Gay Turkey News & Reports 2000-03

Also see:
Islam and Homosexuality
Turkish LGBT Rights Report Sept 2005
Travel story about sailing Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast

Also see:
Gay Middle East Web Site:
More information about Islam & Homosexuality can be found at:
Other articles of interest can be found at:
Queer Muslim magazine: Huriyah

Gay Islam discussion groups:

1 Life is much harder if you are a Turkish gay man 11/02

2 Turkish transvestites stone minister’s home-police 4/01

3 Pushed to the edge: Trannies in Turkey 12/00

4 Gays Refused Entry to Famous Turkish Site 9/00

5 A Quick Guide to Turkey 6/00

6 Transsexuals and the Urban Landscape in Istanbul

7 Gay Identities, Communities and Places in the 1990s in Istanbul

8 Press statement for the ninth meeting of gay and lesbians 10/02

9 Lesbian Film: Journey to Kafiristan (a true story)

November 14, 2002

Never Felt Secure–A True Life Story of a Turkish Gay Student
(1150 words)

"The Shame of a Dignified Family: A Gay Son"

I was born in 1979 in the west part of Turkey. I’m the third child of our family. My father has worked all these years for the Turkish Army and when I was 10, he was retired. A big percentage of women in Turkey are housewives like my mother. Now living in Ankara for more than a decade, my brother and my sister got married and moved to another cities.
I’m a masters degree student at a university in Ankara.

My Parents don’t know that I’m gay, and I hope that they will never know it. When I told my sister that I was gay, she burst into tears. I can better understand now why she cried; she worried about my life in Turkey, about my future and the dignity of our family. My brother, now married, protects his dignity by ignoring me. He no longer recognises me as his brother just because I’m gay. I’m glad that he behaves that way because I don’t want to remember him too. He has never been a real brother for me.

My biggest disappointment in life was the violence called circumcision.It was the complete destruction of a child’s innerworld. When I was 5 and my brother 11 we were both circumsized without knowing what was going on. We were happily living in our flat; the day before we had big celebrations, even our neighbours and our relatives were there.

I thought it was something like a birthday celebration, but next day suddenly my father, my physician cousin and other men I don’t know brought me into the back room of our flat and I started crying. They held my hands and legs while they started to undress my pants and the violence began. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, I was only screaming and crying. I was circumcised wildly without anesthesia at home. (photo left, circumcision; photo right, recovery)

I must have fainted. That violence called "circumcision" is so common in Turkey. Our nation is so used to this violence that it has become a tradition. I will never forgive my family for this. Everyday, too many children in Turkey have to face this tragedy, which is an about religious nonsense.

"My Real Life began at the University"

I have lots of friends who accept my sexuality–or at least they seem to. My best girl friend is an angel. We met at the university. She always appreciates my advice and her boyfriends are always gay friendly. My friends from highschool could not accept me that easy when I came out 3 years ago. When we meet occasionaly, they prefer not to talk about me; or let’s say they feel better when they ignore my sexuality. With only one of them, the best male friend I ever have, who is also heterosexual like them, I had no problems. He likes talking about queers and he supports me.

For my colleagues from university, things are totally different. They accept my way of living so easily and they have no problems with gay people. Most of the university students appear to think that way; that’s what I have experienced.

"Things I like in Turkey"
Sun, beaches, bellydancers, Sezen Aksu (the one and only turkish Diva), Tarkan (photo left) and his songs. Also lokum (turkish delight), hammams (public baths), doner kebabs are so irresistable! Holidays in Turkey are really remarkable so that’s why most Europeans prefer Turkey for fabulous holidays.

"Things I hate in Turkey"
Fundamentalists, ignorant and characterless people (like many politicians). Even our new prime minister (Erdogan) is a strong fundamentalist. Having only 34% of total votes, the AKP party (the Islamic party) had its victory, which is a very sad thing for the Turkish Republic.

Turkish Army is the only guarantee of secularism and modern living in Turkey. Secularism, the main rule of Turkish Republic, was set by Ataturk, the founder of Turkish Republic. Our legendary hero did his best for the Turkish nation; he brought secularism into Turkey. We are free and we are proud to say "we are so different than Iran, Iraq or any other Islamic state". I’m also a Kemalist (Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s fan) and I’ll always fight for our rights to be free like the way he did. In Turkey; everybody must have the same right to chose a religion. I, for one, don’t have a religion and this is commonly acceptable. This freedom is protected by law, but in some cities of Turkey there are big Islamic influences because of ignorance of the people.

So even if you have the freedom to choose your religion, you actually don’t have the right to live the way you want to in these places. In Turkey, even in Istanbul, we are not allowed to celebrate Christopher Street Day. Celebrations are only held in some clubs, not on the streets. (But gays and lesbians have marched publicly in the streets in other parades. In foreground, photo above.)

"My Private Life: Not Allowed"
Well, practically, I have no private life. In Turkey, coming out is nearly impossible for gay people if they have or plan to have a good career. If you are a person who is publicly known as gay you have no chance to find a job. Open gay men cannot be in the military service but they have to prove that they are gay and the only way to be exempt from the compulsory military service is to bring pornographic photographs of yourself and to let yourself examined (rectal) in a hospital.

After these discriminating processes, you are defined as "rotten". Disabled people are also defined as "rotten" and they also cannot join the military service but they have the right to work for the state. But gay men (also "rotten") do not have the right to become a state employee. Even if you find a job by chance, being "too gay" means that you’re fired soon. Therefore, you always have to be the "boss" and act your role.

As a young person living with my parents, I do not want to take any risks by dating a man. It is too dangerous; you can lose your job, your whole career, your family and furthermore your life! Until I go to Europe, I have decided not to start a relationship in Turkey, because it would end up sadly for sure. Never being able to live together, having no future, having many social-acceptance problems and conflicts with families and many more reasons –all this would tear us apart. (photo left: hammam)

"Future Expectations: Plans, Hopes…"
I plan to live in Europe in the future. Maybe I’ll get married and get rid of my surname, which my parents would never want me to keep if others know I am gay. So for now I have to study harder than a regular student in order to be able to start an international career.


