“The Magic Closet and the Dream Machine”: Post-Soviet Queer Knowledge Production in Times of increased Trans- and Homophobia

Katharina Wiedlack, University of Vienna; Masha Godovannaya, Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna; Ruthia Jenrbekova, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna; Iain Zabolotny, University of Vienna

We present our art-based research methodology called “The Dream Machine” that aims at analyzing queer lives in different post-Soviet locations by offering safer ways of creating evidence of queer forms of existence. We argue that a new research methodology that draws on art practices rather than on more conventional methods of academic research became crucial due to the increase in homo- and transphobic violence in post-Soviet regions, and the surge in precariousness that LGBTIQAP+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Asexual, Pansexual, and other) visibility creates. Building on the decolonial theorist Éduard Glissant’s concept of opacity, our project aims at recognizing queer lives across the post-Soviet spaces without reproducing the epistemic violence of the Western academic discourses on queerness. Drawing from art-based research methodologies and refusing research that demands pain narratives, we create, in conjunction with local queer communities, spaces of resistance, where queer lives can enjoy (relative) safety, build connections to each other and imagine better futures together. Moreover, we reappropriate the concept of the gay closet as a positively connoted magic closet – an open-access digital archive of traces, that recognizes the queer lives in post-Soviet spaces but does not endanger them.


In this paper, we present our art-based research methodology called “The Dream Machine” that aims at analyzing and supporting queer lives in different post-Soviet locations by offering safer ways of creating and archiving evidence of various queer forms of existence. We argue that the development of a new research methodology that draws on art practices and approaches rather than on more conventional tools and methods of academic research became crucial during the last decade due to the increase in homo- and transphobic violence in post-Soviet regions and the surge in precariousness that LGBTIQAP+ visibility and transparency create.

We come from different post-Soviet and Western spaces, such as Kazakhstan, Russia and Austria, and various backgrounds, such as queer-feminist activism, research, performance and experimental film, and, thus, analyze the situation from different perspectives. Positioning ourselves as a team of artists and researchers between the so-called West and the post-Soviet space, we are well aware of the paradoxical situation that the post-Soviet condition in transnational academic [2] and other solidarity alliances poses for queer lives. On the one hand, the international solidarity offers resources for researching, sustaining and distributing knowledge of queer lives in the regions – a knowledge that is threatened to become even more marginal and unknown through laws and other forms of violence as much as simply through the lack of resources. On the other hand, such solidarity efforts, especially within the area of research, follow mostly what we call a visibility paradigm. Within the latter, coming out and being visible are understood as progressive modes of queer living, while being closeted or invisible are seen as shameful. Thus, the paradigm overlooks the opaque ways of resisting homophobic oppression and reinforces the Western hegemonic discourses about queerness and queer identity politics.

Building on the decolonial theorist and philosopher Éduard Glissant’s concept of opacity [3], our project aims at recognizing and supporting queer lives across the post-Soviet spaces without endangering them or reproducing the epistemic violence of the Western academic discourses on queerness.

Drawing on art-based research methodologies and refusing research that demands pain narratives [4], we create, in conjunction with local queer communities, spaces of resistance, where queer lives can enjoy (relative) safety and people can build connections to each other and imagine better futures together. Using the methodology of the Dream Machine, a kinetic flicker device, we create spaces where anyone can focus on their lives, feelings and dreams, subsequently transforming their experiences into different artistic forms from texts to videos and from drawings to performances. Moreover, we reappropriate the concept of the gay closet[5] as a positively connoted magic closet – an open-access digital archive of traces that emerged during the Dream Machine sessions that recognizes the queer lives in post-Soviet spaces but does not endanger them or make them vulnerable.

We start this article by discussing our research terminology and arguing why it is applicable in the context of post-Soviet spaces. Thereafter, we contextualize our research, giving a brief overview of the recent sociopolitical challenges that queer lives in post-Soviet spaces are facing and arguing that art-based research methods are a promising approach in this particular context. We next describe the development of our own Dream Machine methodology: summarizing the critical scholarly work on visibility on which we can build, introducing the concept of opacity and its application, and, finally, describing the Dream Machine methodology in detail.

