Kuzmin and Xaritonov's Gay Manifestoes

Kevin Moss, Middlebury College

Mikhail Kuzmin and Evgenij Xaritonov each wrote a short "gay manifesto." Kuzmin's "We are Hellenes" is embedded in his coming-out novel, Wings (1906), as a speech given by Larion shtrup. Xaritonov included "Listovka" (1980?) in his collection, Pod domashnim arestom. Jaroslav Mogutin's annotations to "Listovka" suggest that Xaritonov "developed the theme begun by Kuzmin." Yet no scholar has compared these two "gay manifestoes" in any detail. I propose to examine the two texts in the context of their sources and the authors' oeuvre. I will also place them in the historical context of gay life in Russia and in the context of current theories about gay identity.

Kuzmin's and Xaritonov's manifestoes have much in common. "We are barren fatal flowers" echoes "We are Hellenes." Xaritonov's flowers, like Kuzmin's Hellenes, are compared to Hebrews. Both are non-procreative, both associated with beauty, but not straight beauty, which they call vulgar lust, the carnal and the bloody. I will argue that in their appeal to religious and philosophical ideals these manifestoes are also distinctly Russian. Both Kuzmin and Xaritonov also frame their arguments in terms of the quintessential communal identity, nationality: Hellenes, Hebrews, like Jews, we.

While many American scholars of same-sex desire have argued that there is no gay identity in Russia, one thing these manifestoes do is define exactly that. They employ philosophical, aesthetic, and religious arguments to describe gay identity and a gay community. Perhaps the descriptions of Russian queer life in Tuller's Cracks in the Iron Closet and Essig's Queer in Russia can be read as a kind of Orientalist discourse, one that tells us more about the West than about Russia. Might it be that Russian gay identity is less "other" than we have been led to believe? While both Kuzmin and Xaritonov dismiss what we think of as traditional gay-liberationist discourse in favor of philosophical and aesthetic arguments, they may actually subscribe to a gay identity with a Russian accent, but not so different from our own.