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Travel - Gay in Turkey

by Gert Hekma , 12 augustus 2006


Turkey lies in between Europe and Asia. The Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul face each other as symbols of Christianity and the Islam. The Americans think the European Union should accept Turkey as a member state because it’s a bridge between Europe and Asia, East and West, the Islam and Christianity. In Europe we haven’t made up our minds yet. The Turkish gays and lesbians welcome a possible membership of the EU because they see it as a chance to further their struggle, the European gays and lesbians are wary of new member states like Poland, Rumania and Turkey because they could shift the balance within Europe towards conservative moral convictions.

Because the pope and the Muslims have the same ideas when it comes to (homo)sexual rights. It’s an interesting experience to visit such a crossover country.

At the end of May there was a conference on homophobia in Ankara. It was a nice opportunity to get acquainted with Turkey and travel from Istanbul to the capital. Istanbul is a marvelous city with a rich history, gorgeous architecture, nice cafes and restaurants, magnificently situated at the Bosporus. We arrived one sultry evening in Sultanahmet where we had booked a hotel at the base of the Blue Mosque which rose brightly lit in the dark sky with numerous seagulls circling it’s minarets. As if you step right into a 1001 Night’s fairy tale.



From the terrace we had a view of the Bosporus with it’s steady stream of sea ships, all going in the same direction (it’s so busy, they all have to go one way or the other on set times) and lots of ferries connecting the two continents. It’s impossible to really get to know Istanbul in just a few days; the mosques and other monuments are magnificent, the views of the Bosporus and Golden Horn, the busy markets are breathtaking. The men are refreshingly candid, staring you down without spitting on the ground if you look back like they do in Amsterdam. They might not be the handsomest in the world, but after a couple of days you discover their beauty - machos with a hint of tenderness.



Ankara

After two days we headed for Ankara and visited the gay organization Kaos GL. They were founded thirteen years ago and only last year won the struggle for recognition by the Turkish government.
They now even get funding for AIDS prevention activities. The nice gays and sturdy dykes made it a pleasure to attend the conference.

They had three main issues: coming in/out with the family, since being gay is often still not appreciated by the parents; military service in a largely homophobe army, which gays can only escape with a lot of difficulty; and the position of transsexual prostitutes who are often harassed by police. European representatives were asked to address gay rights whenever they came to Ankara for meeting on the EU membership.


‘Ibne’ or Gay?

The Kaos’ guys call themselves gay. They explain that most Turkish men don’t oppose gay sex as long as they can be the active tops. Queens or “ibnes” are supposed to offer their asses or their mouths and as long as you stick to that you can have all the sex in the world.

But fewer and fewer gay boys are into the one-way habits of the straight men and turn to each other more and more often. They stop being “ibnes” who are just being used and develop into gays looking for more equal relationships. These are hard to find, so many of them dream of Europe and of all the European gays.

Kaos has an office at a busy boulevard in Ankara, frequented by a lot of the local queers and dykes. There isn’t all that much more for gays in the metropolis - a bar for gay boys and three sleazy places for “ibnes.”

And for now a conference attended by a Norwegian member of parliament and a handful of gay and lesbian academics and activists from Europe. A Turkish art historian and a writer, both gay, pulled much bigger audiences than the Western guests - a lot of Turks don’t understand English well enough.




Istanbul

After a short visit to Ankara, which was full of people but lacked the beauty of Istanbul, we returned to the former capital by bus. The buses are really comfortable and the landscape between the two cities is pleasant. Six hours go by swiftly. In Istanbul we visited Lambda, the local gay organization with an office just as lively as Kaos’. Nice people took ample time to tell us about their activities. They’re courageous but still have a long way to go - gay sex might not be a taboo, and it’s not a criminal offence, but to be gay is an entirely different story.


We also experienced how ugly life can be in Istanbul. The touristy areas are crowded with young men offering all sorts of services. One of them, claiming to be gay and saying how hard life in Turkey was for him, volunteered to take us to a gay bar. We were in high spirits and trustingly allowed our new friend to lead the way.

He took us to the Ararat, a place near Taxim Square that reminded us of the sleazy bars you still find on Thorbeckeplein. In all innocence we still thought the ladies were transsexuals. Instead of a glass of wine our host ordered a bottle straight away and snacks followed quickly. After our first sip and the first tasteless peanut three ladies headed our way waving mini-bottles of champagne. No, these were no transsexuals and we got rid of them as quickly as we could. And we wanted to leave too.

However, in between leaving and getting out there was the bill, which had accumulated unbeknownst to us to 600 euros. As we protested, we were invited to make our complaints in the manager’s office - with three thugs posting themselves at the door. Taken hostage and being robbed in a brothel, dear Allah, this had not been our intention. A nasty nuisance. The conversation lasted fifteen minutes and we were forced to fork out 300 euros.

We went straight to the police, who were very helpful. They raided the Ararat, let the main suspect escape but arrested a hooker, a waiter and one of the thugs. We got the impression the police was familiar with the employees but the head officer told them off as if to appease us. Four hours later we returned with an official police statement to our hotel. A gay friend told us later, shaking his head: it’s better to trust the Spartacus than these dung flies that take you to a gay bar annex detention center.
It wasn’t a nice or a cheap experience, but it shouldn’t put you off to visit the largest city in Europe. Just don’t fall for fake gay men!



 







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