April 16, 2001

Turkish transvestites stone minister’s home-police

Ankara – Turkish police said on Monday they drove a gang of stone-throwing transvestites away from a minister’s home after they tried to rob his son late on Saturday. The Hurriyet newspaper said a group of transvestites accosted the son of sports minister Fikret Unlu as he parked his car near the family’s Ankara residence. They demanded he give them 50 million lira ($42) or face being shamed in front of his neighbours.

The group of cross-dressers threw beer bottles and stones at the Unlu home as the minister’s bodyguards intervened, an Ankara police spokesman told Reuters. The paper said the group used their mobile telephones to call in other transvestites to join the fray before police drove them away. Two people, one of them transsexual, have been detained in connection with the incident, the police spokesman said.

Turkey’s larger cities have active transvestite scenes, in which men visit bars filled with young cross-dressers — many of them in various stages of sex-change therapy — and hire them for sex. Confrontations between police and transvestites in Istanbul and Ankara are not uncommon, particularly as summer nears and nightlife spills over onto the streets.

Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, ( )

December 19, 2000

Pushed to the edge: Trannies in Turkey

Gays, transsexuals are on the fringe of the Muslim nation, working only as prostitutes

by Tom Hundley, Tribune Foreign Correspondent
Istanbul – Sevval Kilic has olive skin, long chestnut hair, a Barbra Streisand pout and an unshakable sense of who she is. That much was clear as she spoke of her recent life as a gay man on the streets of Istanbul, before undergoing surgery to alter her gender. Kilic, 27, knows every corner of the garish and dangerous demimonde of gays, transvestites and transsexuals who live on the margins of this conservative Muslim society.
She still inhabits a part of that world, although she has been fortunate enough to escape its most demeaning aspects. "I am the luckiest transgender person in Turkey. I met a man. He wanted to marry. I moved away from the streets," she explained.

Kilic is the rare transsexual who holds a regular job, working for a non-profit foundation that tries to aid workers in Istanbul’s sex trade. "I’m the only one [with a regular job]. Maybe there are two or three others, but definitely not four," she said. About 3,000 transvestites and transsexuals are thought to live in Istanbul. Most are prostitutes who ply their trade on the back streets of Beyoglu, the city’s honky-tonk nightclub district, or along one of the major highways leading out of the city.

They have been in the headlines recently because of a controversial government proposal to let them work in licensed brothels. Turkey is the only Muslim country with legalized, state-supervised prostitution. Thriving red-light districts can be found in almost every Turkish city. Istanbul has several, and for years most of the business was controlled by two Armenian madams who were annually honored by the city for scrupulously paying their taxes.

Homosexuality, deeply problematic in most Islamic cultures, also has enjoyed a special niche in Turkey. Celtikci, or "pretty young boys," were prized in the harems of the Ottoman sultans. Even today, a transvestite named Bulent Ersoy is the reigning diva of classical Turkish music. But an accepted, openly gay life is almost impossible in Turkey, which is part of the reason there is such a large population of transvestites and transsexuals. Kilic explained that because homosexuality remains a taboo in this macho, male-dominated culture, the only option for an openly gay person is to live on society’s fringes in the most outlandish and outrageous manner possible.

"If you are homosexual, society pushes you toward this feminine behavior. Society says if I feel a little bit womanish, I have to be a woman," she said. Kilic described herself as a gay man who 10 years ago discovered she was really a woman. "This is not a choice. It’s something instinctive," she said. Six years ago she found a Turkish doctor to perform a sex change operation. For most of Turkey’s transvestites and transsexuals, the only way to earn a living is through prostitution. Their clients are generally closet gays who find that the most convenient way to have a sexual encounter with another man is to pick up a transvestite. "If they are caught, they can say, ‘I made a mistake, bye-bye.’ Or, ‘I was drunk, I didn’t know, bye-bye,’" Kilic said.

Since the mid-1990s, when conservative Islamic political parties first came to power in Istanbul, there has been a steady crackdown on the sex industry. The city’s brothels remain open but the red-light districts have been closed to foreigners and seem to be in a state of decline. Transsexual prostitutes who have undergone sex change operations can get female identity cards that allow them to work legally in the brothels. But those who have not had the operation, which costs about $5,000, or who have no desire for such an operation are considered illegal and often find themselves the target of police harassment. Periodic drives to clean up the grubby Beyoglu district have forced them to work the highways outside the city, where they still find themselves targeted by police.

"The police push you into traffic. Last year, we had about one girl a week killed on the highway," said Demet Demir, a 38-year-old transsexual and political activist. According to news reports, a number of prostitutes have been killed on the highway, apparently struck by cars when they tried to flee from police or abusive customers. Demir, a lanky woman who was chain-smoking at a Beyoglu political clubhouse, said that for years the gay community had been pushing for legalized brothels, but now that this was a possibility, some were having second thoughts.

"The mentality [of the lawmakers] is that if we take them off the streets, we can hide them," she said. On the other hand, "in brothels, the working conditions are hard, but at least it would be safer." Demir comes from a religious family in Istanbul. Her parents, she said, have "finally accepted me as I am."

When she was 21, she spent eight months in prison for her activities with a leftist party that ran afoul of the military regime. After her release from prison, she was expelled from the party because of her sexual orientation. Despite her intelligence and appealing personality, Demir has never been able to find a regular job. Prostitution is the only way she can support herself, and this she laments. "This shouldn’t be our destiny," she said.


Gays Refused Entry to Famous Turkish Site

September 2000

Author ?
For a few hours in early September [2000], I was part of an international GLBT incident, when my gay cruise was ejected from the resort city of Kusadasi, Turkey, apparently by an official who has since himself been packed off to the Turkish equivalent of Siberia. As international scandals go, the event turned out to be a wet firecracker. But that was a relief. For a while, we were as nervous as you can imagine while, far from home, in a country whose customs and attitudes we didn’t understand, 850 of us were herded off our tour buses and out through security by men in uniforms, simply for being something other than heterosexual.

