A Brief Lesson in Sex, Sexuality and Gender

It seems that the man on the Clapham omnibus often gets his Calvins in a coil when trying to work out the difference between sex, sexuality and transexuality. Put simply (simplistically, even), sex is what you do, sexuality is who you fancy and transexuality is when you are born the wrong gender. A sex change does not alter an individual’s sexuality. Therefore, a woman born as a man who fancies men will still fancy men after the op. Likewise, a woman born as a man who fancies women will still fancy women. Got it?

The reason I’m labouring this point is because my good friend and new kid on the blogging block over at Back to Bodrum sent me an article about two gay men, Aras Güngör and Barış Sulu. They intend to marry in Turkey. Impossible, I hear you collectively cry. Under ordinary circumstances you would be correct but these are not ordinary circumstances. You see, Aras is a transexual born female and now living as a man. Therefore, he carries a ‘pink’ identity. Barış carries a ‘blue’ identity so, under Turkish law, they are permitted to marry with all the rights and duties that entails. They intend to use their matrimony to campaign for marriage equality. I wish them the best of luck and I hope they can stay safe from those who will seek to bring them down.

You can read their courageous story here.

Despite a long tradition of transexuality in Turkey, transexuals have a rough time. With the exception of a few at the top of the entertainment heap, most are marginalised and reviled. Some end up leading brutal lives and resort to prostitution to bring home the daily bread. I saw this first hand during my inaugural trip to Istanbul in 2003 when street ladies in Laura Ashley frocks would leap out from behind parked cars in the dingy side roads along Tarlabaşi Bulvari. It scared the life out of me.

Just for the record, transvestites are people who cross dress, often, but not always, for sexual gratification. Most transvestites, like most people, are straight. Drag queens are not transvestites. They are female impersonators and entertainers (though not always convincing or entertaining). It’s all part of the rich tapestry of humanity, I’m pleased to say.

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Zenne Dancer

Zenne Dancer

A Bodrum Belle of our acquaintance recently saw Zenne Dancer, a ground breaking indie movie about a male belly dancer. The film, which has won major awards in Turkey, was inspired by the true story of a Kurdish student who was gunned down by his own father for being openly and unrepentantly gay. As our Turkish remains lamentably poor, we’ll have to wait for the subtitled version before we get to see it.

The film caused quite a stir in the Turkish press and among the chattering classes (us included) – not all of which has been negative. Some of the debate was reported in the Guardian  in an article called From Homophobia to a Moving Apology in Turkey*. This demonstrates that Turkey is indeed a complex web of paradoxes and contradictions. This conflict is also illustrated in From Diyarbakir with love: Kurdish, gay and proud, a Pink News article that talks of the double struggle for ethnic and sexual identity among the Kurdish LGBT community in South-east Turkey. Two steps forward, one step back.

*Thank you to Johnny Hogue for sending me this article.