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Am I “L…”? – Full-Color Display: Oya Burcu Ersoy

Saturday, December 8, 2018

 

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We start a new video interview series within our oral history research. In this video series which we call as “Full-Color Display”, we will focus on daily lives of LGBTI+ people, organization of LGBTI+ movement, the struggle in 80’s and 90’s and media.

Our first guest is Oya Burcu Ersoy. Oya Burcu (38) is a lesbian who lives in Ankara, Turkey. She joined one of the first lesbian organizations in Turkey, “Daughters of Sappho” at late 90’s. She was also one of the organizers of Kaos GL’s Women Meetings. She was in the historical May Day demonstration in 2001, which was also the first demonstration that LGBTI+’s joined with their banners. She organized also another historical event, “Symposium of the Solution Searches to the Problems of Gays and Lesbians” in 2003. She even gave the opening speech of the symposium. This was also coming out to her family. She was one of the founders of Woman to Woman Story Contest.

She told all of these and more:

Writing to diary

“I discovered my sexual orientation by love”, she says. She wrote her first love in high school to her diary:

“I was looking forward to going to the lessons. Why? Because I would see her. We were at the same class. And I was turning my chair towards her, but think about that, the blackboard was on the other side. But I was sitting always leaned. I was watching her and looking the blackboard at the same time.

When I saw her my heart beats were elevating. I was asking questions about her, always. I do not ask anyone his/her astrological sign. But I was asking her what was hers, what was her father doing, what was she doing.

“Well, she was reporting news at public channel TRT Kids on Tuesdays. I was watching her with excitement. But I never revealed it out. I never told. I do not know whether she understood or not. I really wondered, I always was looking her. I don’t think so. But at that time since these feelings was compelling me…Well, what was going on? Should I have felt something like that towards boys? What am I? I was writing to my diary, such sentences. The most intense diary days were secondary school and a part of high school. In my diary I was spelling “Am I L…?” Because if I write lesbian, “I should not write it before it was obvious since I happened to accept it.” It was something like that. But at very same day, when I was writing my diary I realized that. I, actually, wanted a dialogue with me.

“I wrote to my diary, you do not answer to me, I should call someone, someone should tell me something. I called my friend from high school who was together with me at the school bus. I said I was going to read you my diary, and please do not judge and listen to the end. And at the end of the diary, of course, I started to cry etc. After she was so angry at me. Burcu, she said, you made me freak out, I thought something happened, was it all, what difference it makes you are a lesbian or a bisexual etc. At the end of my diary I wrote that “whether am I a lesbian or bisexual?”. She said whatever you are you are it is not a problem, she said, you made me afraid, said she. Well was it not a problem? Well, then. Of course, etc., you let it happen, it will occur whatever you are, said she. I was so lucky. I mean, getting such a good reaction from the first person that I have talked was a real chance. When she said to me those things, I was like. It was good then. I let it go.”

The Daughters of Sappho

Then university… While she was studying sociology at Hacettepe University in Ankara at 1999, she decides to do a research. But of course research is only an excuse:

“When I started to university, and also the department was sociology, I said ok. I can research about these, I thought. At the first term, A prof. told us to pick up a theme and make a symbolic field research. I said I want to research about homosexuals. I went to his home. But, he said, it is a symbolic research, your theme is so wide, focus on only lesbians. I said, of course as you wish I said. And it all started for me meeting with the Daughters of Sappho.

“The Daughters of Sappho well they were calling themselves as a lesbian feminist group and later I should say we, were calling ourselves but I am paraphrasing at my then language. At first, they made me such that. Afterwards. I met with Yeşim. She told me that they were organizing home meetings on Sundays, if you wish you can come she said to me. I said yes. Afterwards at the first meeting I said to all. I am making such and such research, I really want to do this research and I will make a presentation. But actually I am making this research for myself, making it in order to find myself. There were approximately six or seven persons in the meetings. Sometimes there were others, sometimes there were ten people. Often, we opened up a theme for to talk. For example, love or something other, like organization. Sometimes we were reading poems, sometimes we were reading articles, sometimes we were only chatting. The Daughters of Sappho had created a brochure before I joined to the group, a brochure named as “about lesbians”, there were the brochure “about lesbians”. They were distributing this brochure, that was the so called ‘militant’ part. Me, of course, took lots of brochures. After that I was telling to anybody whom I met that after a little bit of chat, I was in the Daughters of Sappho and “about the lesbians” brochure.

Kaos Cultural Center

After a while, they declared that Daughters of Sappho ended, Oya Burcu and some other members decided to join Kaos GL:

“We thought that we should have give our energy and time to Kaos GL women organization and to get lesbians’ organized in Kaos GL. Already, lately, on every Sunday, we were taking our meetings in Kaos Cultural Center in Konur Sokak in 2000 when Kaos GL was first opened the center. We decided to do that. Afterwards we said that we ended up the Daughters of Sappho. We declared it in Kaos GL. But, although we were a few persons left, all we left we were active in Kaos GL.

