12 December 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
In Russia, they are to cease issuing certificates to films containing materials ‘promoting non-traditional sexual relationships or preferences, paedophilia or sex change.’ The draft decree of the Russian government continues to assign the function of censorship to the Ministry of Culture. Who else is to oversee the sexual lives of citizens but the Minister of Culture himself in the government of the Russian Federation? Russian journalist and human rights activist Aleksandr Podrabinek considers how the Russian authorities persecute all those who want to look differently from how the dictates of tradition lay down.
An innovation at once funny and stupid
Until now, only films containing information about how to make drugs and materials that ‘promote pornography, the cult of violence and cruelty’ were denied a certificate. Now this list is to be expanded.
In itself, the desire of an authoritarian government to restrict freedom of speech and impose its ideas about morality on us needs no explanation or proof. We meet it at every turn. But the current innovation has two aspects: one is funny, the other is stupid.
The humorous aspect is that the body entrusted to evaluate the content of films for compliance with draconian rules and make recommendations to the Ministry of Culture will be a council of experts whose membership is selected by the Ministry of Culture. In this way, responsibility for recommendations will be somewhat blurred between the ‘experts’ and the minister who listens to them. True, this schema can be used both to ban ‘undesirable’ films as well as to cautiously permit others.
The stupidity of the new amendments is a result of a poor high school education. Only through dumb ignorance can one claim that sex change is a real possibility. Mikhail Mishustin, chair of the Russian Government, who has signed the draft decree, must have studied the basics of genetics in his senior high school year. He must know that sex is determined not by a stamp in a passport but by the set of chromosomes, or more precisely, by the 23rd pair of chromosomes. If there are two X chromosomes in this pair, then the sex is female, if there are X and Y chromosomes, the sex is male.
Characteristics of sex
No matter what you may reduce or increase, your sex will not change. You can change the outward characteristics of sex, but not the sex itself. You can change your primary traits of sex with plastic surgery – your genitals will simply look different and you will resemble the sex you prefer. You can change your secondary sex characteristics with or without hormone therapy: adjust your hair, change the timbre of your voice, or manipulate the size of your breasts, and in the street you will be taken for the sex you prefer. And still more you can change everything that concerns psychological and socio-cultural differences in behaviour of the sexes.
You can even erase all signs of sex altogether, so that no one will guess who you really are. But sad as it may be, you cannot change your sex. This will continue to depend on the presence or absence of that pesky Y chromosome in the cells of your body. By the way, there are about 30 trillion such cells in the human body, and you would have to try very hard to somehow cunningly replace one chromosome with another in each of them. Today, science does not know how to do this. I don’t think it will discover how to do so for a long time to come.
The introduction of the term ‘sex change’ into legal usage is evidence of the illiteracy of the authors of this innovation. Transgender people themselves are partly to blame for this, believing that by changing their appearance and social behaviour they are changing their sex. Their dream of a new gender status turns into the certainty they and those around them have that changing sex is something that can be done by humans themselves. This false confidence has been used by the authoritarian Russian authorities as an excuse to force people to feel, not as they wish, but as they are supposed to feel in terms of established rules.
In fact, what we are talking about is just a question of how people look and who they feel they are. It is a question of their personal choice of appearance and for that no one should condemn them, still less restrict their rights. Including the right to promote the possibility of changing one’s appearance and behaviour
Persecution of subcultures
In societies based on the observance of human rights, people’s sex, just as their nationality, race, colour, language, origin, economic and occupational status, place of residence, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs are irrelevant. Everyone is free to change these qualities as he or she sees fit. Everyone is free to dress, dye or cut their hair, call themselves by any name and mould their body into any form they wish. At least, this is how it should be in a state governed by the rule of law, where the law protects the interests and rights of every person from discrimination.
In archaic societies, laws and traditions have always prescribed certain rules of conduct for men and women, for aristocracy and plebeians, for citizens and non-citizens, for believers of different faiths. The transition from one status to another was sometimes punished by law and sometimes very severely.
For example, in the Russian Empire in the early 20th century switching from Orthodoxy to another faith was a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years’ hard labour. In 1915 the tsarist police department sent round a secret circular to governors, heads of cities and chiefs of gendarmeries explaining that the use of Christian names by Jews and changes of names recorded in registries of birth were to be treated as criminal offences. There was a time in the Soviet Union when the wearing of trousers and miniskirts by girls was considered a challenge to public morality. The police and their volunteer assistants hunted down young people dressing in the styles of Western youth fashions.
The persecution of subcultures is one of the hallmarks of a despotic regime. This also applies in full measure to the infringement of the rights of transgender people who, for their own personal reasons, want to look differently from how tradition or public morality dictates. The authorities have become so carried with prohibitions and restrictions that they are introducing outright nonsense into legislation based on prejudice, ignorance and elementary illiteracy.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove