At the end of November, the Ministry of Justice named the St. Petersburg T-Action, an organization that helps trans people, a “foreign agent”. Tyler Nazarov, who lived in St. Petersburg and Moscow, volunteered there as a peer consultant: he himself made the transition and answered questions from others about the problems that arose. The Ministry of Justice found his name in a group on VKontakte and indicated in the unified register as a participant or founder of T-Action.
Despite intensifying repression and the passage of an anti-LGBT law, Tyler was in no hurry to leave Russia. But the “foreign agency” made him fear that the authorities would put pressure on him personally. Now the man has flown to Kyrgyzstan.
“Paper” tells the story of a transmasculine person who fell under two rinks of repression at once: against “foreign agents” and against trans people.
How did you realize your identity?
– The story is quite simple. Somewhere around puberty, I realized that I was a guy. A few years later, in 2016, I learned about the existence of other trans people: I searched Google for stories similar to mine and came across an article about transgender people on Wikipedia. I entered keywords into the search for groups on VKontakte and found a small community of trans men. And after leaving school – in 2017 – he socialized as I wanted, and introduced himself as Tyler. After coming of age, I changed documents, started hormone therapy. Nothing interesting, ordinary life.
– How did you perceive yourself at school and how did you socialize?
– I just thought: I live like a woman, although I don’t really want to. Probably some people [тоже] they do not live the way they want: someone wants to draw, but is engaged in mathematics.
Closer to the senior classes it turned out that you can live differently. At school, I dressed how I wanted: in big sweaters and in a school uniform. They addressed me as it was written in the documents – and after school I just immediately began to introduce myself as Tyler, and everything went like clockwork.
– Now people who are aware of their identity have someone to turn to – including you. And you, most likely, did not have the opportunity to discuss your experiences with someone. How did you understand what was happening to you?
— I understood it somehow intuitively. Then [в школе] I did not know about the existence peer consultants, so he googled something, learned something. For example, I was looking for ways to lower my voice without causing harm to health. I know trans people [в школьные годы] did not have.
But quite often I hear from various people who identify themselves as LGBT + in the community, including in chat rooms or on support groups, that they thought they were the only ones.
– Did you feel alienated because you feel like a guy, and others perceived you differently?
– It was unpleasant, but I did not feel a strong alienation. I’m probably an introvert myself. At school, I had few friends with whom I would closely communicate. I acted quite detached and chose not to come out.
I understood that I would have the opportunity to live on my own, without bold expectations, I would have the opportunity to figure out what I would do with my life further – including in terms of transition. This understanding kept me going.
– How did you discuss it with your parents, relatives?
– For several years I explained to the family that I consider it appropriate to address me in the masculine gender, later I informed about plans for documents, and indicated my readiness to answer incoming questions. With each such conversation, there were fewer questions, within a couple of years everyone got used to the new pronoun.
– In Russia, transgender people have always been treated with prejudice, but in recent years, repression has become tougher, including at the level of legislation. Why, in spite of this, did you decide to switch – and why did you decide to talk about it openly?
– Speaking of change gender marker in documents, then I had the transition a few years ago, in 2018. Then, personally, it didn’t seem to me that everything was getting worse – it seemed to me that everything was fine. That’s why I decided on the transition – because of the feeling of comfort.
– So then you did not admit that you would have to leave the country or you would have to hide?
– Not. I was hoping to stay in the country. I like cities [Москва и Петербург]where I lived, I like to live next to my family, to participate in the creation of the future [страны]where I would like to live.
In 2021, I still thought about learning languages - and in three years to find a job somewhere in Europe. After the adoption of the law [против ЛГБТ] in the first readings [в октябре 2022 года] I started making a travel list. When [«Т-Действие» внесли в реестр Минюста 25 ноября и я] I saw myself among the “foreign agents”, took one-way tickets [в Кыргызстан]. Not quite spontaneously, but almost.
How did T-Action come into your life?
— I moved to St. Petersburg in 2017 when I entered the university. A year later, I learned about discussion support groups when I saw a repost of one of the T-Actions posts and decided to scroll through their feed. I came to the group and found out that they were recruiting volunteers. I realized that I have time for this, and I wanted to help.
— Do you position yourself as an activist or as a defender of the rights of trans people?
— I think you can call me a “quiet activist”. I never went to rallies, I didn’t particularly speak in the public field (I didn’t make public statements and didn’t give interviews – ed.). “Paper”). But I think peer counseling is also activism.
– What do you do? In your Instagram account it says that you are an illustrator, while you are also busy with T-Actions.
— I am a freelance illustrator, doing individual orders. For example, I came up with and drew a mascot for the library and the Shkaf art residence. He also made stylized portraits to order; drew a sticker pack for the telegram channel of a joint project of a podcasting studio and a service for selecting psychologists. From individual projects: he created a series of postcards “constellation of cities”, which were sold in several bookstores in the country, including St. Petersburg’s “Subscription Editions” and “Word Order”.