“First of all to have a space was a very big and very good and beautiful thing for all of us. Well, I was going there at every opportunity. Something must be done, to meet with the newcomers etc. The space was so important. Well, it was something like that for me, we have to show much more people what homosexuality is and homosexuals are everywhere. Kaos is a very important tool for this and I have to be a part of this. There is not much people. Internet was very newly emerging then. Well there were no facebooks, instagrams, etc.  well distributing the journal, posters or announcing the every activity were very very much important, to call people to the cultural center, increasing their participation in the activities were very important. It had so much value. Therefore I never let it go, I can say.”

Kaos Women Meetings

“I mean after we annulled the Daughters of Sappho, attempting works to increase women organization Kaos GL, we would like to. Therefore the Sunday meetings were targeting this. I mean because in a patriarchal world, patriarchal country and in a patriarchal organization, it is something that should be encouraged that women to do something by self-confidence, we did things that might ensure women to be active in Kaos GL or at least them coming to Kaos GL becoming attractive to them. And therefore I mean when a woman came to Kaos GL and there was no woman there, all was how could I say men there, she could not disclose herself wholly. Maybe later on more time when she came she did not. If I came again it would be same, she thinks, and she might not come. Because of this we said that if we create such a special time at least those women who hesitated to come at other times might come in this way and get involved with us. And by this way we might realize the talks of woman to woman and when these talks satisfies her need her belief in doing something together might be improved. At least mine was such that.

“On one hand we were introducing ourselves to the women who came to the women meetings. But in hard copy what have we done until now? What is going on here? There was nothing to tell this or for distribution, we wanted something like a brochure. And both it… There were two main aims of this brochure. First, to be able to tell to the homosexual and bisexual women of course that every woman is not heterosexual. I mean to tell not to feel themselves alone. And secondly to tell something to the heterosexual world. A stance against the heterosexist approach…I mean when you did not tell anything it does not make you heterosexual, such that to put such an approach. Well, from there what we had done until that time, we wrote a section like frequently asked questions. We had such aims. Well, it was something like a baby for me. Because we had so much labored in it. We talked with a lot of people. And the process of improving it, creating it was also very exiciting. When I saw it as a product, an we wrote that (don’t) you know, don’t was in purple parenthesis. We wanted to say that on the other hand, you know. It was always for me like that. We managed a big thing but there were lots of to do. When the brochures were distributed, in Kaos it was always like that, now published, now to be distributed. In this mood, always, it moves on.”

The Street

Kaos GL joined May Day demonstrations in 2001 and it was the first street action of an LGBTI+ organization in Turkey. She was also there:

“Before being an organized person in Kaos GL, I was not an organized person. Therefore have I ever gone to March 8 before being organized in Kaos GL? I do not think so. I participated with Kaos GL. I mean I try to remember. Whether any one of my acquaintance might have taken me over to March 8 but I cannot recollect something like that. I participated in March 8 as an organized person. Therefore with Kaos GL. Yet my being organized in feminism was with Kaos GL also. I used to call myself as a feminist but I was not an organized feminist. Therefore both as a feminist and as a lesbian I have first organized in Kaos GL. I mean the Daughters of Sappho and Kaos GL, of course. First I remember that it was 2001. If I do not recollect wrongly, I mean it was 2000 or 2001, the first May 1. I mean we were a very few of us. Well two of us were holding the banner and three of us were holding placards etc. My mum, by the way my mum did not know then. Well I said all the research to them etc. They know I was doing a research. My mom, at that period, in the family, “keep yourself away” etc. Well you did your research, it is over now, do not talk with them anymore etc. Or else you turn into a lesbian. They make you a lesbian, pardon, something such that. For example I used to tell my mum that what if I am lesbian or something else, it was not something to become etc. I mean I was in try to say it, searching for the proper sentences to call it. But she had a very serious wall. We made you raised so well, you are girl of a very good family, you cannot be a lesbian, she used to say to me. Mum, I used to say, I told you so many times. I mean talked about that and this. They are the girls of good families, I told you. What is not? It is not such that, I used to say. She makes no no you cannot be. I mean therefore to May 1s or to March 8s, probably the same year we go out for May 1 and March 8.. My only anxiety there was: I was so proud. I was so excited. I was so happy. Well, sometimes it comes that. Well, there were cameras. If they shoot and if we were on the screen. Well, my mum put up a wall, I did not say her. And my lover, then, did not want to be seen because her family’s not knowing, she did not want her family. There was something like that. Apart from that I was worried so little for my family to see me. I thought that they might see, if they see I will be relieved. It was for me like, for us like, it was very good the support for Kaos GL’s banner. The clappings etc…Generally, the claps were coming from the unions. It was so good and so exciting.”

