Sex in a Foreign City
Part I. The Dark
All the names have been changed beyond recognition. All feelings are made up. All memories are false. The images are generated by a neural network. Any coincidence with reality is accidental.
translated by Anton Klimovich
A man, a boy, a guy, a dude, a girl, a comrade is a person assigned male at birth at the age between 18 and 45 years.
A girl friend is a close person assigned male or female at birth.
“Is it true that you have sex in Kiev? It’s the only thing Moscow’s living rooms gossip about,” writes Gleb Semenova, a girl friend and colleague who fled to Warsaw from the criminal prosecution of the Belarusian authorities, after three months of my stay in Kiev. We exchange a dozen jokes and puns, then Gleb asks almost seriously: “Tell me, why did people suddenly begin to want you? Has transphobia been abolished in the LGBT community? What magic do you use?” My girl friend is being ironic (and, let’s be honest, in reality is using harsher words): neither Gleb nor I identify as transgender, which does not prevent men who are sometimes not familiar with basic gender concepts from easily classifying us as such, based on their ideas about how a man should look like.
Gleb asks this question for a reason, because for him the absence of sex due to the reason mentioned above is the same trauma as it is for me. But for me, a lot has really changed when I moved to Kiev. And I answer that I have been conducting research on this mysterious phenomenon for a couple of months now and am writing a text about it (which you are reading now). But first thing’s first.
I never thought that I would leave Belarus. I couldn’t imagine what exactly was going to happen that would make me leave. Since August, like many people, I have lived in constant tension and fear, often woke up in a panic from noises on the stairwell, never picked up the intercom and often looked out from the window to know no one’s there before leaving the house. At the same time, I had no idea that this could be a reason for emigration; I perceived it as temporary precautions while the political regime was changing.
The situation abruptly deteriorated in February, when searches began to take place in the flats of my close friends, including the most apolitical ones or those who do not even live in Belarus. Then it became clear that the darkest times had come, and I agreed to an offer from my friends to wait out a month or two in Kiev. I left, taking with me a pair of sweaters and underpants, in absolute confidence that this was another temporary measure, but I did not return to Belarus again.
Now I am writing this text, sitting on a balcony with a pleasant view in a small cozy studio in the center of Kiev. I have enough good friends for various forms of leisure, I have just received a residence permit in Ukraine and got a job. In general, I feel quite comfortable and satisfied now. But at the time of my arrival in Kiev, everything was different.
I found myself in a zone of turbulence as soon as I got off the plane in Boryspil. I could not relax and just have some rest for a while in Kiev, because every day the news from Belarus was becoming worse and worse, my situation and my future fate were unclear to me. The plan for a quick return to Belarus was questionable, and I did not think about a long stay in Ukraine. I was in absolute uncertainty.
I remember that I really liked falling asleep knowing that no one would break down my door in the middle of the night, and if someone does, the main thing is that it will not be the Belarusian police. But it was very difficult for me to wake up, because I didn’t know what to do when I woke up. I remember going to a store. In Minsk, I never went to the store every day and even bought beer for a few days in advance. Here I made it my daily ritual which confirmed the fact of my existence.
I had enough friends in Kiev, but, oddly enough, I almost never met anyone, constantly feeling guilty for this and not understanding why I don’t do it if I feel so bad. Now it seems to me that I just didn’t want to accept the fact that everything will be different now. I corresponded with my Minsk friends every day, creating the illusion of their presence nearby, because I already felt that I would not return, but I did not want to admit it.
But there was also something interesting and pleasant in the new circumstances of my life which absolutely perplexed me. My incoming messages in a dating app called Hornet. From the first day of my stay in Kiev, I did not understand what was happening. First of all, I have absolutely never met such a number of guys who attract me in any country in the world. Secondly, this is even more accurate information, I have never received so much attention from them in any country in the world.
I had a feeling that Kiev, for inexplicable reasons, is some kind of gray zone not penetrated by the homonormativity ruling all over the world. It’s as if the city is covered with a dome protecting it from the information that guys like me, according to international homonormative standards and agreements, should not be attractive to the type of guys who write to me. At the same time, these guys themselves followed these standards as much as possible. Their haircuts, clothes, angles, poses, their general vibe — not aggressive, but hinting at a certain exclusivity — everything was standard, everyone was the same, as in the rest of the world.