Terminology: Queer Lives, Traces and Moving away from the Western Paradigms

The LGBT and queer communities throughout post-Soviet countries are heatedly discussing strategies, community-building processes, local specifics and terminology (see the “Kvir ili ne kvir?” online discussion by KX online for the most recent examples [6]). Some of the groups use the term ‘queer’ strategically. Due to the difficulties of transferring this term to post-Soviet spaces, since it has no meaning in local languages [7] – as distinct from the term gay or the abbreviation LGBT(IQAP+) – it paradoxically allows for a certain safety because ‘queer’ does not evoke immediate negative responses within mainstream discourses and is still understandable to those who want to engage with LGBT-related topics.[8]

In order to understand post-Soviet queerness, we need to consider its numerous aspects: complex colonization and liberation histories, different for each of the post-Soviet spaces; a very recent usage of the term ‘queer’ in the languages; homo- and transphobia as part of new national ideologies; and unique Soviet class formation and ethnic/race histories. Thus, we use queer in our research rather than LGBTIQAP+ as an operational term encompassing manifold social exclusions, some of which may not line up with the conventional definitions of LGBTIQAP+ or the term queer used in (other) English-speaking contexts. Additionally, we use the terms квир, квір and kvir: the first two being the Russian and Ukrainian translations of queer and the latter the transliteration of these translations back into English. We aim to disrupt the Western hegemony of knowledge production and redefining what queer means and which modes of living it encompasses by using these alternative terms. The use of queer seems especially productive within artistic spaces in post-Soviet countries. Art spaces have generally been providing relative safety for nonheterosexual lives and communities, whereas pressure on activists and academic circles has been increasing in the last few years.[9]

We use the concept of post-Soviet ‘queer lives’ rather than queer people to avoid assuming that our Western terminology is applicable to what people do and experience and forcing any identities on our collaborators. They do not have to identify as queer or any of the LGBTIQAP+ acronyms since these identities and terms come from the Western context of knowledge production and can be seen by some as restrictive or make them vulnerable to the increasing homo- and transphobic violence. Instead of restricting our potential collaborators to the ones who identify as queer, we invite people who are interested in building new queer relationships, bonds and kinships.

By working with the concept of the queer ‘trace’ rather than trying to capture particular representations of post-Soviet queerness, we are also attempting to move away from the binary of presence and absence, as suggested by José Muñoz [10], and to question the assumption that visual (non-victimizing) representation of queer bodies equates to some form of emancipatory politics. We call the pieces that will be produced by local community members during the workshops ‘queer traces’ to avoid the violent reductionism and exposure of factual and representational data, as anti-elitist questioning of what counts as art, and as a decolonial and collaborational questioning of the creation of exotic artefacts.

Setting the Context: What is post-Soviet Space for Queer People?

The rise in homo- and transphobia in post-Soviet spaces is well-documented and analyzed by both internal [11] and external research.[12] Political activists’ spaces are increasingly threatened through the various legislations aimed at banning LGBT ‘propaganda’ aimed at minors (enacted in Russia), protecting ‘the traditional family model’ (introduced in Lithuania) and similar laws proposed in Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Moldova, Poland and Ukraine.[13] Moreover, LGBTIQAP+ activists are pressured through foreign agent laws targeting organizations (Russia) or public violence and police brutality (Azerbaijan, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine). Male homosexuality remains criminalized in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Mass prosecutions of gay people (officially not state-sanctioned or connected to any legislation) in Chechnya, Russia, received wide publicity and solidarity actions worldwide in 2017.[14] The constitution amendments introduced in Russia in 2020 included defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman; soon after the introduction, a new law was proposed that prohibits marriage for transgender people and makes it impossible for them to change gender markers in their documents.[15]

Scholarly research on post-Soviet queer lives gives important insights into rising homo- and transphobia, and increasing difficulties for queer individuals.[16] Yet, it often overlooks art, theater and performance as spaces where queer life enjoys relatively free expression. The question of how post-Soviet queer lives exist and resist the pressure – in arts, culture and everyday lives – remains largely unaddressed. Moreover, the existing research emphasizes the importance of community, visibility and public articulations of queerness, and sexual and gender nonconformity.[17] By contrast, the process of queer community building in the context of state-imposed homophobia, social silencing, and lack of resources and recognition remains under-researched.[18]

The Visibility Paradigm, Queer Theory/Activism and the Researcher

Queer activism and queer theory, due to their emergence within the Anglophone context, operate within the framework of Western Enlightenment, progress, and capitalism, even when focusing on people outside the West. With a few exceptions [19], queer theory, thus, follows a logic that the feminist philosopher and critical race theorist Linda Martín Alcoff has termed “excessively materialist,” and which stipulates that “only what is visible can generally achieve the status of accepted truth.”[20]

Thinking less about queerness than gendered and racial representation and their function to create positive social change, Martín Alcoff points out that “[s]ecular, commodity-driven society is […] dominated by the realm of the visible, which dominates not only knowledge but also the expression and mobilization of desire and all sorts of social practices as well.”[21] Visibility is a factor that makes identities intelligible to individuals themselves and the world, and a factor to create relationality among people who practice nonnormative sexualities or identify with nonnormative genders. In many contexts, especially Western and urban ones, the creation of visibility has been an appropriate means to create change.