Symposium and coming out

She comes out to her family at 2003. In 2003, they start preparations of a huge symposium. “Symposium of the Solution Searches to the Problems of Gays and Lesbians” becomes both the official coming out of Kaos GL and also personal coming outs of activists:

“In 2003 there was the symposium of the Solution Searches to the Problems of Gays and Lesbians. I mean the very first organization and arrangement was there for us. That symposium, according to me, was a very good attempt for the meetings against homophobia. I mean the symposium was just for one time but we understood that we might do it whenever we want. I mean we might make it continually. I mean using the day against homophobia, May 17 as a date, there was an article that I wrote at Kaos called “symposium: head to toe”. Because there, everyone, really from preparing the name tags, specifying the moderators, everyone, finding the speakers, convincing them, arranging the places. Everyone certainly had labored, everyone had did somethings. It was very beautiful for me. It was such a good team working. The participation was very good, the invitation etc…I really was not expecting such a big participation frankly. With its preparation, excitement, it was all there, who will participate, who will talk etc. I said, who asked me, was he Ali, someone asked me whether I wanted to make the opening speech or not. I want. Can I? I can, etc…But there will be cameras. Yes, there will be. Then should I think over it? But I wanted very much to do it and prepared the speech all together. Alltogether, well, Ali, Umut, Buse. And I was very very excited even we were rehearsing. I was worrying how I could read these with all this excitement. And the importance of the symposium for me was: because I will go before the cameras and there will be media I did not want my family learn from there. Therefore I tried to make my family ask me, because I did not want to tell them I am a homosexual, I wanted them to ask me. Therefore I started my mission. At that time I had just graduated from the university and was unemployed. Because of that I was a full-time volunteer of Kaos GL. My mum was asking, where are you going all the day? You are not going to school, not working. But you are going somewhere everyday. I started to say, I am going to Kaos. Why are you going to Kaos? Didn’t you cut your relations with them? No I did not. All are my friends. We are organizing a symposium such and such. Well, what are you doing? And I am helping the organization of the symposium. After, the time of symposium come, I started to talk about it more as the time arrived. At least I made my mum ask me. Starting from the question of “are you one of them” and continuing with “let’s talk a little, mum”, we lived through a coming out of closet in a three staged session. After, I told that I would make the opening speech at the symposium, and I would like to see you there etc. It was so stylistic. I came out to my family in a month, to my mum and my brother at the same time. After that my mum told my dad etc. And they came to the symposium. I did not expect that frankly. My mum and my dad both came. Well, just at the moment when I would start to the opening speech, with so much excitement, I saw my mum and dad, I left the papers and went next to them, I said welcome etc. It was all so, on the one hand, all the cameras etc…The meaning of those cameras was lots of people to hear. You are not telling something to those in the activities, in the hall. You are telling lots of people. Turkey, all, would hear, it was its excitement. it was something very important. My family being there was a different thing.”

Woman to Woman Story Contest

This is the 14th year of Woman to Woman Story Contest, organized by Kaos GL. But how did it start? Oya Burcu answers:

“Actually the Woman to Woman Story Contest happened like: it emerged as an idea during our woman to woman conversations in Kaos. Well, I mean, there was a conversation such that. I mean, until know the majority thinks that woman to woman love was generally represented something that is depressive and someone killed herself at the end or violated by her family with a depressive end or/and in the content of the stories we read women were full of deliriums. In the media, in the printed and visual media, all the products were like that. Why aren’t we writing ourselves, then? Because it is not like it is represented. Everything is not deliriums, dissappointment or tragically dramatic I mean. Then we thought let’s write our stories. And in order to make this in a funny way, let’s organize a contest. Then, there was Burcu, when we first spoke about this. This was hers, this was her idea, to write stories. It was something so good. We started to do it. We started to make our announcements. To the first contest, nine people participated. Nine participants and I think, two of them was not activists, all the others were activists. It was something like all we participated. I was in the jury. I do not have such a talent. I did not participate. The jury was us.

“Then we did, we gave reward for the first three, first, second and third ones. And special rewards for the rest. Because there were only nine participants and the aim was not creating a competitive environment. The aim was something other. The aim was visibility, the aim was really both to courage women to write and to contribute homosexual and bisexual women’s visibility in a way. Because of that we gave special rewards. Well, we gave the special rewards because. For example, there was something like “Yelda X special price”. There, was a woman who had a relation with a married woman and who was killed by the husband of the woman, Yelda. It was after her name. There was some ascriptions to the rewards. But at the following contests, the number elevated. I mean, from nine to twenty, to thirty, to fourty, like that the number has grown up. It was very exciting and good. I mean I might say that every year of the contest, I lived the very same excitement that I felt at the first year.

“I mean, while reading those stories, when the stories arrived us we were reading them anonymously. After the rewards had been given we were reading with the names. All the moments, all the steps had its own excitement. Afterwards, we printed a book from these stories. we printed a book out of the stories in the first three contest. In the name of “L Mode of Love”. It reached third edition by the way. From “L Mode of Love”, I mean, reading the book, the people who read it and who are not in any way activist or do not know Kaos GL or LGBT environment, who only read the book, they reached us. It was so good for us, also.”

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