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Bahadir, a gay youth in Turkey

Nirvana, painting by Turkish artist Taner Ceylan

Bahadir is a young 20 years old Turkish student, and he is also homosexual. From childhood days in the town of Mersin to crazy nights out in Istanbul’s Taksim area, Bahadir’s life has made a 180 turn. His story is unique but at the same time representative of numerous young Turkish homosexuals, who flee the countryside to Istanbul and the city’s promise of freedom and secrecy.

My name is Bahadir. I had the opportunity to go to Cologne University in Germany, but due to visa problems I’m still in Istanbul where I study German language and literature. I’m 20 years old, and after finishing my diploma in Turkey, I want to go to Cologne and study computer engineering. And, I’m homosexual!

Before coming to Istanbul I used to dream all the time about this city, but when I arrived it wasn’t quite what I’d imagined. I was born and raised in Mersin, a harbor city in southern Turkey. Turkey is in many ways a hard place for the non-heterosexuals, and Mersin is no exception. To get away from Mersin, you have to go to Istanbul. However, Istanbul is still a homophobic city, and there are many places where gays are frowned upon. The safest place for the city’s homosexuals is Taksim.

Back then, I was living with my family in Mersin. It’s an unpleasant and cold place. As a young guy, I wanted to party, but that wasn’t possible. Also, there are lots of prejudices. People were judging me without ever having talked to me. It was a difficult time. And I didn’t want my family to be aware of the fact that I was homosexual. When a family discovers that their son is gay, there are two alternatives: either he goes away to live on his own, or the family will kill him.

So, I left Mersin in order to hide my homosexual identity. Right after finishing high school, I came to the University of Istanbul. This was my first time in Istanbul. Before coming, everyone used to tell me that it’s a cosmopolitan city, but I don’t know if that’s the right way of describing it. I noticed after some time that it’s actually a weird city with all sorts of people: prostitutes, junkies, nationalists and fascists.

In the beginning, I stayed at the university dormitories. When I first came to Taksim and to Istiklal, the main avenue in the area, it wasn’t like I’d imagined. I’d expected it to be a funnier place, but there were just lots of people walking around, that’s all! Then, I found lots of bars. The first one was Tek Yön, which is a gay club. I also started going to another gay bar, Eko. The place is usually quite dirty, with lots of prostitution and transvestites selling themselves to old men. At Eko, I met Anil. He’s a very cute boy but also very self-centered. And in the Eko atmosphere, Anil was like a flower.

I also became friends with Kenan, a transvestite. In his company I spent a lot of time at Club 17, another gay bar. One night, I met Emre. He’s not especially good looking, but his eyes are gorgeous. I wanted to become his boyfriend. We slept together, but when I woke up the next morning it was a nightmare. He told me that he was only looking for someone to forget about his ex, and nothing else.

Then, I started to hang out at X-Large, a new bar where you can find all sorts of people. There, I met the person who I now hate the most: Atakan. He was always telling me that he wasn’t a gigolo, and that I could trust him. After a while, I paid for us going together to the seaside resort town of Antalya for holidays. We stayed there for some time, me paying for everything. Then, we went back to live in Istanbul, still me paying. In the end, he dumped me for someone else without returning anything!

I did everything for Atakan until he left me. But he took my money, my hopes, my feelings… He took everything except my family. I’d always wanted someone who loves me for who I am, but instead I’ve ended up meeting people who loved me for my money and my appearances, not for my heart and my personality.

In my daily life, there are many things that I avoid in order to hide my sexual identity. I can’t live the way I’d like to, and I can’t behave in a way that is feminine. When someone finds out that I am gay, I feel very ashamed. And since I repress myself in my daily life, I do what I want at night in the clubs. I still party a lot. Every week, I go out Wednesday, Friday and Saturday with my friends, usually to the gay café Mor Kedi where we chat and gullüm (gay slang for “having fun”). In the end, good and bad, joy and suffering: Istanbul is my life. I never tire of Istanbul. I can do all sorts of things in Taksim, that I never could have done if I’d stayed in Mersin.”

Bahadir is still in touch with his family. However, as he mentioned, there are few gays who dare to speak about their sexuality openly and to their relatives. Even though some find a way to live in the open, homophobic violence – especially from the police – is still a serious issue. Although reported cases of honor crimes against gays are not abundant, death threats are often a sad reality.

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