I’m talking about a special type of boys, who, among others, are my special weakness, although ideologically we are probably on opposite sides. These are guys with a typical conventionally beautiful appearance or with an illusion of it, imitating the most popular male role models, like guys from boy bands or famous sex symbols. As a rule, such boys like only each other and form pairs, in which it is sometimes difficult to understand that these people are not twins or even relatives.
I received more and more messages from such guys, and at first I seriously believed that they were making fun of me, but when the number of handsome interlocutors exceeded the second or third dozen, I stopped suspecting them of a conspiracy and tried to start structuring them somehow.
There were so many and each of them seemed to be an unexpected, funny and exclusive gift that I really started to sort them, make lists, arrange in order of priority, not to forget anybody and to make it easier to navigate, so that one day when I will get stronger and feel alive, I will indulge myself with such wonder, like sex with a person whom I like. At that time, I still did not understand that this was exactly what Kiev planned to use as a distraction from the horror I came from, and mitigate the emigration that I denied at that time.
My first real contacts with men began in clubs. During the week, I went to a store every day, and on Saturday night I went to a club — this created the feeling of living an ordinary life: doing household chores and relaxing on weekends. I always missed Sunday shopping, because I preferred not to leave the party until they started kicking me out when Sunday evening came. It was in a club where I first saw the other side, felt the advantages of my loneliness.
In Minsk, I was very closely connected with the club scene, especially in the last couple of years, when I actively began to play at parties and organize my own queer mayhem with a girl friend. This only obliged me to reinforce the image of a nonbinary mischievous witch from a prank store and amuse people tapping my heels.
At the same time, more and more cute boys appeared around, we had fun, they flashed their beautiful naked bodies in the crowd, sometimes they climbed on the table with sound equipment during my sets, sometimes they fell off it. Many of them sometimes hugged me in the smoking room and said that it was the best set in their life / at this party / this month / in the last nineteen years, and I myself am the most affectionate, the most precious, the most beloved person. We chattered about this and that, danced, drank, laughed at each other’s jokes. Then these boys, as a rule, divided into pairs and left to fuck each other. They really treated me with a certain love and sometimes even admiration, but for them I always remained, though inspiring, but exclusively some crazy queen you can have fun with and ride as fast as the wind in a garbage can under the presidential residence, but nothing more (or rather, nothing less).
I understood that a nonbinary witch in a trash can is not the most sexually attractive image for many, but I did not understand why don’t we fuck with those who know me well in other contexts, without any public gender-trouble paraphernalia? But we will return to this issue a little later.
Anyway, in Kiev, I entered any club as a blank slate. With the exception of a very few acquaintances, I did not know anyone, and no one knew me. Everyone knew just what my body and face looked like, what clothes I was wearing at that particular moment, nothing else. Everyone saw me in their own way, but only here and now. No background of Ksenia Sobchak impersonations, cut off pig heads and naked ass on the National Flag Square. I really appreciate my public image, its political message and the symbolic capital associated with it. But at that moment it seemed to me that the feeling of freedom that filled everything that I had done before is incomparable with the feeling of freedom that I feel now, when all this does not seem to exist.
I dressed very modestly not to attract the kind of attention that I was used to attracting in such environments. Nevertheless, being a completely new person at a party where everyone is observing each other, I noticed the looks. And these were not the usual looks of festive delight, undisguised repulsion or just a desire to punch me in the face. These looks, male looks, expressed only interest in me as a male body, a new male body. They looked at me exclusively as at fresh meat, and I was unprecedentedly thrilled to finally be just a piece of fresh meat. Unaccustomed to these scanning glances, I sometimes began to worry so much that I wanted to escape. And I did. To the darkroom.
