I grew up like a lot of kids grew up, oblivious to the perceptions of those around me. I had little idea when I was being annoying, or a braggart, or when I looked like a complete loser. Those were blissful days. When I started to find out how those around me perceived my many eccentricities, I withdrew into myself. My middle school years were quiet ones. I didn’t speak much, observing that the silent were (at the very least) not made fun of very often. The desire to fit in overrode almost everything else.
So I sort of grew into this timid, shy person that I really was not and never have been. As ages advanced and school years passed by, I maintained my trepidation because it worked for me, and why fix something that isn’t broken? But I was broken. As I discovered more and more about myself, my likes, dislikes, oddities, uniquities, I struggled against the desire to showcase them. I am not, by any definition, a mainstream person, and that can be very difficult to be in high school. And some of the things I learned about myself, some of the attributes I realized I had were not only thought of as weird, they were reviled by a great many people. To hide from an aspect of yourself is about as broken as you can be…and yet showing that aspect can result in bullying or worse. It’s a conundrum that too many young kids have to face.
I grew up in a house where the only thing more taboo than sex was death. So while my mother meant well, and my sexual education at home was better than most, I grew up thinking that the proper way to behave was to repress your sexuality. I matured under the shroud of guilt, at times getting crippling headaches, all because I liked rope, and I liked being tied up, and I had feminine attributes and liked having feminine attributes and engaging in feminine activities sometimes, and I liked some of the physical attributes of men sometimes, and all these things made me a terrible person. There were many nights where my head hurt so bad I didn’t sleep at all.
Senior year of high school was a bit of a coming out party for me. No one knew anything about any of the above, but (to paraphrase Jo Dee Messina) My give a damn about what people thought about me was starting to break. I still got the headaches, and I still only presented a partial of myself to those around me and I still had the impression that some of the things I felt weren’t okay and that I was somehow a bad person for feeling them, but the cracks were widening.
So we’ve painted a pretty good picture of the before. I came into college a somewhat shy, very quiet, and very conflicted individual. I was very much at odds with my own personality and I was deathly afraid of the consequence of revealing portions of it.
I learned about t.A.T.u. purely by accident. A print shop had a sale on campus one day, and among the stereotypical college posters was one of two girls kissing with a caption of “t.A.T.u.” Eventually curiosity got the better of me and I looked them up online, discovering that they were a Russian Pop duo whose popularity was already on the decline.
I had access to a file-sharing program between students and was able to find their two most popular songs from their only CD. Often you don’t realize the quality or the impact of something until you’ve had the time to digest it. That was not the case for me. From the very first notes, some part of me recognized that I was listening to something special. The high pitched voices of Yulia and Lena reached me in a way that no other music had. I downloaded song after song after song until I had their entire library…then I had my friend order their CD anyways.
It wasn’t enough to listen to their music, or to memorize their lyrics, I had to know who they were, what their story was.
Now some will stop me here. The story of Yulia Volkova and Lena Katina has been warped and twisted over time. And it doesn’t help that neither of them give an iota of a shit (more on this later) about the public eye to set the record straight or make any kind of statements beyond those they have already made. The popular version of the tale is that they lied about their lesbian relationship to become famous, capitalizing on the rise of LGBT popularity with known falsehoods. This is not true.
Yulia and Lena were members of a group called Neposedi as youths and were hand selected by manager Ivan Shapovalov to form a new duo that would create scandal after scandal in catering to the gay community with a lesbian image and to older men with risqué attire and promiscuity. It was in fact Yulia and Lena that would later break free of the clutches of Shapovalov (remember this is Russia) and release the truth. The pair has maintained that despite the manufactured nature of their relationship, their attraction to one another as more than friends, their utter contempt for labels and the ignorance of society, and their abhorrence of sexual taboos and support of the LGBT community has always been deeply ingrained in them. Their love, however you want to classify it was fact, not a tabloid construction.
Back to my freshman year.
There is a clip of a documentary on t.A.T.u. that sticks with me to this day. Yulia and Lena were walking through a grocery store in Russia clad in typical attire that barely covered them and being hounded by paparazzi. At one point, to the ire of some of those around them, Lena turned, gave the camera the finger, and kissed Yulia in a way that was not even remotely g-rated. The message was clear: you are who you are and fuck everyone else that doesn’t like it.
It didn’t happen overnight, but as t.A.T.u. dominated the top of my playlist, the message started to sink in. Be who you are. It’s not up to you to censor yourself to the expectations and comfort level of others, its up to them to handle it if they can, and get the hell out of the way if they cannot. I let one person know about my interest in BDSM…then another…then another…and now pretty much the whole world knows. My fluctuating sexuality took a little longer, but it too eventually started to crumble like an aging wall. You could call me bisexual, transgendered, gender fluid, gender queer, and have at least some basis in fact. I transcend labels. And it was t.A.T.u. that made me see, for the very first time in eighteen years of existence…that it was perfectly okay. That there were people like me…a lot of people like me…and that I was strong enough to weather the taunts of those that weren’t and those that didn’t understand. That I was strong to fight against those that would have me and people like me deported, killed, or worse. That I was strong enough to fight against those that would have us treated as something less than human. To quote the topic of this entry:
“You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does.”
And I realize that that song isn’t original, that it came from The Smiths. But the Smiths sang it like being different was a debilitation, like you were resigned to a life of torture. t.A.T.u. made it something else, a triumphant anthem that it is, in fact, okay to be different. When The Smiths sing it, it’s a white flag. When t.A.T.u. sings it, it’s a battle cry, and I have adopted it as my battle cry.
There are so many t.A.T.u. lyrics that hold sway over portions of my life. They truly are the best fit for me.
“I am the son, and the heir, of a shyness that is criminally vulgar.
I’m the son and heir of nothing in particular.”
I am the product of a generation that was hideous in the taboos it constructed, taboos that evanesce as I age.
“You play games, you play tricks, girls and girls, but you’re the one, like a game of Pick-Up-Sticks, played by fucking lunatics.”
The conservatives will lie and deceive and use all manner of underhanded tactics to debase and destroy those who are different, but they’re the ones who will see their precarious dilapidated tower of deceptions come crashing down around them. Make no mistake, the anti-LGBT side is the losing one.
When Lena sings “They say it’s my fault, but I want her so much,” in All The Things She Said, it takes me back to my childhood, the nights of sleeplessness and headaches because I was convinced that something was wrong with me.
Every word they sing is like another miniature support beneath me, pushing me towards something I have always struggled to be, comfortable in my own skin. I can neither thank them, nor listen to them enough for that reason. Without t.A.T.u., I might still have eventually gotten to the point I’m at now, but I know without a doubt that it would have been monumentally harder…and I certainly wouldn’t be there yet.
Thank you Lena.
Thank you Yulia.