Kusadasi was the fourth stop on our whirlwind tour of the Eastern Mediterranean, following our departure from Athens and visits to the Greek island of Santorini, Egypt, and Israel. Day-long excursions to sights, nightly gay-themed entertainment, and admittedly a fair share of early-morning carousing, had left us tired, but still excited by the wonders we were seeing and the opportunity to be in an environment where same-sex relationships were the overwhelming majority.

Kusadasi is one of Turkey’s major resorts on the beautiful Aegean coast. It’s a modern beach town; think South Beach or Venice, California, but more Islamic. More to the point, it lies just a few miles from Ephessos, a classical Greek port dating from the reign of Alexander the Great, in surprisingly fabulous shape given the region’s frequent earthquakes. Ephessos was our primary destination that day. Secondarily, we hoped to do some shopping in Kusadasi’s tourist-trap district, which looked nicely Rodeo Drive-ish as we passed it on the way to the ruins.

But some of us never made it to the ruins, and none of us got to go shopping. Sometime that morning, before the last two tour buses could leave port, some Turkish official powerful enough to have his (or maybe her) way decided to declare a homosexual panic. Our final buses were prevented from getting under way. Passengers who had skipped the tour in favor of wandering the city were refused entry. Rumor has it that even the ship’s crew was turned back. And when our buses returned a few hours later, roadblocks and security checkpoints marked our passing. Hurried conversations took place between our bus driver, policemen, and our Turkish tour guide (who did a marvelous job of not spooking us with what was really going on). Silly me: I thought it must be the usual security consciousness of Middle Eastern countries, little dreaming it was meant for us.

In retrospect, the incident really did seem the work of a few isolated individuals abusing power while others were occupied elsewhere. Because as we passed back through Kusadasi’s shopping district, still expecting to see it in person and not knowing I’d be back on ship fifteen minutes later, I saw a large rainbow flag hanging on the open door of a medium-sized shop. Ordinary Turkish citizens had waved at us as we left for the ruins; they waved as we came back. They knew we were coming, and who we were; they didn’t seem to be bothered in the least. There were camera crews filming us as we walked down the gangway at the start of our day, but the tone was interested and welcoming, not hostile. And according to the ship’s crew (mostly Greek, and therefore not predisposed to love Turks unconditionally), the general populace was flabbergasted and even upset at our dismissal, starting with the businesspeople who lost thousands of queer American dollars.

Of course, some of that we only realized after we’d had time to calm down and reflect. That calming process didn’t suffer from the fact that the president of the tour company was along with us, and called his friend David Mixner, Bill Clinton’s friend and former gay adviser, to tell him what was happening. As it turned out, our Bubba was already talking to the Turks about something else that day. It was apparently an easy segue to take his pal’s call and ask them why they were harassing 850 American tourists, gay or otherwise.

The Turks, apparently, were surprised at their own behavior too. We were told there are no laws against homosexuality in Turkey, and the country is trying to join the European Union, meaning they must convince the very liberal Western Europeans they have a good human rights track record.

Perhaps this explains the speed with which the Mayor of Kusadasi came aboard our boat and apologized to the entire tour and crew, saying he was ashamed of what had happened, promising to investigate and take action to see it didn’t happen again, and inviting us to return someday. How often do queers get public apologies for how we’re treated?

That all made it easier to feel good on our next day’s tour, again in Turkey, in the great city of Istanbul. But as many amazing sights as we saw-the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia–half the day was really about how famous we had suddenly become. We were front-page news in every morning paper, and the inevitable TV crews filmed hundreds of queens (and dykes) gleefully reading the news about ourselves. Media feeding on media: a very 21st Century experience amid the millennia-old relics. And oddly comforting, because we could see for ourselves that scandalous as we might seem, we were also a welcome entertainment.

According to the Istanbul guide for my bus, the ruling parties in the current parliamentary coalition were looking for an excuse to break with each other anyway, and assigning blame to each other for what had happened to us. Meanwhile ordinary Turks scratched their heads and wondered why gay Americans with money to spend should be turned away. To some degree, it wasn’t really about us at all, and the part that was about us eventually worked out to our benefit.

The only thing that bothered me was the persistent rumors among us Americans that the Turks were fine until four men in drag descended half down the gangway. I know cross-dressers and trans people are a hot button topic for many in our communities, but personally speaking, I feel safest when gender outlaws are protected. The differences some of us see between being gay and being transgendered aren’t terribly apparent to homophobes: to them, wearing a dress and kissing another man or woman both fall under the category of "things your gender shouldn’t do." I’m unwilling to throw trannies to the wolves just to protect myself with some kind of "but I’m a NORMAL queer" gambit.

So I felt we could have done better standing by our own. Besides, as I’ve said, the Turks knew a gay cruise was due in town. If they wanted to react badly they had plenty of better excuses and lots of lead time, so I don’t think the rumor was even true. Imagine if they’d known yours truly is not just a gay man, but also an openly non-monogamous bisexual activist traveling with a long-term gay lover who isn’t one of my two primary male partners. The horror, the horror!

As an activist, I was most concerned about what the incident means for Turkish queers at home. Despite no legal sanctions against homosexuality, life is apparently still pretty rough for non-straights there. Things for the Americans on board the cruise were briefly confusing and almost scary, but quickly became a great "war story."

Meanwhile the Turkish gay men and lesbians compelled into heterosexual marriage, the drag kings/queens and trannies who get abused for being too shocking, the bisexuals who probably get no more respect there than we do back home in the good ol’ USA: they have to stay and work life out. We floated merrily away. In the long run, we can hope incidents like these, and the allegedly positive response from the Turkish public, help queer communities grow stronger. They also indicate how easily people in power can make our lives hard. That happens here too, of course.

A week later, I look back on the Kusadasi incident almost fondly. Turkey was beautiful, and I hope to return someday. I may take 850 queer friends. Just to be safe. But I’d go again. I still haven’t finished shopping!

