Masha Gessen

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Masha Gessen
Masha Gessen 01a.jpg
Gessen in 2015
Born (1967-01-13) 13 January 1967 (age 55)
  • Russia
  • United States
  • Journalist
  • author
  • activist
Svetlana Generalova
(m. 2004, divorced)

Darya Oreshkina
RelativesKeith Gessen (brother)

Masha Gessen (born 13 January 1967) is a Russian-American journalist, author, translator[1][2] and activist who has been an outspoken critic of the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and the former president of the United States, Donald Trump.[3]

Gessen is nonbinary and trans and uses they/them pronouns.[4][5] Gessen has written extensively on LGBT rights.[6] Described as "Russia's leading LGBT rights activist,"[7] they have said that for many years they were "probably the only publicly out gay person in the whole country."[8] They now live in New York with their wife and children.[9]

Gessen writes primarily in English but also in their native Russian. In addition to being the author of several non-fiction books, they have been a prolific contributor to such publications as The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, New Statesman, Granta, Slate, Vanity Fair, Harper's Magazine, The New Yorker, and U.S. News & World Report. Since 2017, they have been a staff writer for The New Yorker.

Gessen worked as a translator on the FX TV channel historical drama The Americans.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Gessen was born into a Jewish family in Moscow to Alexander and Yelena Gessen.[1] Gessen's paternal grandmother Ester Goldberg, the daughter of a socialist mother and a Zionist father, was born in Białystok, Poland, in 1923 and emigrated to Moscow in 1940. Ester's father Jakub Goldberg was murdered during the Holocaust in 1943, either in the Białystok Ghetto or a concentration camp. Ruzya Solodovnik, Gessen's maternal grandmother, was a Russian-born intellectual who worked as a censor for the Stalinist government until she was fired during an antisemitic purge. Gessen's maternal grandfather Samuil was a committed Bolshevik who died during World War II, leaving Ruzya to raise Yelena alone.[10]

In 1981, when Gessen was a teenager, Gessen's family moved via the US Refugee Resettlement Program to the United States.[11] As an adult in 1991, Gessen moved to Moscow, where they worked as a journalist.[11] They hold both Russian and US citizenship. Their brothers are Keith, Daniel and Philip Gessen.[12]


Activism and journalism[edit]

Masha Gessen at the Moscow International Book Festival, 2011

Gessen was on the board of directors of the Moscow-based LGBT rights organization Triangle between 1993 and 1998.[13]

In an extensive October 2008 profile of Vladimir Putin for Vanity Fair, Gessen reported that the young Putin had been "an aspiring thug" and that "the backward evolution of Russia began" within days of his inauguration in 2000.[14]

At the Sydney Writer's Festival in 2012, Gessen expressed their view that the institution of marriage shouldn't exist. They said: "Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we're going to do with marriage when we get there. Because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie. The institution of marriage is going to change and it should change, and again, I don't think it should exist."[15]

They contributed several dozen commentaries on Russia to The New York Times blog "Latitude" between November 2011 and December 2013. Among their subjects were the banning of so-called "homosexual propaganda" and other related laws; the harassment and beating of journalists, and the depreciation in value of the ruble.[16]

In March 2013, politician Vitaly Milonov promoted the Russian law against foreign adoption of Russian children by saying: "The Americans want to adopt Russian children and bring them up in perverted families like Masha Gessen's."[17]

Dismissal from Vokrug sveta[edit]

Gessen was dismissed from their position as the chief editor of Russia's oldest magazine, Vokrug sveta, a popular-science journal, in September 2012 after Gessen refused to send a reporter to cover a Russian Geographical Society event about nature conservation featuring President Putin because Gessen considered it political exploitation of environmental concerns.[18][19] After Gessen tweeted about their firing, Putin phoned them and claimed he was serious about his "nature conservation efforts." At his invitation, Gessen met him and Gessen's former publisher at the Kremlin, and were offered their job back. Gessen rejected the offer.[20][21]

Radio Liberty[edit]

In September 2012, Gessen was appointed as director of the Russian Service for Radio Liberty, a U.S. government-funded broadcaster based in Prague.[22][23] Shortly after their appointment was announced and a few days after Gessen met with Putin, more than 40 members of Radio Liberty's staff were fired. The station also lost its Russian broadcasting license several weeks after Gessen took over. The degree of Gessen's involvement in both of these events is unclear, but has caused controversy.[23]

Return to the US[edit]

In December 2013, they moved to New York because Russian authorities had begun to talk about taking children away from gay parents.[24] In March of that year, "the St Petersburg legislator [Milonov] who had become a spokesman for the law [against 'homosexual propaganda' towards children] started mentioning me and my 'perverted family' in his interviews," and Gessen contacted an adoption lawyer asking "whether I had reason to worry that social services would go after my family and attempt to remove my oldest son, whom I adopted in 2000." The lawyer told Gessen "to instruct my son to run if he is approached by strangers and concluding: 'The answer to your question is at the airport.'" In June 2013, Gessen was beaten up outside of the Parliament; they said of the incident that "I realized that in all my interactions, including professional ones, I no longer felt I was perceived as a journalist first: I am now a person with a pink triangle." They stated that "a court would easily decide to annul Vova's adoption, and I wouldn't even know it." Given this potential threat to their family, Gessen "felt like no risk was small enough to be acceptable," they later told the CBC Radio. "So we just had to get out."[25]

