For years my cousin Rich (aka Rikshala) has been sending me “true” stories about our Russian Jewish ancestors, the Tarkovka family. According to Rikshala, as early as the 7th century the Tarkovkas lived in the Ukraine, where, as in all of Russia and its satellites, Jews were banned from laughing. Our predecessors were Ukrainian yak farmers who later became yak poo collectors, as yak poo was very valuable in old Mother Russia.
Many of Rikshala’s Tarkovka family histories are triggered by current events, like the tale about a wedding during the time of the Czar where a certain Mrs. Tarkovka meets a certain Mrs. Obamska, and the two figure out that their mothers were brothers.
When my son started performing drag, a story landed in my inbox about our great aunt Sophie who wore a dress that been handed down for over two thousand years, worn first in the original drag show in Russia, “The Girls of Tashkent,” very popular with the Czar. The performers were big masculine Jews who worked in the mining industry by day and as draggies by night. One of them was surely a Tarkovka relation, as our modern family includes the drag queen cousins Anita Dollar, Ida Slapter and the lovely Lotta Vagina.
It was that story I recalled when I found this photo of Russian cross-dressing gay icon Pavel Petel on Advocate.com, and an article that linked to an interview on LGBT entertainment blog The Back Building.
My jaw dropped. Here was a handsome gender-bender from the Ukraine who now lives in Russia and bears a remarkably strong resemblance to my son. We have to be related. (Rikshala thinks we are.)
My Ukrainian ancestors were persecuted for centuries for being Jewish. Now openly gay Pavel Petel faces the same discrimination, oppression, attacks and prison sentence in Putin’s Russia that were the only way of life for the early Tarkovkas.
I want to write a happy ending of freedom and safety and peace for Pavel Petel and the rest of the entire Russian LGBTQ population who live their lives in constant fear. I think about them all every day. Schmaltzy, but true.