Last week we reissued our first ever publication, Elska Lviv, shot in Ukraine's most beautiful city. The reason to reprint it was due to a public vote whereby readers and fans chose from six out-of-print Elskas. Lviv won overwhelmingly; if the vote had been even close, I'd have chosen to reprint another.
Elska Lviv has always been problematic. While it would be simply ignorant to compare Ukraine to Russia, in terms of homophobia, they share more in common than most Ukrainians would be comfortable to admit. We didn't personally encounter any problems when shooting the issue, but we did after it was published, mainly from some of the participants who suddenly weren't happy to be part of Elska once they realised that Elska was gaining a larger audience than they expected. Mainly they had a problem that Elska's audience was so gay.
While certainly some if not most of the guys in Elska are some sort of LGBTQ, sexuality is never a requirement for a participant of Elska. However, for a mag full of pictures of men, often naked, it's quite normal that the readership would veer towards gay men. And when gay media started writing about Elska Lviv, the men from the issue were getting angry. Many were in the closet, or partly in the closet, or maybe not even gay at all. And they absolutely did not want to be associated with homosexuals, at least not in a public way. Some wrote in begging to be removed from the issue, but it was already published. Others demanded that third party media retract their stories about Elska, but that's not in our control even if we wanted it to be. So I told them, "Say what you want about us, pretend that Elska lied to you and claimed to be a 100% heterosexual publication, if that will help you."
I thought the drama had faded. After all, Elska Lviv was originally published over 2 1/2 years ago. But today, just a week after the reissue, one of the participants contacted us to demand being deleted, or at least to crop his face off any images.
It reeks of homosexual imperialism to suggest that another culture should stop being so homophobic, and that gay men in those societies should just come out. That's not what I'm saying. Being in Elska does not and has never meant that you are absolutely gay. But being in the closet, if you are actually gay, is not strictly a passive act. You may need to overtly deny being gay if you are accused of it. It's just part of the deal.