While commodity-oriented societies demand visibility as a precondition for recognition, legitimation and truth, the affirmation of or compliance with this demand is not necessarily or always a liberating, positive and fulfilling one. We relate Martín Alcoff’s analysis of the demand of visibility to Michel Foucault’s work on the intrinsic connection between modern Western ideas about truth, and the confession and admission of sexual desires and pleasures. Foucault argues that what he calls “sexual interdictions”[22] are subjected to the power and control of modern Western institutions, such as medical systems and the state, as well as broader societal discourses. Moreover, the demand and mechanisms of truth production have become internalized by the individuals themselves, who subject themselves to “the obligation to tell the truth about oneself.”[23] In other words, the subject can only constitute itself as truthful to itself if it has become transparent towards power. Foucault traces the technologies of Self-production, its relationship to surveillance and control, showing the violence of modern knowledge production towards any individual and especially those with nonnormative sexual desires. Yet, he does not offer an alternative way to imagine the Self as truthful and intelligible other than through processes of confession or what we call transparency and visibility, which, in turn, allows institutionalized power to exercise violence against the same Selves.

Glissant equally addresses the demand for transparency and visibility and its violence, although from a very different perspective than Foucault. Glissant is not concerned with sexual difference, sexual desires or identities but with issues of racialized and cultural differences and processes of social acceptance. While Foucault focuses on processes of truth or, more generally, knowledge production, surveillance and their connection to the formation of an intelligible Self, Glissant focuses on processes of recognition and the acceptance of social, cultural and racial differences. He criticizes that Western thought imagines the acceptance of difference through processes of understanding. He argues that “the process of ‘understanding’ people and ideas” demands their “transparency”[24], and the reduction of complexity. Much like Foucault, Glissant emphasizes that this process of becoming transparent (or in Foucault’s terms of confessing) implies a subjugation under a position of power from the onset: acceptance is ‘granted’ by the knowing Self (the subject or ‘I’ of a sentence, which has been traditionally and unconditionally assumed to be a white Western[-European] male and its institutions) to the ‘Other’ (the object, which is supposedly available for knowing), only if the Other’s “solidity”[25] can be sufficiently measured, compared, judged, reduced and categorized according to a scale that the Self has set. The Self admits the Other “to existence” through this process of demanding transparency and measuring solidity, thus, creating the Other afresh. “Accepting differences does, of course, upset the hierarchy of this scale.”[26] But even if the Self attempts to understand the Other’s difference without creating a hierarchy, it necessarily relates it to the norm that it has previously established or defined. The relationship between the Self and the Other is consolidated and reproduced again, cemented through the norm and the scale.

Therefore, in order to break this cycle, Glissant proposes that “we need to bring an end to the very notion of a scale. Displace all reduction. Agree not merely to the right to difference but, carrying this further, agree also to the right to opacity.”[27] In order to adapt Glissant’s theories to the field of post-Soviet queerness, his specific context of postcolonial Martinique and focus on racialized oppression have to be recognized, and it cannot be assumed that the post-Soviet space or queerness share or suffer from similar structures. However, Glissant’s conceptualization of opacity offers an ethics that promotes the building of relationships to different, non-Caribbean contexts. It does so because Glissant critically challenges the foundations of Western Enlightenment (and its colonial legacy) as such, radically deconstructing identity politics and ‘Othering’ as a basis of knowledge production and, with it, the ‘fabric’ of knowledge. In the words of Jeannine Murray-Román, his demand for the right to opacity offers “an alternative to Eurocentric methodologies of acquiring data and demanding complete transparency from its objects of analysis.”[28]

As (predominantly) post-Soviet artists and researchers who are working on a project funded by a Western institution, we recognize our position of power and address it critically. We build on Glissant’s work on opacity and relate it to the Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s call to refuse research.[29] These scholars criticize social science research from a decolonial perspective, addressing the experiences of native, ghettoized and orientalized communities and “other communities of overstudied Others.”[30] Tuck and Yang discuss three axioms of social science research: “(I) the subaltern can speak, but is only invited to speak her/our pain; (II) there are some forms of knowledge that the academy does not deserve; and (III) research may not be the intervention that is needed.”[31]

We argue that most of the existing studies on post-Soviet queerness, due to their focus on visibility, reduce queer lives to the analysis of oppression and pain narratives.[32] Moreover, the same research potentially creates a kind of visibility that puts the queer lives in further danger of being surveilled, disciplined, censored or worse. In coherence with the visibility paradigm, many transnational solidarity efforts create discourses which propagate coming out, being out and visible as queer as progressive and livable forms of living, and being closeted or invisible as shameful and not livable. Thereby, international research and other forms of solidarity are often not able to account for or recognize the opaque ways in which queer lives resist homophobic oppression.[33]
We build on the critique of perspectives from the post-socialist [34] and post-Soviet [26] contexts to rethink post-Soviet queerness and queer relationality. While we insist that specific contexts produce specific forms of oppression and resistance, we find critique coming from non-Western spaces generally productively challenging transnational hegemonic discourses that operate under the assumption that North-American or North-Western LGBTIQAP+ identities and identity politics are universal. Many of these works further challenge the idea that political and social representation as LGBTIQAP+, typically in forms of ‘queer or gay pride,’ including rainbow merchandise and public ‘coming out,’ is the appropriate political form to reach recognition by the community and mainstream culture. Implicitly or explicitly, all of these critiques address the problem of visibility and transparency as a precondition for acceptance and social equality.