Originally published in The Slant as "Gay tourists barred in Turkey", October 2000,

Reprinted in The Washington Blade ,September 29, 2000.

A Quick Guide to Turkey

June 2000 (?)
by Kole Hicks
Spanning two continents Turkey it the veritable bridge between the east and the west. A visit to this enchanting and historic place only drives this point home leaving many a traveler feeling lucky to have truly experienced this clash of history and culture.

Turkey is itself as diverse as the countries surrounding it. Greece in the northwest, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria all share boarders with the exquisite country. The country is comprised of arid desert, deep forests, mountains, and Mediterranean costs, and a trip from one side to the next could have you rock camping in the Black Forest, cave dwelling in Cappadocia, or lounging on the beach of the Mediterranean sea.

As can be guessed from its unique position, Turkey has had a long and turbulent history. Today the evidence of this history are scattered throughout the country but can be most clearly seen in the capitol city of Istanbul. The city itself spans more than 3,000 years. Aya Sofya, the Church of Devine Wisdom, was built in 548. Once the largest church in the world it is now a mosque, however the evidence of Christianity still remain intact on the interior, which houses a mosaic of emperor Constantine, his wife Zoe, and Jesus Christ. The region of Cappadocia is home to some of the largest underground cities in the world. These cities were used for hiding during times of war and many have caverns connecting them to each other.

Arriving in any country is an experience unique unto its own. This is definitely true of Turkey. UK, Japanese, and US citizens among the many others, need to obtain visas before entering the country. If you arrive in by plane to Istanbul you will be happy to find that they do accept many forms of currency at the customs counter. For myself this was of great relief because I could not get my hands on any currency outside of the country. It seems that Turkey is currently experiencing inflation rates of nearly 100% a year so, as one can imagine, it is nearly impossible to buy currency before hand because banks simply don’t keep it. Spring and autumn are among the best times to visit. The sun is nearly unbearable in the dead of summer, and in winter many of the hotels and sites are shut down.

Budget travelers will be pleased to know that in Turkey you can live like a king on very little money. A good meal will cost you less than $6. A moderate hotel is around $8 a night, and travel in the country is also very cheap. But where do you go in Turkey? The following list is a brief highlight of the country:

The prime attraction for travelers is the lively capitol city of Istanbul. The only city in the world set on two continents, Istanbul is the literal and figurative bridge between eastern and western culture. For the queer traveler it is the most exciting place to be in Turkey because of its bustling nightlife, and somewhat open scene (that is in terms of a Muslim country, so take this with a grain of salt).

This city’s sites are a cultural myriad of Christian art, the west, eastern art, muslim religion, and Turkish heritage going back thousand of years: The Imperial Treasury stuffed with gold, silver, jewels and other priceless treasures; Topkapi palace, the home of the sultans with hundreds of rooms, courtyards, and of course, the harem; Aya Sofya, mentioned earlier; and the Blue Mosque with it’s exquisite interior, and captivating beauty.

Istanbul also offers a good variety of gay venues accommodations and saunas, like Club 14, Bar Bahce (Siraseviler Cad, Soganci Sok.7), Hotel Eris (Istasion Arkasi Sokagi No.9), and the Cukurcuma Hamami (57 Cukurcuma Caddesi). Traveling outside of Istanbul is an experience all its own, where you are literally transported into a different world. Ankara, Turkey’s capitol is mainly a place for government buildings and not too much for outstanding sites. However, it is the site of the Ataturk Mausoleum (a monument to the founder of modern day Turkey). If you happen to be in town on a layover to other parts (as many people are) you will also be pleased to find that there is at least one gay bar: Z Bar (Sakarya Cad., No.29). And a hamam: Merkez Hamami (Anafartalar caddesi).

For lovers of ancient cities and classical ruins, Ephesus is one of the most exciting places. Among the many sites in this city on the Mediterranean is the temple of Diana, once counted among the Seven Wonders of the World. Cappadocia and the Valley of the Fairy Chimneys is one of the most interesting parts of the country. Huge cones of volcanic ash protrude from the ground. Many have been carved out to form houses. Aktepe in the north is where the most densely clustered formations exist.

Bodrum is for the resort traveler. Palm lined streets, villas, yachts, snorkeling and scuba diving. There is only one gay bar that I know of in the area, the Oasis Bar (Halkarnas Caddesi), and not much else. Antalya is the place to be for phenomenal pebble beaches. Dotted with roman ruins, its 20 km of coastline are great for wasting away days in the sun. Although, once again, not much of a gay scene, allot of cruising seems to happen on the beach (Konyaalti beach) and in the local Hamams.

Turkey is a wonderfully enchanting place offering a wide range of activities for travelers of all types. From the nightlife of Istanbul to fairy chimneys of Cappadocia it is packed full of eye opening experiences waiting to be discovered. Explore every aspect of the country from its culture and history, to its cities and beaches. Like no other place in the world Turkey is truly an astounding place to visit

Kole Hicks currently lives in between San Francisco, London, Barcelona, and wherever else he decides to call home. He loves being on the road, sleeping in cheap hotels, and going on strange adventures. He can often be spotted digging through his carry-on looking for his frequent flyer card, which he will forget to use when he gets to the ticket counter. He is available for freelance work anytime:

Middle East Report

Spring 1998

Transsexuals and the Urban Landscape in Istanbul

by Deniz Kandiyoti
Few social groups can boast the visibility and media attention that male-to-female transsexuals have received in Turkey in recent years.

At one point, hardly a month went by without some feature in a popular magazine or a television interview. The cartoonist Latif Demirci captured this frenzied interest with his depiction of an apartment block in a notorious back street of Istanbul. Through each window, a transsexual could be seen being interviewed, filmed or recorded, while building janitors implored a queue of journalists waiting in the street outside to be patient. A recent book offering vignettes on modern Turkey devoted an entire chapter to an interview with Sisi, a famous transsexual.1

The popular magazine ‘Kim’ featured an intriguing article that voiced a complaint by the male gay community concerning these flashy upstarts.2 They contended that an estimated five to six million gay men–the true heirs of Ottoman tradition forced into retreat after post-Tanzimat westernization–had to lead secret lives, while a handful of transsexuals were making quick money from prostitution. Whatever the scale of this urban phenomenon, it appears to have caught the public imagination and evoked an almost voyeuristic curiosity.

