National Commentary

Johnny’s World: A Russian Tale, Volume 1

This column may be a bit more blog/journal than my previous columns, but some of the things that have transpired in the past week or so have led me to tell the first, I’m sure of many, tales from my life that are just too unbelievable not to tell.

I have been in Russia for the last eleven days. Russia has been my favorite destination since I began traveling there a decade ago. Mother Russia is a mixed bag of opulence and mystery with a slight taste of seedy black magic that terrorizes many American visitors.

When I arrived, I was surprised that Russia’s most popular television show, “Pust Govoryat” wanted to dedicate a piece to my career and to my taboo “gay” marriage. I do not consider myself an activist in any way, but when people like me are suppressed and I have an opportunity to shed some light and help, I try to do my best.

The filming was excellent. My Russian language skills didn’t fail me, my husband was happy to talk about being gay in a Russian family and I felt that we really showed that being gay is as normal as being straight while walking through Red Square with the show’s host and gawking babushka’s akimbo.

In fact, the filming went so well that Channel 1, as Putin’s channel is dubbed, wanted to dedicate an entire show to my family, even at the ready to fly people from America overnight and extend my husband, mother and aunt’s stays in Moscow to be live in the studio to show that we are as normal as well, borscht. Everything was set, first class tickets bought, hair, makeup and wardrobe provided, hotels paid, and the two week visa process for travel to Russia became a six hour process because we were “well connected.” Operation “Make a Difference” was in full swing.

Cut to the day before the filming. My best friend in Moscow called at 10pm to say that she heard our show was cancelled. My in-laws call five minutes later to let us know that they were having trouble with their flights and visas. Then we finally hear from the producer who is shocked when we tell her that the show is in fact, cancelled.

After a seemingly sleepless night, we awoke to more news. Our flights out of Moscow have been cancelled. We are hours away from our visa’s running out, with no tickets home and an unpaid hotel bill. How did everything change while I was asleep?

A well-respected individual was apparently unhappy with my representation of Russia’s beloved sport of figure skating and thought that if my show aired, the whole country would think every skater is gay. Keep in mind that figure skating is actually big business in Russia and this sort of “scandal” could hurt a lot of people. One call to the government and everything was dead in the water, including the cancellation of paid logistics. How is it possible to strand four Americans in Moscow? For the record, I was told not to know or talk about this story.

Most of Russia works without contracts so I had nothing to go on aside from prayers. The night before our departure home, we still had no flights, my mother was convinced they would arrest me at customs and all of a sudden we were back in the Soviet Union. Luckily, at 2am the morning of our departure, the host of the show paid all of our tickets back to America out of his pocket and protected us as best he could after we all accrued some new gray hairs.

I am still a fan of Russia despite this and I wish everyone could enjoy the country, but with the twisted relationship Russia has with herself and things like this being common place, I am afraid that she will never make people trust in her greatness. Safe travels everyone.