Sunday, February 9, 2014

Tsar Peter The Great! Day 3 of our Celebration of Russian LGBTQ Pride: An Olympic Counter-Programming Event #OlympicShame #RussianPride

Peter The Great

Born in 1672 and crowned Tsar when he was ten, Peter grew up to become the guy who:

In 1721, proclaimed Russia an empire and was accorded the title of Emperor of All Russia, Great Father of the Fatherland, and "the Great."

Modernized the Russian alphabet, introduced the Julian calendar (how most of the world keeps track of time now), and established the first Russian newspaper

Opened Russia to the West, sending Russians to Europe to learn arts, crafts and skills to bring back and inviting European engineers, shipbuilders, architects, craftsmen and merchants to come be part of modernizing Russia

Made beards illegal as part of his drive to 'modernize' Russia, because "in Europe smooth cheeks, bare chins and expertly twirled moustaches were all the rage." Crazy as it sounds, "Beard patrols would knock on the houses of local bearded men and forced them to shave or pay the extortionate ‘beard tax’.")

Expanded Russia's territory through wars, changed how the army, navy and government was structured, moved the capital of Russia from Moscow to St. Petersburg and...

Was bisexual.

Oh, and he was over six-and-a-half feet tall.

Did I mention he had love affairs with women and men?

While the info about Peter the Great's relationships with women is wide-spread (he married twice and had 11 children) you won't read about his love affairs with men in the biography here, or here, but it's mentioned:

In the great chapter by Simon Karlinsky, "Russia's Gay Literature and Culture: The Impact of the October Revolution" in "Hidden From History: Reclaiming The Gay & Lesbian Past," Edited by Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus and George Chauncey, Jr.

It's brought up in a discussion of how the first laws against male gay love happened during his reign. In 1706, his German military advisors drafted a new military law against gay men loving each other, and while the penalty was burning at the stake,

"However, the tsar, who was known to dabble in bisexuality on occasion, soon mitigated this penalty and there are no known instances when it was applied... The consensus of Russian historians is that the military regulations of 1706 and 1716 pertained only to soliders on active duty and did not concern the rest of the population."
The same story about Peter having relationships with men, too, is cited on page 157 of "Women in Russia and Ukraine," edited by Rosalind J. Marsh.

"The punishment for 'unnatural lechery' - burning at the stake - first appeared in 1706 in Peter the Great's military code, composed on the Swedish model. Yet in 1716, Peter, himself not averse to bisexual relations, watered down the punishment, replacing it with lifelong exile (in the event of the use of violence), and that only for military personnel."

Which sounds more like the law's intent was to prohibit rape more than consensual intimacy between two men.

Peter being Bisexual also talked about at this website, where Frank Sanello writes:

Peter the Great, an open bisexual, promoted his stable-boy lover to prince and governor of Russia's Baltic states.

Peter had managed to cow Russia's aristocracy into submission, and unlike Edward II's assassins, the Russian nobility did not object to Peter treating his Stable Boy Charming like a prince, literally.
In another article, Frank explains that

"in his 1980 Pulitzer-Prize winning biography, Peter the Great, Robert K. Massie denied Peter was bisexual while at the same time admitting that the tsar and his favorite courtier, Alexander Menshikov, a handsome stable boy Peter promoted to prince and governor of Russia’s Baltic states, took naps together, during which Peter used his favorite’s stomach as a pillow to rest his head on"

In the Russiapedia entry "Prominent Russians: Aleksandr Menshikov" Peter and Aleksandr's relationship -and whether it was a romantic love affair - is openly discussed:

Although Peter and Aleksandr often competed with each other to catch the attention of young, pretty daughters of aristocrats, historians even in Peter’s times wondered whether Menshikov and the Tsar had a romantic relationship themselves. One described their relations as “more love than friendship”, and the two would often sulk and fight, sometimes literally, with several accounts of Peter punching Menshikov until he bled. Menshikov was known in the court as the only man who could soften the Tsar’s violent temper (often alcohol-induced), and the relationship between the two never appears to have flagged, right up to Peter’s death.

For two years after Peter's death, Aleksandr pretty much ruled Russia. But then, after Peter's heir turned against him, Aleksandr was stripped of his power and exiled to Siberia, where he died two years later. (That's from this bio, which calls Aleksandr the "good friend and companion" of Peter the Great.)

It's a shame that as part of the Olympic opening ceremony, when, as the British Express put it, "The floor of the stadium was then transformed into a raging sea depicting the reign of former emperor Peter the Great during the era of Imperial Russia" the fact the Peter was a man who loved women and men was hidden.

But we can talk about it - and tell the world!

Because knowing that one the most famous leaders of Russia in history was bisexual? That's something to celebrate!


Take Action:

Check out the flow of Olympic-themed tweets over at twitter, and chime in with your own supportive-to-LGBTQ-Russian comments of your own! The Olympics in Sochi are Putin's attempt to spotlight how awesome Russia is - but the Russia he wants to create is one without gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer history or people. Let's remind him - and the world - that Russia is great not despite LGBTQ Russians, but because of them, too!

Some hashtags to co-opt:

#Olympics #Sochi #sochiproblems #sochi2014 #olympicgames


Add To The Celebration:

Who are the Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans and Queer Russians you'd like to celebrate? Add your favorites in comments, and on the final day of the Olympics, I'll run a rainbow variety-pack post with everyone's suggestions!

Please Note: Given the situation in Russia, I'm thinking we should keep it to either people who are no longer living in Russia or are historical. I'd hate to create a list that then would be used against people by a repressive, anti-LGBTQ regime.

Having said that, there is a lot of Queer Russian heritage to explore and so many LGBTQ Russians we can celebrate!


Your Bonus:

Check out this performance from before the broadcast Olympic opening ceremony. It's members of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs choir (No kidding) - and they're performing, as NBC put it: "a rousing rendition of Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky'"

You can click this link to check out the choir's Olympics performance, but NBC hasn't made it embeddable. I did find this version on youtube:

It's a great reminder that under all their military uniforms and hetero posturing and external stern-ness (in turns both personal and political) Russian people are just like the rest of us. Some are straight, some are queer, some go to bed early, and some are up all night to get lucky.

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