Part of the fascination surrounding transsexuals in Turkey is undoubtedly related to the sense of unease they generate in the morally and existentially loaded realms of sexuality and gender identity. In a society that prizes masculinity and places severe taboos on the expression of female sexuality, they parade an aggressively overblown feminine style and generally inhabit a shadowy underworld of entertainers and prostitutes.

They inevitably raise questions about the sexual inclinations of their clientele since they tend to command considerably higher prices than their genetically female counterparts. They are also the unsettling harbingers of a new urban scene; the mega-metropolis where everything is on display and for sale, a new arena where the landscapes and, especially, the nightscapes of Istanbul, Rio, New York and Bangkok may become indistinct and shade into one another. Indeed, transsexuals appear to inhabit a social space where the influences of the local and the global meet and merge in varied and unpredictable ways.

They are, on the one hand, subject to the legal regulations of the Turkish state and are monitored and often harassed by the forces of order. They are members of a self-conscious local subculture that has evolved its own coded vocabulary.3 On the other hand, they participate in a broader circulation of people, fashions and ideas–in an international market for sex-change surgery, for jobs in European clubs and in the international gay movement’s networks of political solidarity.

Recent legislation that made sex change surgery lawful in Turkey was based on the precedent of Bülent Ersoy, a popular singer who applied to the courts for legal recognition of his identity as a woman following a sex-change operation in London. The new article–added to the 29th clause of the Turkish Civil Code in 1988–stated that "In cases where there has been a change of sex after birth documented by a report from a committee of medical experts, the necessary amendments are made to the birth certificate."4

This outcome ended a lengthy legal battle dating from 1981 when the military regime adopted a particularly uncompromising stance on any form of what it regarded as social deviance.5 There is now an established medical-legal procedure that culminates in the award of a pink identity card (to replace the blue identity card held by men) which confers on its holder the full legal status of a woman. Despite these changes, the fact that medical and legal preconditions for sex-change surgery have not been fully worked out creates areas of uncertainty and the potential for medical malpractice. Sahika Yuksel, a psychiatrist with extensive experience in psychotherapy with transsexuals, has made a strong plea for the full legalization of sex-change surgery, because illegality encourages unscrupulous forms of medical intervention for profit, compounding the difficulties of an already stigmatized group.6

The foothold of transsexuals in urban space is precarious. They are subject to frequent clamp downs by the police. In the summer of 1995, the back streets behind Taksim Square presented the appearance of a fairly settled community. Police raids had an almost ritualistic feel suggesting a well-established routine of protection and payoffs. A year later, when Istanbul hosted the United Nations Habitat II conference in the luxury hotels surrounding Taksim, transsexuals bore the brunt of the massive "cleanup" operation that preceded the event. Transsexuals–evicted en masse from the back streets of Taksim and dispersed throughout the city–kept in touch through the clubs, hairdressers and cafes they frequent.

Few are politicized and prepared to fight for their rights. Militants like Demet Demir, a member of the Human Rights Association, have been struggling to find a voice through the Association of Sexual Rights and Liberties, a fragile coalition of gay and feminist activists. Many male gays accuse the transsexuals of riding the sexual liberties bandwagon only as a means of gaining more freedom as prostitutes. Some transsexual activists, on the other hand, consider themselves to be feminists and progressives.

The transnational nature of transsexual networks is apparent on many levels. The search for sex-change surgery takes transsexuals from the Philippines to Istanbul, where operations are cheaper, while more affluent Turkish transsexuals travel to London as their preferred destination. Those who are able to find jobs in European clubs are thoroughly cosmopolitan. News about new clubs, better surgeons, television programs and magazines travels fast.7 Role models for fame and achievement include local idols like Bülent Ersoy but also extend to the West as in the case of the fashion model Tula, who is held up as the epitome of success.

There is a sense in which the dreams and materialistic aspirations of some for a fast-track to fame and fortune capture the cultural mood of post-1980s Turkey to an uncanny degree, while others include themselves in a broader search for identity and legitimacy that reaches beyond Turkey. The fact that Demet Demir was recently offered an award by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission confirms this latter tendency. There will undoubtedly be many more troubled chapters in the history of Turkish transsexuals and these will be narrated by the members of this increasingly articulate community themselves.


1 Tim Kelsey, Dervish: The Invention of Modern Turkey, (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1996).
2 Özdilek, "Muazzam bir escinsel kültür, sanat ve geçmis," Kim 47 (February, 1996), pp. 98-101.
3 This vocabulary is claimed to be based on gypsy dialect with traces of Spanish, Latin and possibly Armenian. The word lubinya is used as a self designation by transsexuals but they are more commonly referred to by others as travesti or dönme.
4 Amendment to the 29th Clause of Law no. 743, Turkish Civil Code, May 12, 1988.
5 Ilmi ve Kazai Içtihatlar Dergisi 22/253 (January, 1982), pp. 911-13 provides the details of a ruling stating that the decision of whether the complainant, who merely has the appearance of a woman, really is a woman is a medical matter. The complainant’s appeal was therefore rejected on the grounds that further medical examinations were necessary. Two dissenting opinions to this ruling were recorded noting that there could be no question of a sex change for someone who had lived as a male beyond puberty. Interestingly, a June 1988 fatwa issued in Egypt by the Mufti of the Republic on the question of Sayid ‘Abd Allah, alias Sally, who had also undergone a sex-change operation concluded that the operation could only be justified on medical grounds, although the debate that followed condemned such deviations in gender identity as abominations. Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, "Never Change Your Sex in Cairo," paper presented at the workshop on "Cases and Contexts in Islamic Law," December 3-4, 1994, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
6 Sakiha Yüksel, Cumhuriyet, February 13, 1988, p. 2. An article titled "Butcher of Travestis" in the popular weekly Aktüel 202 (1995) revealed that some transsexuals were subjected to castration rather than vaginal reconstruction and that operations were performed under local anaesthesia in hurried and unhygienic conditions. The victims refer to themselves as duvar (literally meaning walls) and consider their sexuality as irreversibly blighted.
7 I was surprised, for instance, to be asked for back copies of Roses, a Manchester-based transsexual magazine, even though few could read or speak English.


