Today’s interview is with freelance journalist Chadwick Moore. Chadwick has written for a number of publications such as the New York Times, the Advocate and Out. He recently wrote an article for the Advocate on Russia’s LGBT community.
Justin Samuels: What interested you in doing an assignment on Russia’s LGBT community?
Chadwick Moore: I saw the violent situations unfolding through the media, and I realized none of these reporters were actually on the ground in Russia. Not only are gay people constantly portrayed as victims in the media–and I blame a lot of that on the activist community–but American editors don’t like positive stories about Russia. So these editors were having a field day every time a gay kid got slapped in the street. Also click-bait shit of any kind really pisses me off and that’s all we were getting.
JS: How would you say the homophobia encountered in Russia compares to what gays face here in the United States?
CM: America and Russia are more similar to each other than any other nation. They are each other’s bizarro counterpart. We’re like Marsha and Jan Brady. Poor Russia, obviously, is Jan.
I used to live in London. London looks and smells and acts a lot like New York. But Moscow and New York have the same soul. It’s very difficult to explain. But as a New Yorker, when you go there you feel it in a way you would never feel about a European city.
So homophobia in Russia looks like homophobia in America but it’s a few decades behind, like everything else. A few years ago when gays in the U.S. were more frequently getting tortured and beaten than they are today, we didn’t have YouTube and the Internet for it to be documented and go viral. More importantly, we didn’t have any economic superpower standing up for us on the global stage. This is the important difference, homophobia is now wrapped up in geopolitics whereas it certainly wasn’t during Stonewall.
In Russia they have TV preachers blaming gays for natural disasters, just as we do. They have politicians using gays as scapegoats and distractions, just as we do. They have “tolerant” people who remain quietly repulsed by us, just as we do. And they have a lot of people who just don’t give a shit, as we do.
JS: In the United States there are gays who advocate boycotting Russian vodka. Has this been widespread in gay bars? Has it made a dent in liquor sales?
CM: The vodka ban was in vogue for a hot second last summer. It was a terribly lazy and half-baked approach meant to bring awareness to the situation in Russia. I did quite appreciate that it was self-referential and had a sense of humor. I think we could use just a little more humor when we talk about gay life in Russia rather than the Ann Frankish face that the activist community puts on us. We gay people are still loathed throughout most of the world, we always have been, and still in our day-to-day lives we tend to not give a fuck. We know we’re superior.
Back to the vodka ban, the main reason it failed were the news reports that came out soon afterwards saying these vodkas aren’t actually made in Russia. Or they are only partially made in Russia, and then the pro-ban people got confused and fell silent. So what came out of that moment in history was the world learned Russian vodka doesn’t actually come from Russia.
JS: Do Russian gays feel that there is any sense of support coming in for them internationally?
CM: The Russian gay people who I met and who I write about aren’t necessarily looking for support. They accept their lives as inevitable the way most people do. They certainly don’t pity themselves in the manner we are pitying them. The exception here, and this seemed to be an almost unilateral truth, is Russian gays I met who had spent a lot of time in the West. They were deeply frightened by the situation in Russia and had a doomsday outlook on the future.
JS: One of the Russian gay men in your article felt that recent anti-government legislation could empower the Russian government to shut down all gay clubs.
CM: Yes, he was making the point that the anti-gay law, like all laws in Russia, is intentionally vague. The government is authoritarian and they make vague laws to ensure their limitless power. This is nothing special to do with the gay law; it’s just how they govern.
In America we constantly make our laws more meticulous. That is its own brand of madness, but in Russia everything is open to broad interpretation at the government’s whim. It’s a good way to shut people up and quell civil disobedience because it gives the government vast potential power. In this the government plays a good game of cat and mouse with the people. But I did not leave Russia believing the federal government has some kind of agenda to ruin the lives of gay people. And I don’t think President Putin is particularly homophobic, I just think he’s an asshole with a Napoleon complex. I think they pass these disgraceful laws because they are practically speaking, meaningless (no one’s going to get arrested) but politically speaking quite powerful. They know it will score them points with the conservative electorate, and all they really care about is maintaining their own power.
Of course the real danger is that, inadvertently, they affect people’s thinking and give these beastly homophobic men more mental justification for attacking gays.
JS: How did you enjoy your experience in Russia overall, aside from gay issues? Do you have plans to go back?
CM: Moscow’s fabulous. It’s chilling, grim, and isolating. Like mother’s milk. I hope to do a lot more reporting on Russia.
JS: What made you interested in covering gay issues? Do you think of yourself as an activist?
CM: I certainly do not think of myself as an activist. I’m not righteous enough. Most the time when I have a conversation with an activist I leave reaching for my DSM-V. My only agenda is reporting and becoming a better reporter. My stories have pissed off plenty of gay rights activists in the past (GLAAD), and I’m happy to continue that in the future.
I only tend to write about gay people because those stories come to me easily and I don’t treat gays any differently than I would treat anyone else I’m reporting on.
JS: What’s it like working for the New York Times?
CM: I sometimes freelance for the Times. The editors are tough and smart and compassionate, they keep you on your toes and they’re the best at what they do. I have nothing but respect.
JS: What’s your NYC experience like? Is Brooklyn the place to be?
CM: I moved to New York City nine years ago with two suitcases and $900, and I never looked back. It’s a tale as old as time.
JS: Did you study journalism or English? Where did you get your degree?
CM: Yes, both. And creative writing. From the University of Iowa. It didn’t teach me anything useful.
JS: Do you have any upcoming writing projects we should be in the look out for? Any plans to do any other type of writing such as writing a book, a play, filming a documentary, etc.?
CM: No. But I probably should. I just turned 30.