In a January 2014 interview with ABC News, Gessen said that the Russian gay propaganda law had "led to a huge increase in antigay violence, including murders. It's led to attacks on gay and lesbian clubs and film festivals...and because these laws are passed supposedly to protect children, the people who are most targeted or have the most to fear are LGBT parents."[26]

Gessen wrote in February 2014 that Citibank had closed their bank account because of concern about Russian money-laundering operations.[27]

As of 2020, Gessen serves as Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College. Previously at Amherst College, they were named the John J. McCloy '16 Professor of American Institutions and International Diplomacy for the 2017–18 and 2018–19 academic years. In October 2017, they published their 10th book The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.[28] They were included in the 2022 Fast Company Queer 50 list.[29]

Personal life[edit]

Gessen married Svetlana Generalova, a Russian citizen who was also involved in the LGBT movement in Moscow, in 2004. The wedding took place in the U.S.[13][30] Generalova and Gessen later divorced, and by the time Gessen returned to the U.S. from Russia in December 2013, Gessen was married to Darya Oreshkina.[31][32]

Gessen has three children—two sons and a daughter. Their eldest son, Vova, was born in 1997 in Russia and was adopted by Gessen from an orphanage in Kaliningrad for the children of HIV-positive women. Their daughter, Yolka, was born to Gessen in the U.S. in 2001. Their third child, a son, was born in February 2012.[33]

Gessen tested positive for the BRCA mutation that is correlated with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy in 2005.[34]


Summaries of select works[edit]

The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin[edit]

External video
video icon Presentation by Gessen on The Man Without a Face, 8 March 2012, C-SPAN

In The Man Without a Face, Gessen offers an account of Putin's rise to power and summary of recent Russian politics. The book was published on 1 March 2012 and translated into 20 languages.[41]

The New York Review of Books described the book as written in "beautifully clear and eloquent English," and stated that it was "at heart a description of th[e] secret police milieu" from which Putin originated and was "also very good at evoking…the culture and atmosphere within which [Putin] was raised, and the values he came to espouse."[42] The Guardian called the book "luminous";[43] the Telegraph called it "courageous".[44]

CIA officer John Ehrman's review stated: "As a biography it is satisfactory, but no more than that" and "little of what Gessen has to say is new." He described the images as ". . effective as anti-Putin propaganda".[45]

Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot[edit]

External video
video icon Presentation by Gessen on Words Will Break Cement, 12 March 2014, C-SPAN

A.D. Miller wrote in the Telegraph that "even readers who do not share Gessen's esteem for Pussy Riot as artists will be convinced of their courage." Miller described Gessen as "the right person to tell this story" and said their journalistic approach was "scrupulous and sensitive".[46] Booklist described the book as "prickly, frank, precise, and sharply witty."[47] The New York Times called it "urgent" and "damning."[48] The Washington Post called the book an "excellent" portrait of Pussy Riot and said that "Gessen gives a particularly brilliant account of their trials".[49] The Los Angeles Times said that Gessen was "Not just a keen observer of these events" but "also an impassioned partisan."[50]

The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy[edit]

External video
video icon Presentation by Gessen on The Brothers, 29 April 2015, C-SPAN

Published in April 2015 by Riverhead, The Brothers investigates the background of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing.[51]



