Russia: Lost for Words

Growing up in a small town in the Tula region south of Moscow, Valeria didn’t think much about gender. Valeria looked like a girl and was raised a girl, so it seemed obvious to use feminine grammar structures, too, like “she” and “her.”

Then, around the age of 12, Valeria joined an online chat forum. Here, behind a screen, specifying a gender wasn’t necessary. The freedom was captivating.

“Up to that point, I had only really ever talked to people in person who could tell what my gender was anyway, so it never occurred to me to hide it with language,” Valeria told The Moscow Times. “But on that forum, I suddenly could.”

With closely cropped blond hair and a love for men’s button-down shirts and waistcoats, Valeria, now 22, does not prescribe to a male or female gender.

The global non-binary community has become increasingly visible in recent years, helped by online communities and local activism. Tellingly, media like the Washington Post and the Associated Press are adopting the gender neutral “they” instead of “he” or “she” to refer to members of the community.

But for the small, yet growing number of non-binary Russians who interact in their thousands on social media site Vkontakte, their language does not provide a similarly simple way of expressing gender fluidity.

“In Russian, every word, with the possible exception of adverbs, has a grammatical gender,” explained Alex Pershai, associate professor of Slavic linguistics at the Center for Gender Studies of the European Humanities University in Vilnius. "It cannot be removed or neutralized.” 

Refusing to be limited by grammar, however, non-binary Russians are inventing their own language forms. Read more via Moscow Times