On Being Gay in Turkey

No, I’m not gay.  Although I do have a former neighbor who might argue that point.  Lot’s of my friends are black, I mean gay.  I have to laugh here.  I have heard so many times over the years, upon an acquaintance discovering I am part African-America, the same sentence, “Lots of my friends are black.”  And I always respond the same way, “Really?  Have you been to their homes?  Have they been to yours?” [Sarcasm added.]

But truly, lots of my friends are gay.  And yes, they have been to my home and I have been to theirs.  In fact, I invited one friend to live with me.  I wasn’t afraid or anything!  [Sarcasm again.]

I used to live in the heart of Philadelphia’s “gayborhood”, or what I liked to call, “the gay ghetto.”  As a straight person in my 8-unit building, I was part of a clear minority.  Philadelphia boasts lots of gay bars, the big annual gay pride parade, at least one fitness center that is predominantly gay, gay flag football leagues, at least one gay newspaper, and the bell of the ball – the Henri David Halloween Ball!  Go Philly!

I probably mentioned in one of my earlier posts that my wedding was a rainbow of nationalities and colors.  We had guests that were born and raised in far-away lands:  Eritrea, India, Jamaica, Australia, Germany, China, and more.  Shades ran from porcelain white vanilla to creamy dark chocolate, with hints of lemony yellow and cherry red in between.  But in addition, our wedding was a rainbow of life choices.  Old and young married couples, lots of singles, and at least three gay couples and one lesbian couple.  Our wedding was fabulous!

But now to the heart of this post, did you know that in Turkey there are no gays? Ask almost any Turk on the street.  They would be embarrassed by such a question!  Of course there aren’t!  The fact that men walk arm in arm, kiss each other in public, wear extremely tight pants, and hold wrestling events in which they wear leather pants, go topless, and smother themselves in olive oil means nothing. Tee hee.

Seriously though, I know religion plays a major role in many lives, but I am wondering if that is the reason that so many people here will tell you Turkey is without gays.  None of us cross all of our t’s and dot all of our i’s when it comes to practicing our religions.  We “live in sin” with our lovers, we drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes, we eat shell fish, we have abortions, and some of us even support our gay friends.

Yes, I am Catholic.  And I am the first to admit that I definitely don’t follow all of the rules.  Thank Goodness!  And I praise the Lord that some of my gay friends do not feel as though they are pushed out of the Catholic Church, and continue to practice their faith as well.

I know of three gay men in Turkey.  One is a Brit who blogs about being gay in Turkey.  I have never met him personally, but he’s an awesome guy!  I believe his partner is also a Brit.  (I should get back to reading his blog more regularly so that I can confirm that.)

The second is a Canadian.  I only met him once, and frankly, just assumed he was gay.  I did get confirmation on that later.  Although I did not ask the nationality of his partner, or if he currently even has one.  (If he doesn’t, my male friends should check him out.  He’s hot!)

The third is another Brit.  Although I am not close with him, I do know that he has a Turkish partner.  Aha!  There it is!  A Turkish gay male!  I knew there had to be at least one.  [Sarcasm again!]

I must admit that I don’t know much about the gay lifestyle here, but I felt compelled to write about it.  I am told that there are gay bars down in Ulus.  I would like to learn more about that.  To me, Ulus can be a very cool place by day. But at night, it looks very seedy.  Bars are open until the wee hours of the morning.  Hookers run the streets.  Gambling goes on there.  Lots of fights in the streets.  And I’m told this is the home to the local mafia.  This is not a place where I would want to see my gay friends hanging out, thrown in with the “deviants”.  But perhaps I am wrong.  If you know any better.  Let me know.

Finally, I would like to pass on some good news.  I hear Turkey will hold it’s first ever Queer Film Festival!  It’s to take place right here in Ankara – the country’s capital.  (I can’t believe it’s not in Istanbul or Antalya) and starts November 17th.  I have no idea from where Turkey will import all of the gays (now I’m laughing as I fall off my chair.)  I hope it goes over well and will open the door to better things.

Some interesting reading on the subject:  Click here.

More details on the Festival in English:    Click here.

Read an interview with Jack of Perking the Pansies, a Brit who wrote one of the most popular blogs in Turkey!

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11 thoughts on “On Being Gay in Turkey

  1. I discussed this topic a lot with my Turkish friends, and while I know Turks who are gay, but still they are not really openly so. Also, in Turkish culture masculinity is paramount, thus since childhood boys are being pushed by society to behave “like men”. From what I have been told the role the person has during the intercourse is very important, as the passive one considered as a woman – that is, gay -, while the active one is still considered as a man (?).

