At least for the Russians in Sochi themselves, the issue of gay rights has been blown way out of proportion. Talking heads and TV pundits seem to decry the Kremlin’s family-protecting measures as staunchly anti-gay, but in this “Black” Sea hamlet that has become the improbable site for the 2014 Olympics, there is no discussion to be had: gay people do not exist in Sochi.
That’s according to Disko Fancy (a pseudonym used out of an abundance of caution), Sochi’s own Minister of Data, a position which affords Fancy incredible amounts of data on each individual within his district. “Nope, no gay people here. Promise,” says Fancy, through my brassy, overly gestural interpreter. “And we looked everywhere: alleyways, dumpsters, down by the forest. If gay people existed, wouldn’t they be in those common places?”
Dmitri Prokov, a local hairdresser who shares a “Black” Sea-facing apartment with a heavy-set bearded man in his 40s, agrees. “It’s all tough as nails here,” Prokov confirms, while my interpreter rolls his eyes heavily, clearly a code which I fail to decipher. “Everyone wears a lot of leather, most men have mustaches, and thick, bulging biceps are… well, they’re just about everywhere.” A quick look to the lapping sea across the street confirms as such: thin men, mostly in black Speedos, lounge by the cold waters, laughing and pushing each other, rolling balding with boom boxes on their shoulders, without the Russian stereotype of a gay man in sight.
Prokov produces a picture, drawn up by the government in Moscow, of what to look to for in identifying a possible gay man in Sochi. The hand-drawn sketch shows a gaunt face that sports a thin, pointed chin beard, pits of fire where the eyes should be, hugely elongated ears and one long, gnarled horn that protrudes from the middle of the forehead upwards in a hideous curl. Listed traits include knees that bend backwards instead of forwards, thick, hairy red fur on forearms and the ability to summon up a black pit full of wailing bodies at any moment. So far, no one like that has been seen in Sochi. “But should they come, we will know because we have this information.”
And with that, Prokov and his roommate excuse themselves to go take a shower together — “to conserve water,” says the interpreter, nudging my ribs and playing with the fly on my pants. When I point out that the “gay person” sketch the Russian government provided looks an awful lot like a Jewish person, I was booed out of town for being anti-Semitic and you know what? They’re right. I really learned something.✦