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Daria Kasatkina the Courageous comes out as gay, and draws a line in the sand against Russian “taboos”
Sometimes it takes a deep personal stake to impel a person to take a stand.
Published Jul 21, 2022
WATCH: Daria Kasatkina reaches the Roland Garros semifinals
Daria Kasatkina, once cast as a quirky, fun-loving WTA upstart, has never expressed a public desire to be a hero. But she has become one, going where almost no other tennis player from Russia or Belarus has dared to tread. She is challenging the actions of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and criticizing the direction taken by the nation living under his authoritarian thumb.
“So many subjects are taboo in Russia,” Kasatkina, 25 years old and the top-ranked women’s player from Russia, told Russian blogger Vitya Kravchenko of her decision to come out as gay in a recent, widely-viewed video. Kasatkina knew full well what she was doing, and the risk she was taking.
The headlines generated by the interview predictably focused on Kasatkina’s intimate revelation. Soon after the interview was posted, Kasatkina also posted a picture on Instagram of her embracing Olympic silver medalist figure skater Natalia Zabiiako, complete with heart emoji. But some of the other subjects Kasatkina touched on are just as—if not more—explosive and dangerous to her. Referring to those “taboos,” Kasatkina said: “Some of them are more important than ours, and it’s no surprise.”
Another taboo broken by Kasatkina: referring to Putin’s actions in Ukraine by its proper name—a “war”—rather than Putin’s absurd semantics of “special military operation.” When asked what she most wanted out of life, Kasatkina said, “For the war to end.” She called for an end to the fighting, which she termed a “complete nightmare.”
Coincidentally, or not, the other main subject in the hour-long video (think This Tennis Life, Russian edition, but filmed in Barcelona, Spain) that follows both players through a typical training day is Andrey Rublev. You may remember that Rublev, currently ranked No. 8, is one of the only Russian pros to express opposition to Putin’s war. Not long after the Russian leader launched the invasion of Ukraine, Rublev scrawled the message “No war please” on the lens of a camera at a tournament in Dubai. At one point in this most recent video, when Rublev and Kasatkina are often filmed together, the ATP No. 8 said, “I support [her] 100 percent.”
Rublev’s gesture in Dubai was a promising start to resistance, as was the tweet Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova posted, pleading, “Stop the violence, stop the war.” But that tweet has since been deleted, and no well-known Russian or Belarusian player has stepped forward to criticize the war or the regime. Fearful of retaliation, eager to play the “I’m just a tennis player” card, the pros have retreated behind a wall of silence.
Kasatkina has brought that wall crashing down.
Her decision to come out probably had even greater urgency due to the proliferating taboos and restrictions now being imposed in Russia—tendencies that are all of a piece with Putin’s vision. The social engineering that the former KGB functionary is orchestrating is so insidious that it ought to wipe out any ambivalence about Putin’s actions in Ukraine and elsewhere.
Putin launched a different kind of war in 2013, an ongoing one aimed at the
LGBTQ community. A new law prohibited the discussion of LGBTQ relationships because they might serve for the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relation” to minors. In her interview with Kravchenko, Kasatkina bridled at the idea that people would easily be lured to the gay lifestyle.
“This thing, about someone wanting to be gay, or becoming one, it’s so ridiculous,” she said. “There’s nothing in the world easier than being straight.”
Russian lawmakers now are looking to take that law to a next level, widening it to comprise a thorough ban on LGBTQ relationships in a positive or neutral light, or even showing LBGTQ content in cinemas. This push is a part of Putin’s aggressive attempt to draw Russia farther from the western world and its values. Other elements of his plan include the militarization of Russian youth and a dramatically revised school curriculum designed to stoke blind patriotism in defiance of historical fact.
Living in a closet, as they say, it’s too hard, it’s pointless. You’ll be constantly focused on that. If you choose to come out, of course, it’s up to you how to do it, and how much to tell. Living in peace with yourself is all that matters. Daria Kasatkina
Sometimes it takes a deep personal stake to impel a person to take a stand. Kasatkina might have spoken up (she has always been refreshingly frank) regardless of her sexual identity; we’ll never know. What we do know is that she is a courageous young lady who has drawn her line in the sand by coming out. It helps that she now lives in Dubai, but it will still be interesting to see if Russian officials choose to retaliate against her—and if so, how.
“Living in a closet, as they say, it’s too hard, it’s pointless,” she said. “You’ll be constantly focused on that. If you choose to come out, of course, it’s up to you how to do it, and how much to tell. Living in peace with yourself is all that matters.”
At one point, Kravchenko asked Kasatkina, “When will it be okay to hold hands [with your partner] in Russia?”
“Never,” Kasatkina answered.
She added, “Judging by these things going on now, it will never be okay. We had some positive tendencies not so long ago, around the time of the world championships [it’s unclear what sport she meant], we were closer then to the west.”
The suggestion that Kasatkina may never be able to return to her Russian homeland after collaborating on this video left her in tears. Even heroes cry.