    In Istanbul the gay scene is definitely more open and visible than the one in Ankara. Here I have never been to any gay club or actually seen any in spite of my visits to the Ulus area, but it seems in some universities there are LGTB societies that are trying to raise awareness.

    In my opinion, custom and what-might-others-think plays a bigger role in this issue than religion.

  2. So true, Reyhan. Customs and caring about what others think are a big issue everywhere. It’s kind of funny to me how some things are so different than at home. Yes, I once heard a woman hear scold a young child, telling him “Eat like a man, use your hands and make noises!” At home, we are embarrassed if our children eat like this. And I’m sure many here would be too. But what is stranger to me is the customs of kissing and walking arm and arm. While I find it very nice, at home, that would be considered “gay.” Good luck to the LGTB societies here. I wish them all the best!

  3. I stumbled on this by accident, but I have to say my experience in Ankara was significantly different in this regard. There’s lots of prejudice against gays in Turkey, but there are gays and they are semi-open about it.

    In Ankara specifically, one of the most famous bars in town, Eskiyeni, is a meeting place for lots of gays and transexuals at night. There’s another one, a bit more upscale, in Tunalı but I can’t remember the name. Both are really fun places with good music, each in their own style, and they are some of the best bars in thepoor Ankara nightlife.

    I can’t say much about Ulus, but it seems weird to me that there’s a gay scene in there, being an old and conservative neighbourhood.

  4. Hey, nice article but I think peoples view change depending on the experiences they have. Mine was a bit different to you. As a gay man, I have met a few people from Turkey which was one of the reasons why I decided to visit and I have seen plenty of out gays in the streets of Istanbul. I can understand the less metropolitan areas can be more conservative, but I have met gays from all corners of Istanbul just by being friends with a social gay Turk. I have visited many people with him that were gay or straight couples that were happy to hang out with gays. I even went to a Lesbian bar which was owned by a straight Turkish couple. I have got my ear pierced in Istanbul and got a discount by meeting and chatting with a random obvious lesbian woman who happened to be the pierce butlers girlfriend. I have seen number of transvestites walking around in Istiklal avenue happily. Your experience can impact your views of a country, but one thing is for sure, if you went to Istanbul and LOOKED for signs of gay activity, its hard to miss the ever growing vibrant gay scene.

    • Hi Jack and welcome to my blog! I completely agree with you. I think there are areas of Turkey where gays are more noticeable and accepted, including, but not limited to Istanbul and Bodrum. And I have a pretty good gaydar – so I promise you I have seen many in Ankara too, just not as obvious. I know of and one neighborhood where there are gay bars and places for transvestites to shop. I don’t see displays of affection on the street, or even hand holding that doesn’t look like the typical arm in arm Turk. But I have also met many Turks who will simply tell you it doesn’t exist here. It cracks me up. I mean, they have theater, movie stars, ballet. Do they really think all of those men are straight? Forgive me for stereo-typing, bad joke. It’s clear to me that there are many gays here. But I think being open about it, or even coming out is a bit more difficult outside of Istanbul and those tourist areas that are overflowing with foreigners. And most of the country is “less metropolitan.”

  5. Hi. I read your blog because I am gay girl living for work in Ankara, I am not turkish, but I was living one year in Germany and of course is totally different. From my experience I think being gay in Turkey and more exactly in Ankara, sucks, really really SUCKS. In more than one year, I don’t know one gay girl in this city (except me). In Istanbul is a litte bit different, but not too much. Probably is easier for men but for woman I don’t think so.

  6. Hi there. It was nice to walk through your blog about Ankara and see what an alien thinks about the city life there. It’s kinda different from the US city life, isn’t it? Haha! Whoever says there is no gays in Turkey tells the truth! I know it from myself. I was born and raised in Ankara. And I never saw even “one single gay” in a city of ~4 millions. Because there are hundreds of them all around, including myself. I can even name at least fifty in a row right now:D

    Although the numbers of LGBT community is huge they are still in the shade. They are afraid of the so called neighborhood pressure, discrimination, inequality, and their own lives. Yet this doesn’t mean they are not there. They are just waiting. Waiting for the time for them to get out of those shades and shine. It’s already happened in some parts of Istanbul. Other cities will follow. We’ll just wait and see!

    Many people sees Ankara as an ugly place to live but I hope you enjoy your life in there. There are lots of great places to dine, party and get the best out of life.

    best

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