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Alexander Abramov on the reality of gay life in Russia and Kazakhstan

The artist and model reflects on years spent amid hidden LGBTQ scenes in the Attitude October issue.

By Will Stroude

Artist and model Alexander Abramov was born and raised in Kazakhstan, which was once part of the USSR, before moving to Moscow, where he worked on one of Russian TV’s top makeover reality shows.

Over five years, despite his youth, he worked his way up to executive producer. Now he lives in New York City and is releasing an app for Instagram in November as well as working on the fifth book in his Uncovered series, which comes out next year.

In the Attitude’s October issue – out now to download and to order globally – Abramov reflects on the reality of reality of day-to-day life for LGBTQ people in Kazahkstan and Russia, painting picture of hidden but vibrant scenes which have been forced to develop in the long shadow of homophobia.

Photography: Dmitri Bocharov

“I came out when I was 15 to a couple of my close friends, and they were very supportive and kind of happy that they now had a gay friend”, he recalls.

“I came out to my mum when I was 16. I don’t want to say she was happy with that, but over the years, she has accepted me for who I am and, besides being my mum, she is also my best friend.

“I came out publicly in Moscow when I was 25. It didn’t affect my life at all; a lot of my friends already knew who I was and other people didn’t really care about my sexuality.”

Abramov, who moved to the United States with his ex-husband in search of better career opportunities, says of his younger years in Kazakhstan: “I don’t want to say I had a tough time. Compared to the present, nobody paid attention to gay people, but of course nobody was screaming about their sexuality on the streets.

Photography: Dmitri Bocharov

“My hometown is a pretty small city and once you get to know someone, you get invited to private home parties — not sex parties.

“Also, there was a very small restaurant which hosted secret dance parties once a month and, of course, you had to be known by someone to get on the guest list.”

 Homosexuality has been legal in Kazakhstan since 1998, but like neighbouring Russia, levels of public acceptance towards gay people have progressed little in the intervening years.

“There are definitely two different sides of life for LGBTQ+ people” Alexander tells Attitude. “As I said, if you are not screaming about your sexuality on the street, you can live a pretty good life.

Photography: Dmitri Bocharov

“I know a lot of people who came out to their families, friends and even to co-workers and they weren’t rejected by them, but they’re probably the exceptions.”

He adds: “I think that 60-70 per cent of gay men in Russia — and this number is definitely higher in Kazakhstan — are closeted and will never come out.

“Most of them struggle even with accepting themselves, particularly because of societal pressures where they live. A very small percentage have the courage and opportunity to leave the country so they can live life open and proud.

“In Almaty and Astana, the biggest cities in Kazakhstan, as in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, there are gay clubs, parties, bars, saunas and other places where LGBTQ+ people can live their safest and best life.

Photography: Dmitri Bocharov

“But of course it is not the life you might live in the USA or Europe. You can easily get beaten up on the street if you look gay or say that you are. Levels of homophobia are definitely much higher than in the States.”

After starting life in a country where persecution against LGBTQ people – or those perceived to be – remains widesrpead Abramov stands as a testament to those like him who’ve refused to be cowed by the narrow minds around them.

 “I think being gay is a blessing, I embrace it to the fullest and accept myself 100 per cent”, he says defiantly.

“Whether I’m donning a tutu and heels, doing drag at DragCon with some of my favourite queens, or in full leathers à la Tom of Finland”.

See the full shoot and interview in the Attitude October issue, out now to download and to order globally.

Subscribe now to secure your special edition The Boys In the Band double gatefold cover and get your first three issues for just £3.