Gay identities, communities and places in the 1990s in Istanbul

Yigithan Yenicioglu

Istanbul University, Department of Theatre Criticism

-Social characteristics and sexual behaviour of male homosexuals in Turkey
-Towards Gay Identification and new sexual behaviour
-Gay Identity in the 1990s
-Gay Places in Istanbul in the 1990s
-Diversity between gay communities

This study is concerned with gay identity and the meaning and the use of gay places in Istanbul where one of the most obvious ‘out’ gay community holds across Turkey. I will argue in this essay that the gay population in Turkey (and especially in Istanbul) has produced a particular construction of a gay identity and community which has been influenced by Western gay rights movements since the mid-1980s. The 1980s were significant with regard to practising liberal economy policies of the new government and also emergence of the new feminist movement. This new political context of the 1980s has made a significant change in the traditional characteristics of Turkish male homosexuals in the largest cities. They began by creating their own places, such as bars, clubs and cafes through which the gay identity has gradually became a public phenomenon.

In this study, I will be looking at whether it is possible to talk about a gay identity and/or gay identities, and visible gay communities in the 1990s in Istanbul; if it is so what the characteristics of these communities are. To deal with these questions first, I will focus on the meaning of male homosexuality perceived in the mainstream and its formation as an identity; second, I will examine the gay identity as defined in contemporary Turkey in Istanbul where the Occident meets the Orient.

The word gay is used for male homosexuality in this essay.

In Turkey, there are several studies on male homosexuality that are mainly undertaken from a perspective of heterosexual academics. They consider them as a group of people who have a specific medico-socio-legal problem. The results of these studies were often obtained through "natural science" methods, and were rarely based on the actual life experience of male homosexuals. However, my research includes in-depth interviews and questionnaires with a group of gays and also a point of a gay researcher myself as opposed to earlier researchers.

For the purpose of this essay, I interviewed 30 male homosexuals in certain gay places in Istanbul (see appendix for the places) I have chosen to work with male homosexuals between 18 to 40 years old who identified themselves as gays. In these interviews, 26 open, closed and multiple questions were asked considering their definition of their sexuality, their sense of community and their places. I have used this data derived from face to face interviews with them to examine formation of gay identities and communities in Istanbul.

Social Characteristics And Sexual Behaviour Of Male Homosexuals In Turkey
The Turkish language often have two words for homosexuals. One word describes a passive homosexual ‘ibne’ and the other the active one ‘kulanpara’. "lbne "is a type of homosexual person who acts as a woman in a relationship on the other hand a kulanpara defines himself as masculine and active man. Thus a relationship between these types of men are always perceived as a reflection of the values of a heterosexual relationship in Turkish mainstream society.

However beside this main model, Tapine (1992, p.41) offers four alternative models of male homosexual relations: (1.) the masculine homosexual; (2) the masculine "heterosexual" and feminine homosexual; (3) the masculine homosexual and feminine homosexual; and (4) the final alternative type of homosexuality:

"Masculine gay". Although these four models seem different from each other, he actually mentions two types of homosexual men: either being a feminine, passive man or a masculine, active man. Indeed some male homosexuals in Turkey adopt this mainstream distinction and identify themselves as "ibne".

The word ‘ibne’ is very much linked to the qualities of femininity which are perceived as inferior to masculine qualities. So "ibne" as an adjective becomes a code to despise, ridicule, and degrade a man in die male world. This is why the active homosexual men do not identify themselves as "ibne". As Tapine (1.991) concludes that the fixed gender structure in Turkey between men and women makes some of homosexuals accept the female qualities and often identify themselves with women and womanhood.

Towards Gay Identification And New Sexual Behaviour
During the 1980s’ political environment, most people not only came to recognise civil rights, the women’s liberation movement, and sexual freedom but also Western gay rights. As a consequence a group of young male homosexuals emerged who identified themselves as gays. These urban, young, educated and middle-class male homosexuals resisted traditional roles, as "active" and "passive" ibne and started to search for an alternative gay identity. With the publications of male homosexual writers, who explicitly discussed their experiences, the existence of gay community became an issue in the public sphere. Especially one of the famous gay writers, Murathan Mungan, began to attract the attention of many people. Many of his books have become best sellers.

These publications started a debate between gay circles as well as in other sections of society. These debates led to a publication of a magazine called Ye<thorn>il Bary´s which started to discuss issues of sexual gender identity. Some of them expressed their gay political identity through the non-official Radical Democratic Green Party in the mid-1980s. These radical movements, especially the women’s movement helped to introduce western experiments – particularly the concept of personal identity – into Turkish society. However this formation of sexual/gender identity among a group of people in the urban area was neither significant enough to change the common understanding of homosexual men in society, nor powerful enough to challenge established patriarchal values. They were still seen as marginalised. So Turkish young urban male homosexuals attempted to link their experiences to the western gay movement in their private life style, and borrowed the term "gay" from their counterparts and identified themselves as gays. However, they have never become an organised movement as in the West.

The main reason for this might be the lack of group consciousness to act together as well as strong patriarchal values. Consequently an urban gay subculture emerged who appeared to accept their marginal position in society. This has led gays in the early 1990s to form their own small circles and establish their own places where they could feel at home. But in the 1980s, as the interviewees explain, it was harder for gays to talk about their identity and the word gay was not familiar between them.

A middle-aged gay talks about the 1980s in the following terms: Of course I was gay in the 1980s. I was aware of it but I did not identify myself as a gay. Because then none of my friends identified themselves as gay.

