creation of "lesbian" space in urban Russia
Central and East European Studies University of Glasgow Glasgow, UK
While the intimation to get "out of the closet, into the streets" has long been central to gay and lesbian politics, political strategies based on visibility and recognition have recently earned pride of place in queer activism (Fraser 1999; Richardson 2000). The aesthetisation of LGBT politics blurs the firm boundaries between consumer practices and political claims: indeed, visible urban "queer" space is often used to claim legitimacy and recognition for the whole LGBT community (Skeggs 1999; Moran and Skeggs 2004; Kates 2003).
However, some literature has questioned the subversive potential and inclusive character of the politics of visibility. The public avowal of one's sexual identity may be more central to the experiences of white middle class individuals based in cosmopolitan cities, who have greater access and entitlement to ?queer? space (Manalansan 1997; Taylor 2007; Fraser 1999). Some scholars have argued for the need to reappraise the role of the "global closet" as a universal mechanism of oppression for non-heterosexuals, particularly in non-Western, provincial and rural contexts, where visibility may not always be an empowering or viable strategy (Binnie 2004; Seidman et al. 1999; Jolly 2001).
This paper focuses on the activities of informal "lesbian/queer" networks in urban Russia, and explores the role of collective agency in appropriating public and semi-public urban space as "lesbian/queer". It draws on ethnographic data collected for a research project on non-heterosexual women's negotiation of everyday space. Fieldwork was conducted in Moscow, a global city with a lively gay scene, and in provincial Ulianovsk, a city of 700,000 in the Middle Volga region with no established "queer" space. My analysis problematises dichotomous notions of visibility/invisibility and political/consumer practices, and questions Western-centric assumptions about the emancipatory value of "outness" and authenticity.