14/05/2020 | Writer: Aslı Alpar

Rayka Kumru, the guest of our online interviews this week, says that “the pandemic seriously hinders LGBTI+ peoples’ access to safe spaces."

“If we wait, a good time to discuss sexuality will never come” Kaos GL - News Portal for LGBTI+

Our online interviews are continuing this week with the sexual health professional and consultant Rayka Kumru.

This week we talked with Rayka Kumru, who has been based in Vancouver, Canada full-time since 2019 and is the Communications and Knowledge Translation Manager at the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity, an academic research centre that aims to advance gender and sexual health equity through research, policy, and practice. We asked Rayka about the effects of the pandemic on libido, the "We can't make love" (a twitter thread Rayka posted) and the price of sexual rights advocacy in Turkey.

Rayka Kumru points out that we shouldn't deduce generalizations from Covid-19 and sexuality as it is too early to talk about definitives. Explaining what pre-pandemic social crises can turn into during pandemics, and pointing out that LGBTI+ folks may have been moved away from their safe spaces due to the pandemic measures, she warns: “we’ve already been getting accounts of what has been happening. When this cloud of dust dissipates, I’m afraid we will have to face exacerbated versions of issues that we were already facing in our society.”

Any changes to questions from your clients due to Covid-19?

I don't actually see counselees excluding parental education at certain periods. I'm trying not to look at questions that are sent via social media for the sake of my own mental health these days. On the other hand, the questions that come in are more about issues that we don't have data about yet.

A good number of research possibilities have been made possible in Canada in regards to  Covid-19; grants, ethical committees, research and educational institutions have been mobilized to be able to conduct new research as well as been given an opportunity to apply for “add-ons” to ongoing health-related research. As a result a certain amount of knowledge and data has been gathered, but the situation is less organized and structured in Turkey. I’ve been seeing many survey links, however am not sure if they received approval or the methods used to collect sensitive information.

That being said, I personally know how difficult it is to receive ethics approval on topics relating to sexual health and rights or when it comes to populations deemed “marginal”. So, when people ask me about Covid-19 and sexual health and rights, I honestly do not have a definitive answer to give. This is an area in which we lack significant and generalizable data let alone data on specific demographics.

I thought you were preparing the “We can't make love” series because of the questions sent to you during this period. How did this series come out?

I created the series building on the questions I usually get from people. The pandemic would only enhance the magnitude of them, and knew for a fact a lot of folks would have questions about sex and sexuality, so thought it would be a useful way to remind people of some key messages. Sexual desire, use of sex toys, masturbation... The lockdown gave me an excuse to address these issues…

How were the reactions?

I didn't think it would have such a big impact, and I usually got positive reactions. I also got the typical “the pandemic is not the time to talk about sexuality". But it's important to remember that sexuality is never prioritized unless we prioritize it. No matter when or where I post about sexuality, someone somewhere always manages to say “this is not the right time because such and such is happening”. When is it ever going to be a good time to talk about sexuality. There's always something "more important" on the country's agenda.

"We're feeling stressed and anxious; these feelings do not agree well with sexual desire.

Are you also exposed to mob mentality and harassment on social media? How do you deal with it?

The negative sentiment I get on social media is pretty intersectional; sometimes I get attacked because I’m a sexuality educator, sometimes solely because I’m a woman, and other times because I’m young, or look certain way. When I come into contact with a homophobic, sexist person, I ask myself if they can be brought back into society, learn anything, so I ask myself “are they attacking me due to lack of knowledge, or are they attacking me because they want to cause hard”. There has been many instances where I’ve encountered the first kind, sent them a few things to read and received a  thank you message. But even this is a full-time job in itself.

On the other hand, I don't let them suck my energy, instead of letting hate speech get to me, I think of constructive and productive ways of combating the discourse being created. For example, if a person is advocating "conversion therapy," I produce a discourse against it, I produce content. But if there is an institution promoting a harmful and unethical practice, I believe professional associations and public institutions should act. As someone who has been active in this field for the last 8 years, I would also like to point out that I haven’t always been as strategic, calm and collected when it comes to bullies and online harassment; your skin thickens over time.

