16/12/2018 | Writer: Kaos GL
Veteran LGBTI+ activist Umut Güner tells the story of his childhood in small Anatolian city Yozgat, the meaning of the word “homosexual” in encyclopedia, hammams, bars and the closure of Kaos GL’s café in 2002
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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 third guest is veteran LGBTI+ activist Umut Güner. He told us the story of his childhood in small Anatolian city Yozgat, the meaning of the word “homosexual” in encyclopedia, hammams, bars, the closure of Kaos GL’s café in 2002 and his involvement to LGBTI+ struggle with a line from Turkish song: “To what one must spend their life?”
Umut was born in Yozgat at 1977. Until he moved to Ankara for university, he lived in the same city. But how?
“While living in that conservative town, well, you do that, while making sex with neighbor’s son we had drawn the curtains. Because while making sex the curtains are to be drawn. By the way, well, if you go and see our home at Yozgat, its counter side is forest, why to drawn the curtains if the view is forest? Because nobody could see you. Of course my mum, well from her well known memories codes, decoded me.
“Afterwards there lived some period during which I was told to hide it, well actually strictly not to live it, it was not supposed to happen. This was at my eleventh or twelfth, without seeing any psychiatrist she made such a good conversation that I should not live this, that this is a situation that should not be lived, she explained so sweetly. Well there I understood that if I live this without drawing that specific curtain, but I had to create other kinds of curtains and afterwards I moved on playing this game for a very long time.”
There is something that defines me
Umut continues by telling his desire to find something that can define him. This desire leads him to encyclopedia, Meydan Larousse…
“In the Meydan Larousse, I had found the word “homoseksüel” (homosexual). Well, it was defining homosexuality as an illness. Well a black Meydan Larousse. Fourteen volumes. For myself, I was incredibly relieved when I had found the word “homoseksüel” for myself. Because there was something that defines me. Well it says it is an illness, such and such but good, such a good one or two paragraphs. Well, I am this, I used to say. And I was doing silly things that when my moms were not at home I was reading that article, “aaa, that is what I am” I say, and shut it off. Then because of my mom’s control frickness… Because it will be always the same page to open, I was reading lots of different pages, opening pages etc., only for not my mom should not understand that I was reading that article, and that was a sweet period of time I lived.”
“Faggots go to the Güvenpark”
And Ankara… In the late 90’s and early 2000’s; gay, bisexual man and trans women were gathering at a big cental park, Güvenpark. Umut, tells how he met with the park and how he discovered the gay life of the city:
“Saying that I am this was actually a hard situation. Because I was rubbed in the Güvenpark, I was beaten and my cellphone and money was stolen. And well I thought that they (my family) were responsible for this. Because they did not provide me a safe life. I went home and said that I had lived something like that. Well my dad said that “to Güven Park, faggots go there, what were you doing there” My mum declared that this was not our issue not, “Umut was robbed and beaten, what is your problem” she asked. Afterwards well telling this actually I thought that I was telling that I am a gay but afterwards I was really suspicious that how much I told or how much I did not, it was always a question mark. Even, when I was going to Kaos for the first time. Well I spent my whole day at Kaos. They know what is Kaos. But it was still, whether I was open to my family or whether they knew my homosexuality or not, the answer was not clearly a yes at least until the beginnings of 2000s until my lover came into my life.
“When we had moved to Ankara, while searching for a home to settle, I found the place in Cebeci. There was a ruined park just opposite the Mamak Municipality at that time. There said to be a park for çark. (cruising in Turkish queer slang language) . Well, just looking for a home and while only sitting for a little rest, -well just like it was fate- we went there with my mum. Afterwards I saw that men were making signs to each other. I thought that I should come here after my mum. It was impossible for me doing something in front of my mum. Afterwards I explored that park. Actually with that park I also explored slowly the homosexuel life of Ankara. So interesting.”
Reclaiming your own life
Umut goes to Kaos by a verse from a famous Turkish son: Bir insan ömrünü neye vermeli? (To what one must spend their life?)
“In the middle of the 2000s, after May 2000, in July I was opening a stall at the street. I was bored from the park and the parks were really wasted. Because of this I thought going and trying Kaos. But something was important at that time. At the end of 1999 or 2000 summer, I travelled all Mediterranean and Aegean coast by hitchhiking. I visited one of my friends. And he put on the song from Zülfü Livaneli “Bir insan ömrünü neye harcamalı, akıp gidiyor ömür dediğin diye” (To what one must spend his life, the life is flowing and ending). When I listened that song, well, anymore, it seems to me, I had to do something for my homosexuality and I had to own my life. Maybe I did not put forward directly as homosexuality but I thought that my life will not go on like that. I had to claim my own life. And a period during which I own my life started. Afterwards I came to Kaos.
