Cross-Dressing in Bulgaria: Gay Identity, Post-Communist Fear, and Magical Love

| July 8, 2000

Cross-Dressing in Bulgaria: Gay Identity, Post-Communist Fear, and Magical Love

Some observers say that gay culture is essentially homogeneous the world over. Whether you're in Bueos Aires or Beijing, walk into a gay club and you will find the same scents, sounds, and fashions. Not so, says Robin Brooks, writing in Bad Subjects, a Pittsburgh-based webzine of political and social commentary. At least not in Bulgaria.

In 'Cross-Dressing in Bulgaria,' Brooks takes us on a fascinating trip through Bulgaria's gay subculture, illustrating the many ways that fear influences the development of community identity. Exploring the gay nightlife of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, Brooks discovers 'an unusual underground culture and a loosely consolidated community of people simultaneously drawn together and atomized by a set of fears and hopes that is unique to the post-communist situation.'

Bulgaria has long been one of Europe's most tolerant societies -- Bulgarian gays enjoy even greater civil protections than those in in Britain or France. Yet Brooks reports that 'traditional social values, especially among older generations, and a dire economic situation make public heterosexuality almost compulsory for young people who often continue to live with their parents until they are married.' As a result, most gays remain closeted, preventing the larger gay community from unifying politically.

Interestingly, the public face of Sofia's gay population has become the drag queens. 'Bulgaria is the only country I have ever visited where transvestites are at the top of the hierarchy in the gay community. They decide who can get into the exclusive discos, they get reserved tables in private clubs, and everyone else wants to dance with them or be noticed by them.'Go there>>