Trans man launches campaign to bring attention to gendered language in Russia

Lars has identified as a man for as long as he can remember, but the structure of his native Russian language has always made it difficult for him to express his identity.

The language genders almost all grammatical forms, including first names, nouns, adjectives, and verbs in the past tense, and only takes biological sex into account. Lars, who has chosen to go by his first name only for the purposes of this article, spent years struggling with having to refer to himself in female terms.

“Everything about the highly gendered language was super difficult, because I knew that I was in the wrong body and I felt like a man,” he wrote in a statement to PinkNews. “So writing anything—because I had to use the female form—just didn’t feel natural for me.”

That’s why, in collaboration with the language-learning app Babbel and the Russian team, Lars is the frontman of a campaign called #BabbelForAll to bring attention to the Russian language and open a dialogue about the inequalities that LGBT+ people still face nationwide.


A fan of Team Russia waves the Russian flag ahead of a 2018 FIFA World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Uruguay at Samara Arena. (Valery Sharifulin/TASS/Getty)

The European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) ranks Russia 45th out of 49 countries for its human rights pertaining to LGBT+ people.

Russia decriminalised consensual same-sex activity between adults in 1993, but same-sex couples are still ineligible for the same legal protections as heterosexual couples. The country lacks legislation against discrimination based on sexual identity, gender identity, or gender expression.

In 2013, Russia enacted a controversial law banning distribution of materials promoting “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors, yet it is so broad that it can include any form of LGBT+ public expression.

The 2018 World Cup provided the perfect opportunity to highlight the limits of Russia’s gendered language for LGBT+ people. Lars began working in 2016 on his idea to create special Russian courses designed to include specific information about traveling to Russia for the football event.

Not surprisingly, the language structure of the courses initially came out as heteronormative, so Lars decided to include pictures of same-sex couples to make gendered phrases such as “I am married”—which literally translates to “I am behind the husband” (Я замужем) for women—and “I am wifed” (Я женат) for men, more inclusive.

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