Between disease and crime
Sexopathology and prison homosexuality (1970–80)
in Regulating homosexuality in Soviet Russia, 1956–91
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This chapter examines discussions on homosexuality among Soviet sexologists and Soviet Interior Ministry (MVD) officials in the 1970s. It reveals that during this time, MVD officials were increasingly influenced by Soviet sexologists’ research on homosexuality and sought to harness it for their efforts to eliminate same-sex activity in Soviet prisons. This chapter also shows that during the 1970s, the Soviet penitentiary was a key site, where Soviet sexual modernity was constructed. Police and doctors negotiated new meanings of homosexuality, experimenting with new forms of controls and seeking to preserve and enforce heterosexuality in prisons. The influence of sexological expertise on Soviet MVD officials, however, did not result in their preference for medical approaches to homosexuality. Instead, MVD officials advocated for a combination of police and medical responses to same-sex activity in prisons, viewing it paradoxically as both a punishable crime and a treatable disease. This peculiar kind of sexual modernity – a conflation of medical and police approaches - was also palpable outside the barbed wire in the practices of Soviet sexopathologists. Although homosexual acts were a punishable crime and there was a steady rise in sodomy convictions during the 1970s, there were doctors who willingly offered medical treatment for homosexuality. These treatments were unofficial and doctors who administered them had to balance their practice along the borders of public and private.

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