While we respect that groups use identity politics and choose representation and visibility to create solidarity movements and actions in their aim to create change, we oppose the universalization of visibility, transparency, and identities as necessary to build these alliances and come to any kind of agency. Moreover, given the limited and negative effects of visibility politics within post-Soviet contexts, we argue that there is an urgent need to find and theorize different politics.

Opacity and queer post-Soviet relationships

Taking Tuck and Yang’s refusal of research as an invitation to try new methodologies, we turn to Glissant’s vocabulary and concepts to move away from social research and its goal of transparency of (sexual and gender) difference. We animate his conceptualization of the relationship between the Self and the Other for our discussion of the norm and (sexual and gendered) difference, and show that the process of making queer ways of living and being visible is already a measurement of these lives against the scale of normativity that exercises violence. The identification of queerness as a sexual and gender difference from the norm always reconfirms the norm’s existence in the first place. Moreover, politics that are based on sexual and gender difference are necessarily reductionist and affirm the idea of solidity. They reduce subjects to their (homo)sexuality, gender or any other factor that assumedly constitutes identities and demand these aspects not only to be visible but also permanent, unchangeable and fixed. LGBTIQAP+ activism and academic approaches following the Western visibility paradigm and demanding the right to difference, with the best of intentions, agree to the violent demand of ‘being solid’ and the reductionist labor to become transparent in order to be accepted by the hegemon.

The demand of ‘solidity’ is often marked as a requirement to ‘come out’ within LGBTIQAP+ or feminist communities, frequently without considering the consequences of such calls. Those who are not willing or able to make themselves available (transparent) to the hegemon (or publicly) are, if not excluded by the minority groups, pitied or shamed by the same. Moreover, differences that are not easily reduced and made transparent, such as gender and sexual fluidity, irritate the process of classification and are often barred from acceptance (and access to resources is denied). Moreover, the problematization of multiple and fluid belongings and identifications along the lines of race, ethnicity and class further unsettles the relationship between the Self and the Other, upsets the scale and cannot conform easily to transparency.

We embrace Glissant’s concept of “the Other of Thought”[35] as an alternative to a politics of difference and transparency, and in combination with his concept of opacity, as a research focus as well as for our conceptualization of what it means to live and love queerly within the post-Soviet spheres. Rather than ‘thinking of the Other’ – and thereby making the Other and its difference transparent – “the Other of Thought” means “to see the world from the multiplicity of things.”[36] It is a position of “the ontological excess that cannot be contained by the cultural hegemony of the self, and asserts positively the productive possibility of a language not organized around the authority of the sovereign self.”[37]

Referring to Anna T. and her thorough study of queer slang through the lens of opacity, we understand queerness as an activist and academic concept which is tightly related to opacity: “Opacity is evident in queer’s fluidity, its resistance to clear delineation, its willfulness to become transparent through constancy; this is why queer subjects have used the tactic in their struggle to resist and survive.”[38] Queerness, accordingly, is simultaneously ‘Relation’ – what binds people together – as well as opacity, as/and an ontological excess that cannot be contained with words or signification.

We use Glissant’s concept of Relation, which, according to its French meaning, is a verb or an action. It is what weaves together, bonds, conjoins and merges. It is simultaneously “knowing and making[,] aesthetic and ontological.”[39] An important aspect of Relation is connected to language as a symbolic domain where separate or broken parts can be connected and translated into each other. In Glissant’s theory “Relation is spoken.”[40] Since the French verb ‘relate’ also means ‘to narrate’ or ‘to tell,’ “Relation is not made up of things that are foreign but of shared knowledge.”[41] In a more feminist and materialist sense, we suggest to move away from verbality and language in a narrow sense and move towards an understanding of Relation as a materiality of knowledge, and the relationship between knowledge and ontology. We follow Li Chi-She’s reading [42] of Glissant’s Relation as ontology that encompasses a connection to not only other people but also the material world around us.

Following this line of thought, we imagine queerness (for our project and regarding the post-Soviet spaces) as an existence that is not transparent and, hence, cannot and should not be limited to the distinct markers of lesbian, or gay desire, or any desire- or gender-based identity as they are understood and conceptualized within Western academic and activist discourses. Most importantly, queerness is a point of relation and recognition that is not necessarily verbalized or visible, but allows for connecting to others and building community.

