- Appropriation of Public Space
- Protest / Resistance
- Urban Transformation
Queerstanbul – Aspects of love, gender and sexuality inside daily life of LGBTIQ*
The research project is part of the seminar “Global City Istanbul” and formed up to an exhibition project. Funded by the program “Kreativität im Studium”, the Integrationsrat Göttingen and the University of Göttingen the group visited Istanbul once again during the Pride Week 20014. The results of the research were shown in Göttingen during an exhibition in December 2014.
Text by Susanne Klenke and Laura Stonies
Shortfilm by Margaux Jeanne Erdmann
Some districts of Istanbul like Beyoğlu are considered to be safe for lesbians, gays, bi- and transsexuals and shaped by the queer scene. In recent years, Istanbul has experienced a boom of gay bars and pubs, clubs and hostels. It is conceived as a metropolis with a flourishing and vibrant urban gay scene – also by tourists.
As part of the tourism business of the city, a gay travel agency is specializing in queer visitors. The employees of the agency as well as their tour guides are either homosexual or “gay friendly”. The offered touristic services vary from night tours of the local nightlife’s hot spots to day tours of the city and wider urban sphere as well as trips to different cities lasting several days. During the tours, the customers are acquainted with facts regarding the city of Istanbul and its history as well as an LGBTIQ* perspective on aspects of everyday life.
A closer inspection of on the digital offers provides information about the demands, needs and expectations of tourists regarding Istanbul as a destination. Hamam, Oriental Night, Bazar and Hagia Sofia – these locations within the urban space are the advertised as highlights the agency offers. These are also the offers experiencing highest customer demand. This illustrates that an Oriental image of the city is part of the tourists’ imaginations – they expect it and strive to fulfill it through their urban route. Touristic offers consist even of Orientalized places like a traditional Hamam, the Grand Bazar or the Blue Mosque.
Tourism Studies within the Cultural Sciences point out that the search for authenticity of, in this case, a city is what drives tourists. 1 Since the beginnings of commercial tourism, one of the traditional motivations to travel is the search for authenticity. Thus, the tourist becomes a symbol for the modern individual searching for the original. 2 No only spatial demands by tourists, but also on their questions about homosexual life in Turkey, which the gay tours are all about, can be seen in this context. Using gay tourist services serves as a practice of distinction as it constitutes a special and “authentic” arrangement of entertainment and knowledge – even though the “genuine” and authentic itself, as Ning Wang states, is a construction. 3 This travel motivation turns the tourist to a traveler. Within these mechanisms of distinction, the gay tourists distinguish themselves from conventional tourists and their travel routes within Istanbul.
During our field research, we had the opportunity to visit the only gay travel agency in Turkey. There, we met the lesbian agency owner for an interview allowing us to gain insight into the economic aspects of this sector of customer service. During the conversation, the owner reported that she only works with Western customers. In the initial phase of the company’s operation, cooperation with Turkish enterprises like hotels had been very difficult. When asked for collaborations, the CEO reported, people expressed their unwillingness to serve “that way of customers“ and declined inquiries with phrases such as “No, you are pervert and you bring more perverts to Turkey.”
With increasing numbers of customers and the resultant increase in economic potency, cooperation became easier. Tour operators, restaurants and hotels expressed more liberal positions towards the clientele connected to a million dollar business: “At the moment it’s good because they are more polite. They are okay, who cares? Gays or straight? Tourist, tourist – customer, customer!” This is how D. analyzed the current situation.
But within the Turkish service industry, the company plays a dual role. For example, the agency’s website is inaccessible for Turkish people. In locking the site, government agencies and public actors prevent people from within Turkey from gathering information on queer services, locations and contacting the agency. In seemingly diametrical opposition to the attitude demonstrated through censorship, the Culture and Tourism Ministry aspired to use the agency to create the image of a cosmopolitan, liberal city for Istanbul. A few years ago, the owner told us, the Minister of Culture and Tourism at the time asked her to present her company at a trade show in Barcelona to promote a gay agency in Western Europe. In this conversation, he pointed out that this type of advertising is important for the Turkish government as the existence of such an agency contributes to a liberal and open minded image of the county.
The Tourism-Minister called me and said ‘we have an exhibition in Barcelona and we want you to be there. This is very important for our government. As a Gay Travel-Agent, be there, please!’ They wanna show to Europe and the other world ‘we have a Gay Travel-Agent which is openly and freely, they can work in our country!’
At present, the agency’s homepage is still blocked.
Another example of economically driven open mindedness in the treatment and perception of homosexual clients is the sector of cruise tourism. Since the Arab Spring changed the political situation in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, several gay cruises redirected their routes and call at Istanbul as part of their tours. While many were initially hostile towards this development, the situation changed and passengers were increasingly seen as welcome guests after the huge profits to be made with the accommodation of cruise ships had become apparent. Presently, a hundred Gaycruise cruise ships berth in Istanbul every year. “And then they think ‘a million dollars, hm, who cares if they are gay? A million dollars are more important’”, D. summarized the changes in opinion.
The agency owner also placed the social acceptance of Turkish homosexuals in the context of economic and neoliberal factors: “I have no problem because of being gay. I’m in a very good situation. This is luxury.”
In conclusion, the people in tourist-oriented industries and locations tend to be more open towards LGBTIQ* due to their knowledge that a more open attitude is necessary to profit from this clientele: „Because people are working in the tourism business and they know that they have to be open minded.“ Here, the economic coaction of tourists and players of the service sector evokes a cultural dynamic. The adaption of an expected open minded attitude towards queer customers is connected to an assumed change of society. In this manner, the touristic encounter becomes a performance framework for new patterns of activity.
“They are liberal but only because of the tourism business. Not because the people are open minded. Because the people are working in the tourism business and they know that they have to be open minded.” (CEO D.)
Yet, financial capital is generally a significant factor regarding the opportunity of living a free life for Turkish LGBTIQ*. Status and social acceptance are connected to the economic position of homosexuals. “Money is the most important thing. With money you can have your freedom.”