Aleksandra “Sasha” Phoenix, 48, is staring at toy soldiers from her childhood in her portrait. Growing up in the Soviet Union, Phoenix said she felt fortunate to have parents who allowed her to dress and play like a boy.
“My dad and I spent a lot of time in the work shed,” Phoenix wrote in her “Not Necessary?” profile. “When I was 10, I built a gun from a wooden plank. It ended up being a great self-firing gun. No one would believe that I built it myself.”
In kindergarten, Phoenix said she would use the boy’s bathroom and try to urinate standing up. The nursery teachers would pull her out of the bathroom and try to teach her to use the girl’s bathroom, she recalled.
“I was really sure that if I peed standing, I would sooner or later have what boys have,” Phoenix shared in the documentary.
In order to appease her teachers, Phoenix agreed to wear skirts and dresses in school, she said, but outside of school she was permitted to wear what she wanted.
“A person who grows up in the Soviet, such as myself, finds it hard to accept oneself. It took a long time, even though I had such accepting and supportive parents,” Phoenix explained.
There were periods in her life, she said, when she felt like a “binary transgender person.” She thought of transitioning to male, but she said she was discouraged by the lack of resources available. “Back then, it was era of the Perestroika in the Soviet Union. There was no internet, and I had no information.”
Despite having parents who were open to her gender identity, Phoenix did not begin to identify herself as non-binary until she reached the age of 46 and became involved in LGBTQ activism.
In 2016, Phoenix and Alieva created KIT Initiative, an organization based in Samara that provides job resources, individual consultations and support groups for transgender and intersex individuals.
In order to protect KIT from Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, which prohibits the promotion of homosexuality to minors, KIT’s website managers had to write a legal disclaimer on the page stating the site’s content is not suitable for those under 18.
In March, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal censor, banned Gay.ru, one of the country’s most popular LGBTQ websites. The site, which was banned despite having an adult content disclaimer, is currently accessible through virtual private networks and in other countries.
Svetlana Zakharova, the communications manager for the Russian LGBT Network, says having a legal disclaimer does not save people from being punished under the “gay propaganda” law. It depends on the judge, she said.
“This law it says that it’s illegal to propagate non-traditional sexual relations, but it’s not exactly defined does it mean to propagate. So the courts, they use it the way they want it,” she explained.
Despite the risks of being fined and censored, Alieva and Movsumov say they will continue with their project and look for people who are willing to share their stories on “Not Necessary!” The project does not have a disclaimer.
“I love to express myself freely. I am open with my identity, ” Alieva declared. “The more daring I am, the less I suffer.”