Building on the works of Jonathan Katz [43], Francesca Stella [44], Dean Anthony Brink [45], Jingshu Zhu [46], Christian Sancto [47] and others, we argue that there are and always have been other forms of truth production, and points for recognition and (self-)legitimation that operate and perhaps thrive beyond the realm of the visible within the West and elsewhere. Their works support Glissant’s argument that the opaque, inaccessible or nontransparent can produce human relationships, acceptance and recognition. Like Glissant, they emphasize that opacity (not visibility and transparency) is the foundation of a relationality that allows for the sustaining and distributing of knowledge under conditions of oppression.

Importantly, Glissant argues that art, in his case poetry, is the tool able to create such forms of opaque knowledge that are simultaneously critical as they are facilitating for oppressed forms of knowing and existing. The researchers and artists Zach Blas[48] and the already mentioned T.[49] have taken up Glissant’s concept of opacity to convincingly argue that his “clamor for the right to opacity” [50] echoes queer struggles today and that queer communities have developed opaque artistic ways to relate to each other.

Although not referring to Glissant explicitly, Yevgeniy Fiks’ study “Pleshka Theory” [51] theorizes historic queer post-Soviet spaces, queer relationality and existence as opaque. Fiks addresses the fact that the evidence of historic Soviet and post-Soviet queer subjectivity dissolved; firstly, due to state oppression, and later, due to the hegemony of Western queer-aesthetics that assigned post-Soviet queerness to “secondariness.” [52] Yet, according to Fiks, the alleged ubiquity of homosexuality in Soviet culture does not necessarily mean that its hidden signs can or should be found, deciphered or interpreted. It means, rather, that queer lives have always been part of Soviet history, even if unmarked and unspoken.

We follow Fiks’ idea of queer in/visibility and his queer claim to (post-)Soviet everyday culture and places: the absence of any LGBT and queer public representations in the USSR (and in most post-Soviet countries) does not imply that queer cultural forms are marked with specific attributes – it just means that signs and traces of our living experiences remain opaque to the cis/hetero/normative society. Taking up Fiks’ queer claim to the Soviet legacy and rethinking it through Glissant’s clamor for the right to opacity, we develop ‘The Dream Machine’ methodology that allows for the recognition of queer lives in the here and now as well as the imagination of “queer horizons”[53] for the future.

The Dream Machine

The Dream Machine is a metaphor as well as an actual kinetic apparatus that we build collectively with our collaborators in post-Soviet locations. Our collaborators are friends and fellow activists who we met through our mutual interests in queer feminist politics. They are part of our mutual and individual communities, of our mutual and individual friend circles, activist groups and academic environments.

The original Dream Machine apparatus was invented by Brion Gysin.[54] It is a do-it-yourself stroboscopic flicker device that is easily built. It consists of a rotating cylinder with specifically shaped cutouts and a light source (usually a lightbulb) inside that produces visual stimuli. By building this device and developing a collaborative protocol, we initiate a creative process that contains sequences of free association, writing, cut up texts, text arrangements, taking photographs and/or filming.

Once the apparatus is built, the participants locate themselves in front of the Dream Machine with their eyes closed, allowing the light to be projected over their faces. The play of light creates a strobe effect behind the eyelids and evokes eidetic cinematic imagery. This process brings about a meditative state between sleep and wakefulness, letting subconscious content surface. It sends our participants on “a voyage of exploration without restrictions.”[55]

Our process is inspired by Glissant’s concept of “errantry” [56], which he understands as a historically new way of knowing the world, an epistemic position that comes after that of a conqueror, a scientist, and a tourist. Thus, “thinking of errantry” [57] is a poetic mode of thought, whose dialectics overcomes the dualism of previous attempts to understand alterity, which Glissant labels as “thinking of territory and self” and “thinking of voyage and other” [58], correspondingly.
Being poetic in nature, the ‘errant thought’ does not imply losing sense or orientation. Betsy Wing writes in her translator’s introduction to Glissant’s “Poetics of Relation,” errantry (French errance) “deflects the negative associations between errer (to wander) and erreur (error). Directed by Relation, errantry follows neither an arrow-like trajectory nor one that is circular and repetitive, nor is it mere wandering — idle roaming. Wandering, one might become lost, but in errantry one knows at every moment where one is — at every moment in relation to the other.”[59]
A ‘thinking of errantry’ makes possible new identities that, according to Glissant, will come after nations: “We will agree that this thinking of errantry, this errant thought, silently emerges from the destructuring of compact national entities that yesterday were still triumphant and, at the same time, from difficult, uncertain births of new forms of identity that call to us.”[60]

Grasping queer existence through errantry allows our participants to rethink the binary of presence and absence, of past and future. It allows them to approach their lives and experiences as queer, yet, without relating them to the North/Western ideas of what counts as a queer life. This also implies ‘seeing’ beyond homo- and transphobic oppression and the reality of minoritized lives. It opens a “queer horizon,” to quote Muñoz[61], to imagine the unimaginable. The results of this creative process reflect queer experiences, yet, they do not expose the authors or creators and their communities. They emerge in a space and will be archived in an online depository (a multilingual homepage publicly accessible) both of which we call ‘The Magic Closet.’

