27/03/2004 | Writer: KAOS GL

Review of KAOS GL Culture Center. 2004. Lezbiyen ve Geylerin Sorunlari ve Toplumsal Baris Icin Cozum Arayislari [The Problems of Gays and Lesbians and the Search for Social Peace]. Ankara: KAOS GL Publications, 158 pages.
by Sule Toktas

The newly published Lezbiyen ve Geylerin Sorunlari ve Toplumsal Baris Icin Cozum Arayislari [The Problems of Gays and Lesbians and the Search for Social Peace], is the first volume ever in the field of gay-lesbian studies in Turkey. Written in Turkish, it has been edited by one of the foremost gay-lesbian organizations in the country, KAOS GL Culture Center, and consists of various articles and speech notes presented in the symposium of the same name as the book.

KAOS GL Culture Center was founded in 1994 by a group of gay-lesbian activists in the capital, Ankara. Since then, the center has functioned as a non-governmental organization that aims to provide space for gays and lesbians to meet each other and engage in collective activities contributing to a social movement based on gay-lesbian identity. These include publication of the bi-monthly journal of KAOG GL, training seminars on STDs, lectures by academics on issues related to gays and lesbians, consultancy for individuals who face oppression and discrimination on the ground of diffe sexual difference, art exhibitions, etc.

The symposium organized by KAOS Culture Center on the "Problems of Gays and Lesbians and the Search for Social Peace" was held on May 23-24, 2003, in Ankara. Several academicians, representatives of labor unions, members of various human rights NGOs, journalists, representatives of UNISON based in the UK, members of the European Parliament and activists of feminist and/or gay-lesbian movements took part by delivering speeches or presenting papers.

The book follows the symposium's thematic flow with six sub-headings. The first part features gay-lesbian rights within the framework of human rights. The authors generally deal with the juncture and disjuncture between discourses on universal human rights and specific rights pertaining to gays and lesbians. They highlight the limits of human rights rhetoric when applied to the rights of 'others' including those of people with different sexual orientation who challenge the dominant heterosexual paradigm.

The authors also address the Turkish tendency to narrow definitions of human rights in comparison to other European countries and pinpoint the importance of the European Union accession process in the advancement of gay-lesbian rights in Turkey.

The second section focuses on gay-lesbian advances in Turkey. The authors, most of whom are activists, discuss the historical roots of the movement and elaborate its specific characteristics. Some base their movement histories on their own experience of oppression due to difference in sexual orientation while others elaborate the movement in more academic terms.

The third segment, for the most part, concerns working life and deals with the gendered division of labor. The authors enumerate various forms of discrimination facing gays and lesbians on the job and suggest improving employment conditions whether or not individuals prefer to come out.

The fourth part criticizes dominant images that frequently appear in the mass media. The authors highlight not only how often popular culture 'objectifies' gays and lesbians but also draw attention to the role of media in reproducing the 'othering' that places them in a vulnerable position.

The fifth part, discussing the social construction of traditional femininity and masculinity, evaluates the 'deviant' position ascribed to gays and lesbians as a result of conventional definitions of gender roles. For the most part, authors employ a feminist terminology and concepts.

The sixth section deals with violence against gays and lesbians with homophobia regarded as the major cause. Essayists speculate about the roots of this fear and hatred, covering a wide range of consequences varying from jokes frequently used in daily life to ideological terror and absolute violence.

The Problems of Gays and Lesbians and the Search for Social Peace, as an edited book, covers most crucial sites of significance for gays and lesbians in Turkish society whose emerged only in the early 1990s, much later than its Western counterparts. The movement, therefore, with few but devoted activists, has net yet brought its activities to the wider public nor received broad recognition. Nonetheless, despite its youth, the movement has taken steps certain to contribute to its development and even institutionalization, among them this publication, the first of its kind in Turkey. Although Turkey has produced other collections of personal life stories by lesbians and gays, none dealt exclusively with issues related to gay-lesbian studies in an analytical and theoretical framework. However, as may already be clear from the subjects covered, discussions tend to totalize gays and lesbians, applying a single category, the 'homosexual'; generally omitted are transvestites, transsexuals and bisexuals from the discussion of differences in sexual orientation. Furthermore, the actual or possible tensions between these groups, either by definition or in the social movement, are left out. Last but not least, one of the primary fields, the legal aspect, which directly affects individual lives as well as the political activism of gays, lesbians and all others with variant sexual orientation, is not covered here. A section on Turkish Law to profile existing legislation on sexual orientation or preference would also have helped readers obtain a legal perspective. In spite of these omissions, however, the book is successful in presenting a concise and critical account of the problems that people of differing sexual orientation face in contemporary Turkey.

Reviewer and Translator:
Sule Toktas
Bilkent University
Department of Political Science
06580, Bilkent, Ankara, Turkey
Tel: 90-312-2903258; Fax: 90-312-2902742
E-mail: suletoktas@superonline.com; stoktas@bilkent.edu.tr
Tags: life