Another one says: In the mid-1980s, I was aware of gay life style and culture in the West. Some friends of mine started to think of themselves as gay. But it was funny. Because gay identity contains an alternative life style and place. I didn’t use the world gay to describe myself. I preferred the word homosexual or ibne because I felt comfortable with those words. Gay was a very strange English word to me. But I do not think like that now. I use the word gay these days: all the young homosexuals identify themselves as gays.

Most of the middle aged gays seemed to be aware of gay life, identity and culture in the West. However, in the 1980s, to come out or to define themselves as homosexuals only meant talking about their sexual experiences. Then it was not perceived as an identity or a lifestyle. Furthermore they did not need to define themselves through their sexuality as their relationships were perceived as a matter of their private lives. They shied away from talking about their homosexual experiences and discussing them in public. As one of the interviewees points out, only limited places existed in the late 1980s where gays socialised and shared their experiences:

There was no gay life style in Istanbul. There were one or two places that were mainly designed for heterosexual men to pick up gays. My friend said: "Gays were a very small group and did not feel comfortable. We were isolated and looking for sexual partners.

Hence, in the mid-1980s in Istanbul, homosexual men did not socialise freely because of the frequent police raids. Considering these conditions homosexual men could not create their own places and communities and thus become visible in the public sphere until the beginning of the 1990s.

Gay Identity In The 1990s
The majority of interviewees believe that a visible gay community exists in Istanbul in the 1990s. They claim that they do not copy traditional ibne or kulanpara types of homosexual relationships. My findings suggest that they are differentiating themselves from so-called feminine homosexuals – ibne – by adopting an urban male identity and western gay life style.

Researchers offer four progressive staged processes for the formation of gay identity. As Troiden presents it: (1) sensitisation – an awareness of being different; (2) identity confusion – assigning meaning to difference; (3) identity assumption – recognising oneself through involvement with others; and (4) identity synthesis – acceptance of on feelings (1989, pp.47, 50-63). According to my research results, gays in Istanbul. have gone through these stages, however, the identity synthesis stage seems most problematic as the other three stages have been rather recent experiences for them compared to their western counterparts.

For instance, they emphasise that they often have to face the traditional homosexual roles when they are seeking an alternative identity. At the same time they say that it is easier now than the 1980s, partly because their involvement with each other and with the public through their publications has increased. It is evident that the majority of them believe that "gay" is a more positive term to define their experiences. They think that traditional fix concepts do not represent their feelings and life styles.

The young urban gays now expect more than sexual intercourse from their relationships, nevertheless, struggle to form a political identity and establish an alternative lifestyle. As Michel Foucault emphasises to be a gay means to produce a life style and to try to improve it, rather than identify oneself with the psychological attribute of homosexuality and its brilliant mask (Foucault, 1982). Gays in Istanbul appear to be realising this very meaning of being a gay in the 1990s.
Gay Places in Istanbul in the 1990s

In the beginning of the 199Os, male homosexual subculture group began to emerge in Istanbul, concentrating in the Beyo<eth>lu (Pera) district, especially the Cihangir quarter. Beyo<eth>lu is a cultural and entertaining centre which combines marginal and the mainstream lives of the city. There are many bars, night-clubs, discos and Turkish baths, places that are connected to the gay life.

It is suggested that modern urban communities may exist through people who feel the same common experiences, attitudes, values and testes, who want to have a sense of togetherness and defend themselves against the mainstream society. (Hindle, 1994) This definition also applies to the situation of gay communities in Istanbul – the way in which they create heir own spaces and thus existence in the public realm.

The bars are central places in gay life. Bars and clubs are the only places where they can go and socialise with other gays. Through these places which gays have a sense of togetherness and share their experiences. They naturally feel that the only safe place to be out. Most of the gays in the interview think that the gay bars play an important role to meet others.

They point out that to meet other people like themselves make them feel better about their experiences.
Most gays prefer bars to find a friend and/or partner. During the interview, some of them stated that "gay bars also very suitable place for one night stand relationships". Another gay, however, sees it quite differently: "Bars are the only places that link me to other gay people. I never aim to find a partner there".

There are seven gay bars in Istanbul. All of them are in Taksim and around Beyoglu. There are also some "mixed" gay and heterosexual bars that gays frequently go. However these seven bars are central places in the gay community in Beyo<eth>lu. The lack of other outdoor gay facilities, such as telephone dating, massage, escorts, club activities and so on, make these bars significant.

Five of these bars show the characteristics of western bars, two of them are quite oriental in their style; most are geared for gay and lesbians, some are mixed. Some are very small, only dancing places and open until 3 am and 6 am. They are open all week and have no problem with the authorities. These bars have increasingly become popular recently. It is also possible to see some straight people in these bars. Because they think that gays are very cheerful and know to how to enjoy the bars.

The people in my sample think that these places are not enough. They emphasise the need not only for more places but also for different activities to bring the gay communities together.

Diversities Between Gay Communities
We can observe two main types of gay communities in Istanbul. However they are not fixed within themselves. As one of the interviewees points out: Yes we are gays. We have common lift’ experiences because of the nature of sexuality. For this reason, probably, most people see us one single visible community. But we are not, we have different values, tastes and so on.

The first group includes people who identify themselves with the traditional ibne roles, who use a specific, vulgar language, and they tend to use "female" codes in their behaviours and outfits. Most of them prefer their sexual partners from men not from gays and use the same places to socialise. The majority of them are from a rural background and not well educated.They seem not to problematise their sexuality or define themselves through their sexuality.

The second type of gay community is consisted of people who have been analysed in this essay. They tend to question their gay identity and furthermore they are in search of an identity. People in this community are overwhelmingly urban and educated They have gay bars and clubs especially designed for them which seem more sophisticated than other gay places. They are lie people who have initiated and joined some gay facilities in the 1990s. They formed a consciousness-raising group called Lambda (which is a (Greek word used by early gay activists) which is one of the well-known gay and lesbian organisation in Istanbul.