Men in Minsk badly affected my perception of myself as a sexual object in recent years. Quite a long time ago, I had a problem: for a very long time I wanted to fall in love, but I couldn’t; I wanted to fall in love in the cheesiest, infantile way. At that time, I got along without sex for years; I didn’t think a lot about it, I cared about completely different notions, such as feeling feelings and loving lovingly… At some point, when I finally disbelieved in the possibility of strong affection and emotional attachment to a person, it seems to me that I unconsciously replaced the search for romantic relationships with the search for broader and at the same time detached public attention, and decided to leave sex as the only form of intimate relationship, as the most accessible option to feel interpersonal intimacy once in a while. But there was a caveat.
Men, who sexually attracted me, jumped aside from me like a scalded cat. I did not appear in front of them in my best evening gowns (since this was never an attribute of my sexual life, but always a public political gesture), but my long hair was enough for them to clearly and categorically deny me access to their beds.
This even forced me to create a separate, more masculine image for Hornet. I selected the most basic men’s clothing for it on purpose and posed for photos the way men usually do in order to present their body in the best light. This image was not much different from me in ordinary life, but it was designed so that it was impossible to tell anything about my background from the photo, and all the triggers that frighten potential lovers, such as long hair, were carefully hidden.
I had a feeling that I was playing with idiots, and I felt like an idiot myself, but through resentment and despair, I consciously accepted those deliberately narrow-minded and humiliating rules. All these simple, but artificial tricks with posing, the very fact of my attempts to mimic something, the invention of marketing strategies, as if I am trying to sell useless shit and present it in a favorable light, of course, led me to a lot of insecurities and a complete lack of feeling sexually attractive.
So when I first approached the darkroom in Kiev, I was horrified, I was very afraid of being rejected. I remembered myself when I was younger, my first trips to Europe, how confident I felt in such situations, and many things that I had done then. And now, after a while, when I stood in the Kiev club in front of the darkroom, those things seemed to me just crazy. Now there was only an enormous fear of rejection. It seemed that if I touched someone and he did not touch me in return, I would simply evaporate out of shame, I wouldn’t even be able to get out of there, I would simply cease to physically exist.
But there were no reasons for this. The darkroom, like the rest of Kiev, lived by the same fantastic rules, and there was no need to use my mimicry skills. At first, each contact seemed accidental and probably the last one. Again, I had the feeling that I was deceiving people, it seemed to me that all this was happening to me only because people could not see in the dark that I did not suit them (this thought amuses me a lot now, and I remember that even then it amused me so much with the absurdity of how much I deny that I’m attractive, that I could laugh out loud during the process, but it relaxed me a little, which can not be said about my lovers).
It was as if I had finally received a special pass to the bodies that I had not had access to before and that I could only look at in shop windows. I didn’t understand why they found me attractive, but at some point I gave myself permission to finally stop looking for a trick in everything.
With one of my anonymous lovers, we decided to continue communicating outside the darkroom walls. When we got into the light, I was assured that they didn’t choose me accidentally or by mistake. At the same time, I checked if I myself had gone mad and if I was grabbing just anyone available — any port in a storm. I can’t say that I needed sex as such, the main motivation was still to compensate for the negative experience that has accumulated in recent years in Minsk, and to return the feeling of my own sexual attractiveness.
Each time I came home from a club, I told my friends that I didn’t understand what was going on and why I was getting absolutely everything I wanted. But in a fairly short period of time, we started to discuss “why didn’t I get this before”, as I stopped perceiving my body as a bunch of things that can repel, and began to see it primarily as a bunch of things that can attract.
The last thing I expected when I went to Kiev was to deal closely with my relationship with my own body and its relationships with the bodies of other people. For the last six months in Belarus, I, like everyone else, had had more pressing problems whose solution was in priority. Nevertheless, the need for intensive study of the sexual sphere was obvious, and I am pleasantly surprised by such progress in this direction thanks to the hospitality of Kiev darkrooms.
I admit, that just as quickly as a disgruntled insecure caterpillar turned into a confident seducting butterfly, anonymous sex ceased to arouse any feelings in me, because, having regained a proper attitude to my body, I returned to a proper assessment of the motives for this sexual madness. But for the desire to satisfy my deeper needs, the darkroom turned out to be a good and, in my case, perhaps a necessary starting point.