Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Michael Lucas, the most mainstreamed, provocative, and controversial figure in gay adult entertainment today. A writer for the gay newsmagazine The Advocate, he describes himself as “a stranger among friends as I am a well-known gay man who is not on the Left, so I disappoint a lot of my fans.” Visit his site at MichaelLucas.com.
FP: Michael Lucas, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about your experience as a gay man and yet not being part of the Left — the reasons for that and also the consequences of it.
But first I would like to talk to you about your background a bit.
You were born in Moscow in March of 1972. Can you share what it was like growing up gay and Jewish in the Soviet Union.
Lucas: It was difficult to be Jewish and a curse to be gay growing up in Russia. I was very quick to embrace my Jewishness and become very proud of it. When I was little and going to school, problems with my being Jewish were my first encounters with discrimination. This was a fact I couldn’t hide since it was written in the school journal. Jewish was considered a nationality, like Ukrainian or Georgian, and we were categorized by our ethnic backgrounds. There weren’t many Jews in my class at school, so my problems came mainly from kids and not teachers. Teachers tried to be politically correct while children, who came out of anti-Semitic households, did not.
Teachers did not teach them anti-Semitism. Though you may feel it from them, it was not in your face. Kids, however, will overhear things at home that are not politically correct and bring that anti-Semitism to school. From my family I learned about Jewish history and became very proud of my heritage. I actually learned about Israel’s fight and strength through the Russian media’s anti-Israeli propaganda. I understood that this was about my people and felt both pride in and worry for Israel. The knowledge that there is a Jewish country was very comforting. I worry and care for Israel today as much as when I was a boy growing up in Russia.
As for being gay, it was much more complicated and difficult to come to terms with and embrace. As we know today, sexuality is genetic and not a choice. Gays in Russia are proof of this since while growing up we didn’t know anything about gays. It was not possible to be influenced by homosexuality since everyone around me, everything I saw and heard in the media and on the streets was heterosexual. I couldn’t understand what was happening with me. I understood that I was different from others because I was not a man’s man and had different interests than the other guys. Neither my classmates nor I knew that I was gay, but we just instinctively knew that I was not one of them.
Somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14 I realized that I wasn’t interested in girls, but rather in guys, and I found out that this attraction was called homosexuality, which was a perversion that can result in years of jail time. I thought that I was a freak and so I didn’t act on my desires. It was a total nightmare to feel this way about myself and there was no one to talk about it with. I remained chaste until the age of 18. I actually found relief when I read in a Soviet newspaper that the West is destroying itself, in part, because of its embrace of homosexuality. This was in the 80’s, so this was a gross exaggeration, but it finally showed me that I was not alone. I gathered from the article that homosexuals were common and it was the best thing that could happen to me. It’s ironic that from this negative, hateful propaganda I came to embrace and found comfort in both my Jewish heritage and my homosexuality.
I embraced my sexual orientation at that point and psychologically everything became so much easier. That is when I decided that I wanted to leave the country. My parents wanted me to go to law school after university, so that’s what I did, but I left immediately after graduation in the end of 1994. I moved to Europe and spent two years living in Germany and France and in 1997 I came to America.
FP: Can you share some instances of anti-Semitism you experienced as a young person in Russia? Why do you think there is such strong anti-Semitism in Russia?
Lucas: My parents were never able to get good jobs, though they were qualified professionals. My mother was a major in Russian literature and my father was an engineer. It was difficult for a Jew to get into, stay in and graduate from a university with good grades, but both of my parents did, which in itself is a big accomplishment for Jews in Russia. My mother spoke perfect English and French, and in the end she could only find work as a regular Russian literature teacher. When you have the last name Bregman, it is impossible to get far in your career.
I personally had a lot of bad experiences being bullied all the time in school. I was bullied by classmates twice as much as other Jews because I was also very different. Looking back, now I know that the difference was my gayness.
You encounter anti-Semitism everywhere in Russia. I remember shortly before I came to the West I went to a gay club and I was talking to a very handsome young guy. When I told him that I was a Jew, he said that he was very surprised because I don’t look like one. Jews in his opinion were ugly, had crooked noses, and hair growing on their backs. So I told him that he would never find out whether I had hair on my back or not because I was not going home with him.
Anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in Russia historically. You know, of course, about the Protocols of Elders of Zion. For centuries in Russian history, it’s been all about Jews being considered to be foreigners and disloyal to Russia. But in the end, it’s all about jealousy. Russians exercise a very primitive form of anti-Semitism. They think that Jews rule the world, or at least want to take over the world, and are cheap. After perestroika, Russians accused Jews of being responsible for revolution and overthrowing democracy. Today Jews are being accused of being thieves because some famous tycoons happen to be Jewish.
FP: Can you expand a bit on what your family taught you about Jewish history and why it made you proud of your heritage? And also expand on the Russian media’s anti-Israeli propaganda. What were its characteristics?
Lucas: My family did not really spend that much time teaching me about Jewish history. I learned mostly because of my own personal curiosity. I was always an independent thinker, and for me, it was easy to make the conclusion that since I’m a Jew, my family and predecessors are persecuted in Russia, and six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, discriminated against, and killed for centuries, it is very important for Jews to have a country of their own and a strong army to protect itself.
