Friday, February 7, 2014

Tchaikovsky! Day 1 of our Celebration of Russian LGBTQ Pride: An Olympic Counter-Programming Event #OlympicShame #RussianPride

Pyotr [Peter] Ilich Tchaikovsky

The guy who composed THE NUTCRACKER, SWAN LAKE, the 1812 OVERTURE and SLEEPING BEAUTY was gay. And Russian!

Born in Votkinsk, Russia on May 7, 1840, Tchaikovsky was pretty tortured about being gay. He taught music for a while, then had a female benefactor who let him just compose for years. He briefly married a woman but the idea of being intimate with her was so off-putting that the marriage ended just weeks after it began. After the wedding disaster, he wrote his brother Anatoly that there was “nothing more futile than wanting to be anything other than what I am by nature.”

As reported in the British Newspaper The Guardian, recently (in Sept of 2013),

Russia's culture minister has denied that composer Peter Tchaikovsky was gay, discarding what has long been regarded as historical fact. Vladimir Medinsky claimed that there was no evidence to suggest the 19th-century composer was anything other than a lonely man who failed to find a suitable woman to marry...

Historians, however, say there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

"In the case of Tchaikovsky his homosexuality is so well documented by his own writings and the writings of others that it is simply ludicrous to suggest otherwise," said the author Konstantin Rotikov, who has written a history of gay Saint Petersburg. "It's a historical fact. History doesn't change just because we are trying to push a certain agenda today."

Sadly, the biopic on Tchaikovsky's life being filmed for Russian television reportedly won't include his being gay, even though everyone knows he was. Where are the laws against heterosexual propaganda? How about we protect children from lies about gay, lesbian, bi, trans and queer people that make us either bad people or, if we did good, try to make us straight?

Tchaikovsky's music is iconic and familiar world-wide. I love to imagine how thrilled Pyotr might have been to see how Matthew Bourne took his Swan Lake ballet and made it a breathtaking ballet where the romance and dancing was between men.

This still takes my breath away...

Want to know more about Tchaikovsky? While it still shows him being gay, you can check out the article on Tchaikovsky at Russiapedia under Prominent Russians.  More reliably, you can download a pdf biography of Tchaikovsky here at the LGBTQ History Month website. There's also this biography at PBS. And this lecture by Professor Robert Greenberg, which looks at Tchaikovsky's life and music and how they were intertwined, is excellent.

And through it all, it's Tchaikovsky's music that stays with us - beautiful, passionate, amazing, gay Russian music.

Definitely something to celebrate!


Take Action:

Want to protest the Olympic embrace of Russia's Anti-Gay Laws and help add your voice for change? Check out (and sign) this petition to Olympic sponsors Coca-Cola, asking them to stand tall against homophobia and prejudice.

Oh, and tell everyone you meet today that Tchaikovsky was a man who could fall in love with another man.

And listen to some of his amazing music!


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!


Today's bonus: This awesome PSA from The Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion, a fitting (and hilarious) response to Russia's efforts to deny LGBTQ involvement and presence in the Olympics:


Johnny W said...

The hypocrisy is outrageous--Swan Lake was part of the opening ceremony today! Thank you for setting the record [straight].... And all the clips--Matthew Borne, The Canadian PSA, and yesterday's Broadway show--entertaining and so interesting!

Anonymous said...

Awesome. This tour through Russian history is so much better than the silly Olympics.

Yup, Tchaikovsky was gay. Putin even recently stated it (ironically in defense of "Russian tolerance", despite the growing theory that Tsarist Russia's social intolerance may have contributed to the composer's suicide.)

I have read a lot of the existing letters that Tchaikovsky wrote, and it is actually quite amazing how personally accepting he was of his own nature. His brother, Modest, was also homosexual, and the two exchanged many letters on the subject (Tchaikovsky referred to their sexuality as "Z", but there's not much else that Z could be interpreted as). As you said, Tchaikovsky wrote that it was pointless to fight against his nature, and exhibited little guilt or shame on the matter. What did cause stress for him was the fear that the public would find out and he'd lose his status as an artist, thus his attempts at marriage.

(I really love that you're highlighting these figures. They are amazing individuals who have contributed to mainstream society in ways that can't even be measured.)