Harry, a slight 20-year-old man dressed in a classic white shirt, black trousers and a baseball cap that hides his hair, passes through the turnstiles in the reception area of the high-rise housing The Moscow Times office with a deadpan expression.

Harry is not his given name and he is using someone else’s documents to enter the building for our interview because he is transgender and his own papers still bear the photograph of a young woman.

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“In Moscow, I try to be myself, I even wear this rainbow bracelet, but it is hard because the level of transphobia is still very high,” Harry said.

In Russia, transgender people are classified as mentally ill, at odds with the World Health Organization (WHO) global manual of diagnoses, which in May reclassified gender incongruence as a sexual health issue rather than a behavioral disorder. 

There are no official statistics on the number of transgender people in Russia, but experts put the number at around 15,000 across the country, or about 0.1% of the population.

Any transgender person wishing to undergo prescribed and controlled hormone treatment must have a diagnosis of “transsexualism” from a psychiatrist. Without that, many decide to buy hormones that are available over-the-counter, a self-medication process that can be dangerous.

Russia is due to change its transgender classification to be in accordance with the WHO in 2020, but Tatyana Glushkova, a lawyer for the Transgender Legal Defense Project told The Moscow Times that she has little confidence the guidelines will change according to that timeline. 

“The Russian bureaucratic machine is very slow and clumsy,” she said.