They began a publication, a radical gay magazine called Lambda Istanbul and run a weekly gay and lesbian radio program. All these facilities have given them a chance to have a voice in public and to act as a group. These kinds of cultural activities would help gay communities to establish a more recognised gay culture in Turkey.

Hindle (1994) categorises three stages for the formation of a gay community; the first is simply being visible (gay place, residential areas, businesses, services run by and for gay people); the second is having activities; and the third is being organised socially, financially and politically because of the hidden nature of homosexuality. As I have examined above the Turkish gay communities have been through the first two stages but they are not organised financially and politically.

Istanbul is only the city in Turkey with concentrated gay places and communities. As I have tried to show in this essay the traditional sexual roles in homosexuality have been changing with the Western influence in the mid-1980s, many homosexual men started to identify themselves as gays and began to represent a new alternative sexual consciousness and life style in the 1990s.

They created their gay places, socialised together and started to form consciousness groups. Although they are marginal, a group of urban young gays have succeeded to introduce a Western gay life style to Turkish society which gives them freedom to exist and to have a voice in the public sphere.

I have argued in this paper that while a group of gay people have become more visible in the 1990s, they diversify within themselves and have formed small communities. I strongly believe that to be able to be recognised by the rest of the society, gays should question their sexual identity and transform it into daily life in order to form an alternative lifestyle and produce more work related to gay experience.


Foucault M. (1992) Von der Freundschqft Michel Foucault im Gesprach translated by: Cemal Ener, in interview with Michael Foucault, (Istanbul, Telos Yayinlary´)
Plummer, Ken (1992) ‘Modern Homosexualities: Fragments Of Lesbian And Gay Experience’ in: Tapinc, H. Masculinity, /Femininity, And Turkish Male Homosexuality (London and New York, Routledge)
Troiden, R (1989) The formation of Homosexual identities (Binghamton, Harrington Park Press).
Hindle, P ‘Gay Communities and gay space in the city’, S. Whittle, The Margins of the City: Gay men’s urban lives (England, Hands, Arena, 1994)

from: ( Istanbul

October 31, 2002

Press statement for the ninth meeting of gay and lesbians–October 2002

We, as gays and lesbians of Turkey, made our ninth meeting in Istanbul on Oct. 26-29. Turkey’s lesbians and gays hold biannual meetings for producing solutions to the problems they have with the society. Under the head title “What Do Gays and Lesbians Want”, the participators discussed our needs and demands, methods of struggle and endeavors of organizing by Turkey’s gays and lesbians. Also our families were ready in this meeting for the first time.

We want to publicize our demands, on which we reached a consensus after discussion, on the eve of general elections. Hence we believe that the horizon of the political parties preparing for elections and the new parliament on our ignored demands will broaden.

Obscure statements in laws such as “general morals” and “shameful crimes” are used against us. We are dismissed from our works, thrown away from our houses or student dormitories for being homosexual. We are subject to humiliation, exclusion, threats and violence in the houses, streets, schools, work places, hospitals, public and private institutions. For that reason, we are requesting addition of “sexual orientation” to the constitution’s Article 10, which emphasizes equality of citizens under the law, and also implementation of this addition by making necessary changes in other laws.

Guardianship of a female minor is given to the father if the mother is lesbian in divorce cases. We are requesting abolition of the previous Court of Cassation decision against lesbian mothers. The crimes and murders suffered by transvestites and transsexuals are ignored, not prosecuted and the criminals are not found. We request that no partial attitude be displayed in investigation and judicial process.

We are rejected, humiliated, mocked, and bashed in the schools by our classmates, teachers and administrators. Also our textbooks and what we are taught at school try to make us believe that we deserve such attacks. We request that attacks in schools are stopped and content of textbooks concerning homosexuality is changed for our growing as happy and self-confident individuals not ashamed of their homosexuality.

Hospital workers insult us for our homosexuality and refuse to serve us. We are forced to hide that we are homosexuals from gynecologists, urologists, dermatologists, and psychiatrists although our sexual identity can affect diagnosis and treatment process. We request psychiatrists and psychologists to stop trying to cure homosexuals with the reasons and methods, based on prejudices but not science. We call professional health organizations to put sanctions on discriminatory acts against gays and lesbians and organize educative works in cooperation with lesbian and gay organizations.

Living as sex workers is imposed on transvestites and transsexuals. We request security, health and social rights for those who have to work as sex workers and increase other professional opportunities to transvestites and transsexuals other than sex industry. Homosexuality is accepted as an illness in military examinations contrary to general psychiatry practice. The army sees homosexual men as invalid. Moreover, male homosexual individuals’ own statements for their sexual orientation are not trusted and arbitrary acts such as requesting photographs of sexual penetration or examination of anus are continued. We request them to be stopped.

We request stopping media coverage which shows transvestites and transsexuals as freaks or sex objects, which uses homosexuality only as a show material, which shows gays and lesbians as targets and spread hatred, caricaturing or stereotyping them. We are working on a detailed text which includes these demands told in brief. When this text is completed, it will be shared with the public opinion. We believe that a democratic understanding without lesbian and gay rights is not possible, and we call all individuals and institutions to be in solidarity with the gay and lesbian liberation movement.

Anatolian Bears,
Izmir Pink Triangle,
Kaos GL,
Lambda Istanbul,

Turkey Bears

Journey to Kafiristan

The epic quest of two women in 1939, who start out in search of a beautiful valley in Afghanistan, and end up on a road trip bursting with eroticism and self-discovery.

The true-life story of Swiss writer Annemarie Schwarzenbach (a cohort of Thomas Mann’s children Erika and Klaus), played by Jeanette Hain of THE TRIO, and ethnologist Ella Maillart (played by Nina Petri of RUN LOLA RUN) unfolds along an arduous route from Geneva, Switzerland through the Balkans and into the sultry bosom of Persia.


• Winner Best Film ~ Locarno International Film Festival

Running time: 100 min.

German with English subtitles

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