Do you have any predictions about the relationship between the pandemic and sexual desire?

There may be an increase in people's libido, and there may be a decline. Nothing may change either. Many people compare pandemics to periods of war and say, "I wonder if a 2nd Babyboom is coming". It's important to remember that a pandemic is the exact same thing as a war. We're in our homes, we're with people we know. I know home isn't safe for everyone, but it's still not right to compare this to war because we simply do not know yet. We can assume we’ll observe similar coping mechanisms or psychological outcomes but we simply can't know without proper research…

On the other hand, there's one thing we know, we're worried, and anxiety is often not good for sexual desire. We can make predictions, but to make generalizations is not right. We are at the beginning of the pandemic, and unfortunately, we do not know if there will be inclusive scientific research in Turkey focusing on peoples’ sexual experiences or sexual desire.

I highly recommend your readers to visit debunkingdesire.com to get scientific but easily digestible information on sexual desire and low sexual desire.

"The pandemic seriously hinders LGBTI+ peoples’ access to safe spaces"

Can the pandemic create new crises in relation to sexuality in a society where sexuality is not spoken about and sexual rights are difficult to defend?

Scientific research shows that the violence and discriminatory rhetoric and practices that existed before periods of crisis tend to increase during times of crisis and unfortunately become invisible.

Let alone ending the current crises, the pandemic will quietly deepen them. For example, domestic violence, child abuse were already there before the pandemic, and they're probably only going to increase during and likely after the pandemic. The pandemic period is also a process in which LGBTI+ peoples’ access to safe spaces are limited if not completely hindered. Folks who are at risk at home prior to the pandemic could find refuge elsewhere; friend’s homes, NGOs, drop-in centres, and in other cities far from potential harm.

In sum, Covid-19 is creating a cloud of dust, a fog, even the government tried to take advantage of by trying to introduce a bill practically legitimizing child sexual abuse for a given age group so long as it resulted in marriage. The “execution package” a group of amendments was also accepted. I fear hearing stories when the pandemic is over, when this cloud of dust dissipates. It's not pessimism, when there are no support systems and fundamental rights are under serious attack, the environment that we will face won't be much different.

Is it possible to say that hatred is a more common trait of societies that are less likely to talk about sexuality?

Actually, sexuality is being talked about; just not in a healthy, sex-positive and rights-based. For example, even the Religious Administration speaks about sexuality... They are creating hate speech based on matters of sexuality. So we are constantly exposed to some form of sexual discourse, just a very harmful one. This is not just a matter of sex-negativity, it’s about knowing our rights as a country. Some don’t realize that when a certain group’s rights are so arbitrarily violated, there are no rules as to who will be next. I don’t blame individuals for this but a system that has delivery prevented us from thinking critically about our own rights. This is also closely tied to the nose-thin line between hate speech and freedom of expression. When we do not address and discuss the ins and outs of free expression, and are given opportunities for critical thinking, we assume we have a right over things and people.

“Support mechanisms are crucial”

What kind of advice can you give to those who want to work in the field of sexual rights?

I highly recommend that they reach out to associations that have been working in this field for years and take advantage of all the resources that they can benefit from. I'm not talking just talking about formal education. There are a lot of associations and organizations working on sexual rights that create space for non-formal learning opportunities like discussion groups, movie screenings, panels, etc. Training the way out think, not just learning new things, is so crucial no matter what one is interested in but more so in this field.

If possible, it is good to learn a foreign language, like Spanish, English, German, French. But of course, this is by no means a must. I think learning a new language opens up a lot of possibilities regardless.

They should also establish a support mechanism for themselves. Defending sexual rights is a difficult and exhausting journey to embark on no matter where you live, but more so in our context.

Last but not least, I would recommend finding a mentor, someone that they can consult, a person that can guide them when they're stuck. This has been proven beyond imaginable for my career and personal development as a human being.

Translation: Yiğit E. Korkmaz

Tags: human rights, health