Coming to a preliminary conclusion: The Magic Closet

In order to avoid reproducing the violence of research and transparency, we use participatory community-oriented art research called The Dream Machine that does not aim at making the marginalized visible. Not reproducing pain narratives about post-Soviet/-socialist queers, we invite local community members to focus on being in a safe(r) space, building (queer) connections to each other and imagining better futures together. Instead of extracting the knowledge about ‘exotic’ communities and delivering it to the Western academia, we capture the traces of queer lives that will neither expose nor endanger them nor make them transparent to Western research. We plan our workshops together with local community members, creating safe(r) spaces, sharing artistic and research skills and tools to introduce other forms of intervention than research.

The Magic Closet is a sphere of artistic and cultural production where queer lives are sustained, reproduced and facilitated. It is the actual place that we mutually create when we come together with our collaborators to build and use the Dream Machine. Beyond that, it is an archive that holds the evidence of post-Soviet queer lives. The Magic Closet moves away from the visibility paradigm and the focus on identity politics; it is vigilant regarding the hegemonic dominance and violence of Western LGBTIQAP+ identity politics.

The Magic Closet plays with the idea and concept of the gay closet, and the binary of being closeted and coming out. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick argued that the closet is “the defining structure for gay oppression” [62], a figure of shame and other bad feelings. Artists and researchers, such as T. or Nicholas De Villiers, however, have offered “a reparative reading” of the closet, “by connecting it additionally (not instead) to comfort, safety, and belonging.”[63] Using autoethnography to support her claim, T. writes: “[t]he closet for me has been a shelter, a refuge, a home, a friend. It has been my happy place for decades.”[64]

We follow T. and others to allow for an embracing of the closet as a place of resistance against the oppression of homo- and transphobia as well as the violence of normative Western or any other knowledge production. It is a place that “allows for a re-thinking of dichotomies and a more fluid and adjustable understanding of subjectivities.”[65]

The Magic Closet renders those who roam it opaque, but this does not mean that they hide there. Celia Britton argues regarding the context of the colonization of the Caribbean that “opacity cannot mean simply hiding, because there is – culturally as well as literally – nowhere to hide” [66], and this equally describes the situation of queer lives under conditions of heteronormativity and homo- and transphobic oppression quite well. “Opacity therefore has to be produced as an unintelligible presence from within the visible presence of the colonized”[67] or the queer. Most importantly, the Magic Closet is not only a shelter where people can breathe. It is a place where they connect to others. It is a place for creativity and fantasy. It is a place of care for oneself and for others, for community building and for catching glimpses of queer horizons.

