Masha Gessen is a Russian American journalist, an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights, and the author of several books – most notably, The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise Of Vladimir Putin.
Gessen lived in Russia until her mid-teens, and then moved to the US with her family in 1981. Ten years later, she returned to Moscow on assignment.
Gessen currently lives in New York City. Her latest book is about the Tsarnaev brothers, the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Here's what she told BuzzFeed News.
1. Only one of her books, about a mathematician, has been translated into Russian.
2. She writes about topics like Putin, Pussy Riot (pictured), and Russia's anti-gay laws because she finds those stories the most interesting – not because she's chasing danger.
3. In fact, Gessen doesn't think of herself as brave at all. Which is kind of remarkable for a Russian LGBT activist and former war correspondent.
4. She left Russia for the second time in 2013 after politicians started talking about taking children from same-sex parents.
A huge consequence of the violence directed towards LGBT Russians has been a flood of refugees, says Gessen – many of them in New York City, where there's an "entire community" who fled Putin.
Gessen, who had a US passport, said she had a very "soft landing" compared to other Russians.
"I have a US passport and the Supreme Court gave us the very great gift of the Windsor decision, meaning my partner and I could get married and she could have her green card. We had the material means to buy a house before moving. I don't want to call myself a refugee, I moved."
Gessen says the laws that caused this exodus are more designed to send a message than they are to be enforced.
"You can't enforce the homosexual propaganda laws, unless you do it selectively," she says. "Once you write a law that can only be enforced selectively, then the point of it is not to have legislation, the point of it is to have a message in the public."
5. Gessen says the dismantling of LGBT rights in Russia came as a "real shock to the system".
6. She tried to get a bureau job after working in the US queer press throughout the '80s – but couldn't get a gig as an out queer woman. So she started writing for magazines.
"I tried to get a bureau job, because that seemed like a nice professional thing to do. But who was going to give a bureau job in 1991 to someone who looks like me and came from the queer press?" she asks.
"Now I think I was so lucky, because I had to become a magazine journalist. That gave me so much more freedom than having a bureau job. And gave me more financial stability – who would have thought that at the time?"
7. She is a massive night owl.
8. She wants to expose the ways in which the world is fucked up.
"I have very little patience for the idea of objectivity," Gessen says. "I have more patience for the idea that there's an objective style, to serve the original concept of objectivity in journalism."
That original concept, says Gessen, is the idea that journalism has to be evidence based, with transparent sourcing.
"I'm down with that, but I'm not down with the idea that the journalist is some sort of hovering presence with no subjectivity, and no location."
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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