Thursday, February 16, 2012

Enterprising on Bigotry

One night recently I was out at Sweetie's venue. He zipped around the tiny place, weaving between tables, shaking hands and distributing drinks -- the man works hard. As I was chatting with some girls at the bar, I lost focus staring into the crowd: many people of different genders with the same haircut... just like San Francisco, I thought. But before long, the girls pulled me back into reality, and I heard my thoughts narrate themselves in surprise.
"Wait a second..."
It had suddenly dawned on me that I was being hit on my a small mob of Turkish lesbians.
I hadn't expected that in this part of the world.

It was late in the night, early in the morning when Sweetie and I were arm and arm with his best friend: a middle aged homosexual Mexican-American expat with a strange sense of humor and a dehabilitating love for cats. As we stumbled down the street towards Cihangir, we entered a sea of young men loitering outside of a club.

MexEx could hardly contain himself: "Look at all these cute boys..." He purred, "Let's go in."
"Are you serious, man?" Sweetie whispered under a tense smile. "We need to leave this place."
"Just for a minute," he bargained. "Your girl wants to go in, too." 
"No... you don't understand. This isn't just a bar," explained Sweetie.
It was a meat market for transvestite hookers.

My elbows were being pulled in both directions. MexEx and Sweetie hissed at each other and the crowds of young men eyed us as they argued.

MexEx gave up on his physical approach. His next tactic, one particularly deadly to Turks, was social pressure. He broke away from us and sauntered toward a group of the young men. He inquired, "Hey boys, how is it in there?" in his most flirtatious tone.

Some of them shook their heads and muttered something incomprehensible. 
"They said not to go in. That it's a gay place," Sweetie explained.

MexEx was delighted: young men in closeted denial are his target sexual prey. He approached them lecherously. "Would you like your first homosexual experience?"
MexEx waved Sweetie over to translate, much to his chagrin. 

I hung back and watched the people come and go from the place. Gaggles of glittering and overdressed, but beautiful women floated down the street into the club ("Those aren't natural women, honey") and occasionally one would emerge, dragged eagerly by the hand of a hurried man.

"What are these guys doing outside?" I asked Sweetie. 
"They're deciding whether or not to go in. I think they want to, but they feel shame."
MexEx licked his lips. "Maybe they too are for hire..."

Eventually we left, Sweetie's persistent reminders of the dangers hanging around that area of Taxsim at nearly 5am having overcome my curiosity and MexEx's erection. 

"I've been there once before, and it was a crazy place" MexEx explained, "No one was dancing except the trannies. The guys were all at one end of the bar, drinking, and eventually they walked up to one, took her by the hand, and left. That's it... It. Was. Fascinating! They just chose, and left."

At first I was surprised that such a place could exist in Turkey, but I was quickly reminded of the cultural differences which actually allow such situations to flourish
"It's not gay if you're on top."

I expected this point of view to be held by bigoted rednecks within my own country, but I had hardly considered its global acceptance. However, I had noticed that there are a lot of transvestite hookers in my neighborhood -- working the streets or calling to men from upper story windows, just like the Tenderloin ladies I'm familiar with. I suppose that in homophobic culture, their business thrives off of this idea: preserved heterosexuality of the active. 

Sweetie last week had been explaining to me the legal ramifications of this concept. 
If one is a gay man who would like to protest his mandatory military service citing homosexuality, not only is he required to provide the government with photographic evidence of homosexual activities, he must be the "passive," "receiving," or "bottom" party in said photos. In addition, he must go to a military doctor every six months to prove with physical evidence the veracity of his orientation. I can only imagine the horror of the experience: prostrated and subject to prejudiced doctors looking for or incurring anal fissures. Perhaps they conduct more abusive tests. After all, rape isn't gay if you're on top.

If all of this "evidence" fails to convince and he has to serve his military service anyway, a likely fate is for him to be beaten to death behind closed doors and listed publicly as a "suicide," a fate shared by Kurds, Armenians, and other marginalized groups of the Turkish population facing intolerance. 

And still, I'm acquainted with far more out gay and lesbian individuals here in Istanbul than in the rainbow flag-waving region from which I harken. Beautiful tranny sex-workers are a part of my neighborhood landscape and I've been frequenting LGBT community events. More investigation is needed, but so far it has been wondrous marveling both at the backwards and forwards nature of sexual orientation-related progressiveness in this place.

For more interesting observations on various treatments of sexuality in Turkey and other parts of the world, check out the aggregate post Fascinating Reads: Sexuality in the World
Read the latest from Seduce and Confuse and share it with your friends or enemies. 

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