In 2022 for the socially engaged art marathon created a comic manual for trans people on how to go to the clinic.
At T-Action, I volunteer as a peer consultant. This peer-to-peer format allows you to discuss issues related to the transition process with someone who has had a similar experience. For example, with me, because I am a transmasculine person. Basically I help for free [тем, кто обращается в «Т-Действие»] information: how to change documents, where to find contacts of friendly doctors, where to turn for psychological help.
In the register of “foreign agents” me [ошибочно] entered as the founder-manager, because my contacts were listed in [уже закрытом] list of peer consultants [во «ВКонтакте»] (“foreign agent” is recognized as “T-Action”; in the new unified register of “foreign agents”, introduced on December 1, a column appeared with the full name of the organization’s members – in the case of “T-Action”, the names and surnames of four people from the list of equal consultants were added to it , including Tyler Nazarov – approx. “Paper”).
– So, legally, you are not the founder of T-Action – just listed in the public?
– Yes, they just copied the name from the group on VKontakte and pasted it into the registry.
– In your post “how to become a foreign agent”, you write that you indicated your passport name on VKontakte and under it was also listed in the list of equal consultants. Didn’t that seem unsafe to you?
“I didn’t think about whether it could be dangerous, I just chose to point them out openly. This gives more credibility to people who write [в «Т-Действие» со своими проблемами и вопросами].
How long does it take to work as a peer consultant?
– This is volunteer work, I spend about an hour a day on it – sometimes less, sometimes more. I can take a break from work, I can take a vacation [от волонтерства в «Т-Действии»] – as, for example, now. But overall, it’s a constant routine.
Have you ever faced threats? Because of your activities or because of your personality?
– Personally did not come across. But in general, there was a feeling of insecurity in Russia – we are talking about the recent time when the law was passed [против ЛГБТ] and there was news about [гомофобной цензуре] literature and sites.
— What is happening with trans people in Russia now? And how to help them, given that you and many other volunteers and organizations had to leave?
Many people write to me in fear. I think it will help not to sow panic: no one knows how the law will be applied. You can also donate to Russian LGBT initiatives, offer volunteer assistance, especially psychological and legal. And you can repost because censorship is on the rise, so it’s important to spread the word about LGBT organizations that are still working.
– How did you know that your name is in the register of “inogentes”? What did you do?
“I saw on the news that T-Action was added to the roster. I went to the website of the Ministry of Justice and saw my name. I was surprised how quickly everything was happening, and on the same evening I took tickets [из России в Кыргызстан]. The ticket cost about 10 thousand rubles. I managed to call everyone and hug my mother and grandfather, my wife helped me pack my suitcase and escorted me to the plane.
Before that I thought that [с законом против ЛГБТ] it will be possible to live somehow, because it is not clear how it will be used. But with the “foreign agency” I decided to go, because I seem to be becoming more noticeable – and the new law [против ЛГБТ] hits me faster.
– Why do you think T-Action was also attacked along the “foreign” line?
“I don’t know why this should be done and why the law on “foreign agents” is needed at all. I have no idea what goes on in the minds of those who do this. I don’t think “T-Action” did anything that interfered [властям].
What feelings did the move bring to you?
— It was a strange feeling, because it was a little unexpected. Now I feel good: I am where the sun is and the winter is warm, with hope for the future. But, of course, I also experience stress, because I don’t know what kind of future awaits me.
– In emigration, you still mark your posts with a plaque about “foreign agency”: the law obliges even the founders do it. Why?
– To avoid fine I need to label everything I post on my personal social media. Yes, I am outside of Russia, but I would not like to challenge the fines through the courts.
— What did you feel when the law was passed banning LGBT “propaganda”?
“Maybe I panicked a little. And then I felt calm – because this and the “foreign agency” turned out to be a great reason to leave Russia, which I had not had before.
How hard do you think the anti-LGBT law will hit trans people specifically?
– I hope that it will be applied in much the same way as the law on LGBT “propaganda” among minors. Cases for this article few. But it is clear already now that there is a lot of censorship going on.
– You talk about repressive laws quite calmly – at the same time, you are a person who fell under two rollers at the same time: the law against “foreign agents” and the law against LGBT people. How do you feel in these conditions – and how do you cope?
– I have a lot of stress: I worry about my relatives who have remained in Russia, about how to work without the usual equipment (a personal computer and a good graphics tablet did not go with me), I am constantly worried about the news.
Lots of questions about the future. Where to competently open foreign accounts in case of Russian blocking? How can I get prescription drugs abroad? Where will I be in a month? Will I be able to return to my homeland one day and what will be waiting for me there? Some of the questions I ask lawyers – they answer me, and I feel calmer. Still sometimes I switch: I draw and think less about what is happening. When I read less news, it also becomes calmer.
– What are your plans?
– I hope to move to the European Union. Not sure when yet, but I’ll try as soon as possible. I will continue to help with information and how I can as an equal consultant.