Umut tells the story of a debate in Kaos GL back in early 2000’s: Hammam or bar? The answer comes from international LGBTI+ activist and formerly ILGA Board Member Kürşad Kahramanoğlu:
“It was something that might turn into a theme of the Kaos meetings that whether a lover might be from hammam or not. I did that. One of the themes was that. Which one we should choose, those homosexuals who went to hammams or those gays who went to the bars? Even, these two were so different categorical humanbeings…For example, we said that, we went to the hammam, we went to the bars also, we went to the cinemas also. A period that we tried to tell that doing all these together was an advantage for us.
“Hammam actually was a thing that I met after I came to Kaos. I mean, there, hammam was living its last periods in 2003-2004, I barely was able to catch it. Actually I have met with the bar culture also after I came to Kaos. But when I came to Kaos, it was a little bit hard, because Kaos GL was a little bit anarchist at that time…They were claiming that homosexuals were imprisoned in bars, cinemas and, hammams and they should be liberated from those places. But they were not visiting those places in order to take them out. I mean they thought that homosexuals should come out spontaneously themselves and reach to Kaos. For example Kürşad was telling that at the beginning of 2000s. Well, homosexual movement had organized from bars, well, then Kaos should go to the bars instead of waiting others to come and Kaos should go to the places where homosexuals are and Kaos should try to change the life at its place. And we used to say that this was impossible. But afterwards, in the coming years, we saw that it was not such impossible.”
Kaos Cultural Center
In 2002, Ankara Çankaya Municipality shut down Kaos GL’s café. Umut tells the background and the effects of it:
“When I came to Kaos, there was a cafe. We were discussing whether we should make cold sandwiches or pancakes. But there was a background of this discussion. Actually how should we relate with the people at the cafe of Kaos, which was a commerce of Kaos. That was the main point for the discussion. The persons who come here whether they are clients of the cafe or they are the persons who come here to be informed and organized around Kaos? Well, that the cafe and the Kaos is being at the same space created problems and for a long time we were not able to talk anything but this issue. And, well, how we would pay the rent, what about the water? And there was a broken geyser, when I came first it was broken, it was left broken until 2002. Every week, the very last agenda was that broken geyser. Fortunately (!), Çankaya Municipality made a huge contribution and closed the cafe.
“So-called, they said that, there was lots of complaints about the cafe. Supposedly, it was reported. And it was decided that our building did not have a proper document for a cafe, it was closed. But just opposite to the cafe there was somewhere named Kitap Kurdu. How did they get their documents? They did not have documents, obviously. Actually it was something based upon favor. We did not have any favor and the cafe had been closed. At that period, one of our journal’s cover, was a tea cup, thinking that it was so creative, we wrote “tea is pretext”. But two or three years after we thanked in the journal. Because we remembered that our main motivation whether it is cafe or not, we were here to change, transform people and together liberate. The cafe was only a tool. And by that time cafe had gain overweight and lost its mission, it came forward of the things that it should change and afterwards we thanked its closure and it gained the cultural center function.
“By the way while the café was open, then, the Thursday talks, Sunday meetings were so many. And these were also the days on which the people who would like to come to the Kaos and to be informed might get involved and discuss. For example we were discussing about so much that in our technical meetings, how much we should intervene to the discussions and what we settled on was that to give everybody equal right of expression and also we settled on that to distinguish what is Kaos’ view on homosexuality and what is our personal view. I mean because there the identities might have been confused. Well whether this is being told in the name of Kaos or is this the personal views of Umut? For example we certainly were highlighting that this are my personal views etc. Besides, again while cafe was open, persons like me who came to cafe especially was coming for their needs that could not be satisfied in bars, parks, cinema halls. Actually for a sex partner. We used to say that would they find a partner and go. Well, was this a space for only meeting with sex –sorry not only for sex but also for romantic relationships or was this a space that overarch this? Afterwards we agreed upon that this space should be safe space for both homosexual women and man and besides when they come first- Because we, at the cafe, especially were welcoming people in the name of Kaos by certainly talking with gays and lesbians when they first came to the café.”