[1] The methodology and concepts were developed within the project “The Magic Closet and the Dream Machine. Post-Soviet Queerness, Archiving, and the Art of Resistance” (AR 567), funded by the Austrian Science Fund (2020–2023), https://magic-closet.univie.ac.at/.
[2] We are aware that not all academic research about queer issues in post-Soviet spaces is done in solidarity or alliance with queer lives in the regions. In our project, however, we address this scholarly knowledge produced in solidarity explicitly.
[3] Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing, Ann Arbor 2010 [1997], here p. 190.
[4] Eve Tuck / K. Wayne Yang, R-Words: Refusing Research, in: Django Paris / Maisha T. Winn (eds.), Humanizing Research. Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities, Thousand Oaks 2014, ch. 12.
[5] Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, Berkeley 1990.
[6] KX online, Квир или не квир – онлайн-дискуссия (Queer or Not/to Queer or Not to Queer – an Online Discussion), June 20, 2020, https://youtu.be/mXl_P7FRM_Q (accessed May 14, 2022).
[7] Валерий Созаев, От редактора: возможен ли «квир» по-русски? In: Возможен ли «квир» по-русски? ЛГБТК исследования. Междисциплинарный сборник, Санкт Петербуг 2010, http://leonatus.ucoz.ru/books/queer.pdf (accessed May 14, 2022).
[8] Kвір is used in Ukraine by both LGBTIQAP+ non-profit organizations and grassroots activists. The anarcho-feminist group Svobodna, for example, introduced this term in 2008 as a “contemporary antonym to heteronormativity” in Katharina Wiedlack / Olenka Dmytryk / Syaivo, Fucking Solidarity. Queering Concepts on/from a Post-Soviet Perspective, in: Feminist Critique 5 (2022), pp. 10–26. Around 2013, small groups of queer-anarcha feminists in St Petersburg and Moscow started using the term for their street actions: see Masha Neufeld / Katharina Wiedlack, Lynchpin for Value Negotiation. Lesbians, Gays and Transgender between Russia and ‘the West’, in: Bee Scherer (ed.), Queering Paradigms VI. Interventions, Ethics and Glocalities, Peter Lang 2016, pp. 173–194, here p. 189. Starting from 2016, the term queer in combination with feminist was used by Novosibirsk activists to describe their collective and spaces. In Kyrgyzstan, the term queer and queer theory were popularized by the School of Theory and Activism Bishkek (STAB) and especially in their 2013 publication “Queer Communism Manifesto”; see Mohira Suyarkulova, Translating ‘Queer’ into (Kyrgyzstani) Russian, E-International Relations, September 18, 2019, https://www.e-ir.info/2019/08/18/translating-queer-into-kyrgyzstani-russian/ (accessed May 14, 2022). In Lithuania, the term queer is frequently used in reference to LGBTIQAP+ communities, identities and as an approach critical to identities in art and culture spaces, such as CAC, From Dusk till Dawn. 20 Years of LGBT Freedom in Lithuania. Contemporary Art Center, 2013, https://cac.lt/en/exhibition/from-dusk-till-dawn-20-years-of-lgbt-freedom-in-lithuania/ (accessed July 11, 2022) and SAPFO Fest Lithuania, Empowering and Connecting Queer Community, 2015, https://www.bleedinglove.eu/sapfo-fest-lithuania-empowering-and-connecting-queer-community/ (accessed August 10, 2020). Moreover, a growing corpus of academic works has been produced within the Russian-speaking academia by authors of different nationalities, for example, Ольга Плахотник, Я экспериментирую с квир-педагогикой на своих занятиях, Гендерный маршрут, October 31, 2013, http://gender-route.org/articles/inter/ol_ga_plahotnik_ya_e_ksperimentiruyu_s_kvir-pedagogikoj_na_svoih_zanyatiyah/ (accessed July 11, 2022); Olga Plakhotnik, Queer Pedagogy and Post-Soviet Education. Where is The Exit From Epistemological and Political Deadlock, in: Aleksander Kondakov (ed.), At the Crossroads. Methodology, Theory and Practice of LGBT and Queer Studies, Center for Independent Sociological Research, SPb 2014, pp. 359–378; Therese Garstenauer, Gender and Queer Research in Russia, in: Sociology of Power 30 (2018) 1, pp. 160–174; Анна Номеровская, Проблема нормативности в дискурсе квир-теории. Исторические, философские, политические и юридические науки, культурология и искусствоведение, Вопросы теории и практики 11–2 (2014) 49; Любовь Аладьева, Этика квир-сообщества. В: Анатолий Легчилин / Вероника Сайганова (ред.), Человек. Культура. Общество: тезисы докладов XIII научной конференции студентов, магистрантов и аспирантов факультета философии и социцальных наук БГУ, Минск 2016; Алла Митрофанова, Квир-феминизм как конструирование медиальных миров. На перепутье, 2014, p. 335, in the Lithuanian and Estonian language, as well as other post-Soviet languages.
[9] Alexandr Kondakov, Putting Russia’s Homophobic Violence on the Map, Open Democracy 2017, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map/ (accessed July 11, 2022).
[10] José Muñoz, Cruising Utopia. The Then and There of Queer Futurity, New York 2009.
[11] Kondakov, Putting Russia’s Homophobic Violence; Vladimir Esipov, Hate, Discrimination Leads to Rise of HIV in Russia, Experts Say, Deutsche Welle, October 19, 2017, http://www.dw.com/en/hate-discrimination-lead-to-rise-of-hiv-in-russia-experts-say/a-41041573 (accessed May 14, 2022).