Essays and reporting[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Masha Gessen". Contemporary Authors Online. 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  2. ^ a b Thomas, June (21 April 2016). "The Art of the Perfect Subtitle". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  3. ^ Gessen, Masha (10 November 2016). "Autocracy: Rules for Survival". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  4. ^ Gessen, Masha [@mashagessen] (23 June 2020). "I avoided the topic of pronouns for a while" (Tweet). Retrieved 7 August 2020 – via Twitter.
  5. ^ "Маша Гессен: о Трампе, тестостероне и терроре". Youtube. Archived from the original on 20 December 2021. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  6. ^ Gessen, Masha (9 October 2019). "The Supreme Court Considers L.G.B.T. Rights, but Can't Stop Talking About Bathrooms". The New Yorker. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  7. ^ UNC. "Masha Gessen: "The Rise of Radical 'Family Values' in Russia". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  8. ^ Hayes, Chris. "Russian Journalist Gives a Snapshot of Gay Life in Russia Masha Gessen w Chris Hayes". MSNBC. Retrieved 15 May 2014.[dead YouTube link]
  9. ^ "Masha and Keith Gessen on Writing About Russia". The New Yorker. 17 March 2019. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  10. ^ Pollitt, Katha (6 March 2005). "'Ester and Ruzya': Grandmothers of Invention". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 January 2020.
  11. ^ a b Smith Rakoff, Joanna. "Talking with Masha Gessen". Newsday, 2 January 2005.
  12. ^ Smith Rakoff, Joanna. "Talking with Masha Gessen, Newsday, 14 June 2017.
  13. ^ a b "Биография Мария Гессен" [Мария Гессен / Maria Hessen: Biography]. (in Russian). Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  14. ^ Gessen, Masha (1 October 2008). "Dead Soul". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on 14 April 2014. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  15. ^ Gessen, Masha. Sydney Writer's Festival, 2012.
  16. ^ NYT. "Powerlessness and Pretense". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  17. ^ Gessen, Masha (26 August 2013). "When Putin Declared War on Gay Families, It Was Time for Mine to Leave Russia". Slate. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  18. ^ Amos, Howard (10 September 2012). "Putin to pilot hang-glider at head of endangered Siberian crane migration". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  19. ^ Gessen, Masha (10 September 2012). "Flying Putin, Fired Editor". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  20. ^ Skavlan, Fredrik. "American/Jewish/Russian journalist Masha Gessen wrote negative book about President Putin". Skavlan. Archived from the original on 20 December 2021. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  21. ^ Aschberg, Robert. "Stora Journalistpriset 2012: Masha Gessen". Stora Journalistpriset 2012. Archived from the original on 20 December 2021. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  22. ^ "Radio Liberty Hires Gessen". The Moscow Times. 17 September 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  23. ^ a b Cohen, Ariel; Helle Dale (13 December 2012). "How to Save Radio Liberty". The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  24. ^ Ghomeshi, Jian. "World Pride: Masha Gessen on defiance and exile". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  25. ^ O'Brien, Lara. "Masha Gessen on the State of Vladimir Putin's Russia". CBC Radio. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  26. ^ ABC. "Russian Author and Activist Masha Gessen Answers 5 Questions". ABC News. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  27. ^ Gessen, Masha (11 February 2014). "Banking While Russian". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  28. ^ "Meet the Visitors – Amherst College". Retrieved 27 November 2017.[permanent dead link]
  29. ^ "Masha Gessen is No. 11 on the 2022 Fast Company Queer 50 list". Fast Company. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  30. ^ "Семья Генераловых — Персоны". Эхо Москвы.
  31. ^ Bethune, Brian. "Russian dissident Masha Gessen on Pussy Riot, Putin and Sochi". Maclean's. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  32. ^ Margolin, Emma; Johnny Simon. "Faces of Russia's LGBT community". MSNBC. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  33. ^ Signorile, Michelangelo (6 September 2013). "Russian Gay Activist's Plea: 'Get Us the Hell Out of Here'". HuffPost. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  34. ^ Groskop, Viv (4 July 2008). "Masha Gessen talks about blood, babies and the burden of knowing too much". The Guardian.
  35. ^ "National Jewish Book Award | Book awards | LibraryThing". Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  36. ^ "About – Stora Journalistpriset".
  37. ^ Business Wire. "2013 Media for Liberty Award Honors Vanity Fair's "The Wrath of Putin" by Masha Gessen". Daily Finance.
  38. ^ Committee, Wallenberg. "Masha Gessen to Receive Wallenberg Medal – Wallenberg Legacy, University of Michigan".
  39. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn (15 November 2017). "Masha Gessen, Jesmyn Ward, Robin Benway and Frank Bidart win National Book Awards". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  40. ^ "2018 Prize – Masha Gessen". The Dennis & Victoria Ross Foundation.
  41. ^ Vuolo, Mike (14 March 2014). "Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot". Slate. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  42. ^ Applebaum, Anne. "Vladimir's Tale". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  43. ^ Harding, Luke (9 March 2012). "The Man Without a Face by Masha Gessen – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  44. ^ Miller, A D. "The Man Without a Face: the Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen: review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  45. ^ "Intelligence in Public Literature | The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin and Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin". 12 February 2014. Archived from the original on 6 November 2020. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  46. ^ Miller, A D. "Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, by Masha Gessen, review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  47. ^ Booklist review
  48. ^ Nazaryan, Alexander (9 January 2014). "Punk, Skirts, Balaclavas: A Russian Revolution". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  49. ^ Applebaum, Anne. "Book review: 'Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot' by Masha Gessen". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  50. ^ Marcus, Sara (14 January 2014). "'Words Will Break Cement' documents the Pussy Riot revolution". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  51. ^ Bosman, Julie (May 2013). "First Book Is Planned on the Tsarnaev Brothers". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  52. ^ Rounding, Virginia (9 July 2004). "Against all odds". The Guardian.
  53. ^ "2017 National Book Awards". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  54. ^ "Never Remember: Searching for Stalin's Gulags in Putin's Russia". Columbia Global Reports. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  55. ^ "Surviving Autocracy". Riverhead Books. Retrieved 8 June 2020.
  56. ^ Online version is titled "The gay men who fled Chechnya's purge".
  57. ^ First published on on April 2, 2020.

External links[edit]