We always watched the news about Israeli aggressors waging wars on defenseless neighbors and being called warmongers. There were always the appropriate Jews, usually intelligentsia, being forced to condemn Zionism and the state of Israel. Comedians, ballet dancers, writers, were always a part of anti-Zionist committee.
FP: Can you talk a little bit more about how the hatred of gay people in Russia manifested itself? Perhaps a personal experience or two? In terms of your own personal love life, did you operate in secrecy and fear?
Lucas: The first manifestation was criminal persecution. Gay people were arrested in cruising places, at meeting points and after being reported on as homosexuals. Lots of gays were killed in jail after conviction by prison mates. Then when it was decriminalized, there was hatred in the form of beating people close to gay clubs, homophobic jokes on TV, and homophobic articles.
I myself had to protest a very homophobic professor at university. When he went on a homophobic tirade, I asked him in front of everyone what gay people did to him to make him feel obligated to insult gays during a lecture that had nothing to do with sexuality. Of course, I was called names when I would leave the gay club, but that’s something that everyone was going through. Of course there was a lot of fear. You could not be affectionate to your lover in any public place. You could not hold hands. You still cannot today because Russians will get physically violent. In my opinion, they are a dark and cruel people.
FP: Briefly tell us how you ended up in the United States and the feelings you developed for this country and why.
Lucas: After living in Russia and always feeling like an outcast and then living for 2 years in Europe and not being treated as one of their own by Europeans either, it was amazing to come to New York, where people didn’t care where I was from. They were not suspicious of my Russian background like Europeans. I never encountered anti-Semitism, which I definitely did in both Germany and France. The people were so much more warm and welcoming than in any other country I had lived or visited. I never felt a foreigner, rather Americans made me feel like I was at home. There was such a striking difference to the snobby French and cold Germans.
FP: Expand for us a bit on why you felt like an outcast in your two years in Europe. What were the manifestations of their prejudice toward you and why do you think they acted like this and thought the way they did? What is the Germans’ and French peoples’ problem? What makes America different?
Lucas: Europe is very anti-Semitic and very nationalistic, which is a bit different than in America. One should not confuse patriotism with nationalism. Europeans were very suspicious of me being from Russia and very impatient with my bad German. I felt no encouragement from them. It was not the primitive, Russian form of anti-Semitism, but rather a ridiculous Germanic form. They were obviously taught not to act on their anti-Semitism, but rather to keep their mouths shut. I remember when I would say that I was Jewish, people would reply, “No problem.” I would tell them that I didn’t care whether they had a problem or not. Then they will say, “When I talk to you, I don’t see a Jew, I see Michael.” My response was usually, “Where the hell are you looking?” So the Germans and I were not on great terms. As for the French, I shouldn’t even begin to elaborate. They completely sold themselves to Sons of Allah. If a Muslim steals your wallet, he will claim that he chased you down because you hate Muslims and not because he stole from you.
FP: In 2009, you became a citizen of Israel and in 2010 you denounced your Russian citizenship. Tell us about the reasoning behind both moves.
Lucas: It was difficult to become legal citizen in America, but I did in 2004 and in 2009 I made an aliyah. America and Israel are the only two places where I feel at home. Israel gave me a feeling of comfort and belonging, and I wanted to become a citizen of the country that I considered to be mine. I do live in America. My business is here and I brought my family here in 2001, but I travel to Israel twice a year and I might retire to Israel.
As for Russia, I was ashamed to be a part of such an evil country. I have absolutely no connections to it. It’s a dark and cruel place and I have horrifying memories of it. So it’s only logical that I denounced my citizenship.
FP: As a Russian myself, I am interested in your comment that you are “ashamed to be a part of such an evil country” and that you “have absolutely no connections to it.” You say it’s “a dark and cruel place.”
I am on the same page with you in terms of some of the darkness that resides in the Russian culture. But at the same time, there is so much beauty and warmness in Russia and in so many of its people, the relations between people, the literature, poetry, the richness in the Russian soul. I have suffered quite a bit of pain in my own disconnection with what I love in my homeland and people. Even the tenderness of the Russian language brings tears to my eyes. Do you have any kindred feelings toward any of this or have anything nice to say about Russia or Russians? Or your experience simply made it impossible for you to have any disposition of this kind?
Lucas: I have no idea what the Russian soul is. Don’t get me wrong – I love Russian literature. I love Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Chekov. But when Russians say that no one can play Chekov like the Russians, this is complete BS. I have seen many different productions of The Seagull. I just saw the British Royal Theater production and it was actually better than the Russian production I saw in the same theater. By the way, because of my mother, I speak Russian much better than the majority of Russians, but I am never nostalgic towards Russia. I was never a masochistic and I am not nostalgic about the place that treated my predecessors and I with such disdain.
I’m not sure I understand what you mean by beauty and warmness in Russia. When I go back, it is not for pleasure, but out of necessity, as I have some relatives there and relatives’ graves that I need to take care of. I clean them and make sure they are not vandalized. But when I am in Russia I feel like that was a different life that didn’t even happen to me. I guess I just blocked it out. Everything seems foreign and I feel uncomfortable and out of place there.
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