[12] Francesca Stella, Lesbian Lives in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia. Post/socialism and Gendered Sexualities, New York 2015; Amnesty International USA, As the World Celebrates IDAHO, Homophobia in Russia Is on the Rise, 2013, https://www.amnestyusa.org/as-the-world-celebrates-idaho-homophobia-in-russia-is-on-the-rise/ (accessed July 11, 2020).
[13] ILGA, Expression Abridged. A Legal Analysis of the Anti-LGBT Propaganda Laws, April 2018, https://www.iglyo.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/IGLYO-Report_A4_digital.pdf (accessed May 14, 2022).
[14] Elena Smirnova, Could You show Me Chechnya on the Map? The Struggle for Solidarity within the Support Campaign for Homosexual Refugees from the North Caucasus in France, in: Katharina Wiedlack / Saltanat Shoshanova / Masha Godovannaya (eds.), Queering Paradigms VIII Queer-Feminist Solidarity and the East-West Divide, Peter Lang 2020, pp. 231–262.
[15] Meduza, Russia Has a New Draft Law with Major Consequences for Transgender People, July 17, 2020, https://meduza.io/en/cards/russia-has-a-new-draft-law-with-major-consequences-for-transgender-people (accessed May 14, 2022). A similar law targeting transgender people was implemented in 2020 in post-socialist Hungary, a European Union member state.
[16] Kondakov, Putting Russia’s Homophobic Violence; Esipov, Hate, Discrimination.
[17] Maria Katharina Wiedlack / Masha Neufeld, Staging Female Same Sex Desires in Russian Rock and Pop, in: Kath Browne / Eduarda Ferreira, (eds.), Lesbian Geographies, Routledge 2015, pp.153–168.
[18] Stella, Lesbian Lives.
[19] Nicholas De Villiers, Opacity and the Closet. Queer Tactics in Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol, Minneapolis / London 2012; Anna T., Opacity – Minority – Improvisation. An Exploration of the Closet Through Queer Slangs and Postcolonial Theory, Bielefeld 2020.
[20] Linda Martín Alcoff, Visible Identities: Race, Gender and the Self, Oxford, New York 2006.
[21] Alcoff, Visible Identities.
[22] Michel Foucault, Technologies of the Self. A Seminar with Michel Foucault, Luther H. Martin / Huck Gutman / Patrick H. Hutton (eds.), Massachusetts 1988, here p. 16.
[23] Foucault, Technologies of the Self, here p. 16.
[24] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. 190.
[25] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. 190.
[26] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. 190.
[27] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. 190.
[28] Jeannine Murray-Román, Performance and Personhood in Caribbean Literature. From Alexis to the Digital Age, Virginia 2016.
[29] Tuck / Yang, R-Words.
[30] Tuck / Yang, R-Words, here p. 223.
[31] Tuck / Yang, R-Words, here p. 224.
[32] Kondakov, Putting Russia’s Homophobic Violence; Esipov, Hate, Discrimination.
[33] Stella, Lesbian Lives.
[34] Ivana Pražić, Belgrade Pride Parade 2010: Queer Politics in Serbia, in: Sushila Mesquita / Maria Katharina Wiedlack / Katrin Lasthofer (eds.), Import – Export – Transport: Queer Theory, Queer Critique, and Activism in Motion, Vienna 2012, pp. 97–114; Robert Kulpa / Joanna Mizielińska / Agata Stasińska, (Un)translatable Queer?, or What Is Lost and Can Be Found in Translation, in: Mesquita / Wiedlack / Lasthofer, Import – Export, pp. 115–146.
[35] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. 154.
[36] Li Chi-She, Opacity, in: Philosophy Today 63 (2019) 4, pp. 859–872, here p. 865.
[37] Chi-She, Opacity, here p. .
[38] T., Opacity, here p. 38.
[39] Chi-She, Opacity, here p. 862.
[40] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. 202.
[41] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. 8.
[42] Chi-She, Opacity.
[43] Jonathan D. Katz, Performative Silence and the Politics of Passivity, in: Henry Rodgers / David Burrows, (eds.), Making A Scene, Birmingham 2000, pp. 97–103.
[44] Stella, Lesbian Lives.
[45] Dean Anthony Brink, Epistemological Opacity and a Queer Relational Jouissance, in: Journal of Bisexuality 16 (2016) 4, pp. 468–483.
[46] Jingshu Zhu, ‘Unqueer’ Kinship? Critical Reflections on ‘Marriage Fraud’ in Mainland China, in: Sexualities 21 (2018) 7, pp. 1075–1091.
[47] Christian Sancto, Visibility in Crisis. Configuring Transparency and Opacity in We Are Here’s Political Activism, in: InVisible Culture, 28 (2018), pp. 1–10.
[48] Zach Blas, Opacities: An Introduction, in: Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 31 (2016) 2, pp. 149–153.
[49] T., Opacity.
[50] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. 194.
[51] Yevgeniy Fiks, Pleshka Theory, in : Moscow Art Magazine, English Digest 2014.
[52] Fiks, Pleshka Theory.
[53] Muñoz, Cruising Utopia.
[54] Brion Gysin / Ian Sommerville (artists), Dreamachine. [kinetic art object]. Paris 1961.
[55] Gysin / Sommerville, Dreamachine, here p. 2.
[56] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. 18.
[57] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. 18.
[58] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. 18.
[59] Wing in Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. xvi.
[60] Wing in Glissant, Poetics of Relation, here p. xvi.
[61] Muñoz, Cruising Utopia.
[62] Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, here p. 71.
[63] T., Opacity, here p. 141.
[64] T., Opacity, here p. 17.
[65] T., Opacity, here p. 42.
[66] Celia Britton, Édouard Glissant and Postcolonial Theory: Strategies of Language and Resistance, Charlottesville, VA 1999, here p. 22.
[67] Britton, Édouard Glissant, here p. 22.