History Of Drag Culture In Eastern Europa


DRAG QUEEN ACTIVITIES IN EARLY 20TH CENTURY: THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION AND THE WINDOW TO FREEDOM

The earliest official mention of drag queen activities in Eastern Europe can be found in the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 20th century. After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918, the old penal code was abolished and and therefore too the criminal liability of acts of "sodomy" between adults. This was confirmed by the new penal code of the Soviet Union in 1922. Despite the legalization the social realityIt was still extremely hostile to homosexuals.

Nevertheless, in major cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg (from 1924 to 1991 Leningrad) a social climate in which the social and moral standards were less stringent than in rural areas. There a homosexual community began to define its own rules and spaces. There were parties on which men in women's clothes met to celebrate together (picture above). However, this small window of freedom where open only twelve years, until 1934, when Stalin's policies ban gay and lesbians rights of their own sexualityality again. Gay contacts were now considered as a crime and lesbian love has been classified as a personality disorder. To pursue drag activity meant exposing yourself to danger because if you get caught or denounced, threatened with a punishment of up to five years of forced labor or in prison. In addition, homosexuals and other "mental patients", including men in women's clothes, were often held indefinitely in psychiatric clinics instead of jail sentences and forced to undergo a "treatment."

DRAG PARTIES IN OCCUPIED RIGA UNDER PARTICIPATION OF GERMAN OFFICERS - THE DIARY RECORDS OF KASPAR ALEXANDR'S IRBE

An impression about what was happening in the homosexual subculture during the first year of Soviet occupation in Latvia can be gained from private sources, such as letters and diaries. Fortunately Ineta Lipša a historian from Riga found such a rare document: 

The diary of  Kaspars Aleksandrs Irbe (1906-1996, picture above) from Riga begins on June 1, 1940 – 16 days before the Soviet occupation. Currently, it is the only known diary that was written for the duration of the Soviet period – from the first days of occupation to the restoration of independence in Latvia, and even beyond. The last entry was made on March 12, 1996. Irbe died a few days later, on March 18 at the age of 89. 

What is more, the author of this unique source of history was affiliated with the male homosexual community. He started spending time in the “known” or“ colleague” circles of Riga (as termed by Irbe) in spring 1935. Only thanks to Irbe's diary do we have an impression of events in the homosexual subculture during the Nazi and Soviet occupation.  His records show that Drag parties also took place in 1943 in Riga. About 60 men partook in such an event, many of whom were soon after arrested and convicted with the deprivation of liberty for either 6 or 18 months, but two military men, German officers, were sentenced to death – shot. The accused spent either 6 or 18 months in the Sigulda prison camp, a branch of the Riga Central Prison, digging out a peat in a bog. A friend of Irbe also served his sentence there, he had been dressed in drag like the Swedish actress and singer Zarah Leander in a red dress and a long cloak, a proud fur coat, and a black wig. In a Riga drag show, men dressed in women's dresses – there was a vast array of outfits, starting with Latvian maiden skirts and gypsy costumes, to actress impersonations. 

THE IRON CURTAIN: DRAG AS A PRIVATE PARTY PLEASURE - DASHES OF COLOR IN THE GRAY EVERYDAY LIFE OF COMMUNISM.

Homosexual acts were criminalized in the most Eastern European countries until the early 1990s.
Socially strongly tabooed and partially pathologized no official bars or other places where gay people could meet, existed in any Eastern European country until the mid-1980s. Gays met in parks, public toilets, saunas, or cafés, which were unofficially frequented by gays. These were not places to meet drag queens or where a drag scene could be developed. The first drag queens discovered their passion by chance after dressed up themselves as women for private costume or carnival parties. Their performances took place from time to time only at private parties.

Beginning with the sociocultural liberalization in some countries of Eastern European, such as Poland and Hungary in the 1980s, very gradually interest took on in the repressed and pathologized theme of homosexuality.


TIL TODAY A WELL KNOWN FACE IN THE POLISH QUEER SCENE: LULLA (81), THE OLDEST DRAG QUEEN OF EASTERN EUROPE.

Andrzej (81), born in Warsaw in 1938 as the child of a Jewish family, survived the terror of the Nazi era and, as a young man, discovered the passion for transformation into a woman. The first clothes, partly sewn of drapery fabric, he created the fictional character Lulla and became quickly known in the gay scene in Warsaw. The performances at parties of well-known Polish Artists, to whom he was invited more and more frequently, took place privately during the communist era. With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the disintegration of socialist dictatorships in the East in the 1990s, the predominantly private character cultivated in gay groups transformed into a semi-public form of social presence. This resulted from the influence of magazines aimed at homosexuals, from the possibilities to launch gay projects and from the treatise on gay identity in literature. However, the issue of homosexuality continued to be socially marginal and apolitical.
Various actions by associations and groups that supported the rights of the LGBTI community in the Eastern European countries (like the first street parades and demonstrations, the poster campaign "They should see us" in Polish cities in 2003) led to the homosexual Question penetrated into the public discourse and became political. The struggle for social and political recognition as well as equal rights for homosexuals is now confronted with homophobic reactions and their open politicization in many Eastern European countries.

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