Imperialism and Neocolonialism have had a profoundly dramatic effect on how people perceive themselves and the world around them. They have determined and dictated how man has treated one another, even within their own communities ever since conquering empires set foot on foreign soil. Ancient civilizations and cultures have always gone through changes to their societies. As new conquering empires came and disrupted the established culture they replaced the current thinking with the thinking of the emerging one. An example of this is the Emperor Constantine merging Christian belief and practices with the pagan religions around them in order for a much smoother transition from paganism to Christianity to take place. As a result, the Egyptian goddess ISIS became Mary, the winter Solstice became Christmas, and so on. When observing the rights of what the Western World has taken to calling LGBT people the same pattern can be observed.
Numerous cultures around the world accepted non-binary genders and even held them in high esteem. It was only when imperialism, colonialism, and Western thought came into the picture did these ideas of exclusively binary gender and sexuality roles and identities come into focus. It seems that ancient cultures had no modern conception of sexuality the way we as Westerners do today and they certainly did not define them in terms of identity.
For the most part these issues seem to have been far more complex and handled in a much different fashion than in modern societies. Same-sex attracted individuals may have been labeled as a third gender or had a highly prestigious role within these ancient societies. In time, some of these ideas fell out of favor with the rise of colonialism and imperialism. Other beliefs, however, managed to morph and retain a portion of their original identity within this new framework. These ancient societies learned quickly that they either had to adapt to their new way of life or be killed off. Many chose the former path and retained their identity within certain restraints. The question of why LGBT issues are treated differently when they appear to contradict the culture is observed within the countries of Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan.
Gender Relations in Turkey
Before we discuss sexuality in Turkey we must explore how both sexes are viewed within society. Gender inequality is a fact of life in Turkey. High status careers such as business, the military, and government are dominated by men. Legally both men and women are supposed to be paid an equal wage for their work. In practice, however this does not happen. Researchers have discovered that the gender/wage gap expands when you account for age and education. As a result, it is immensely more difficult for women to enter positions of high stature and respectability as well as receive equal pay for their work.
In Turkey the women are seen as having the responsibility of taking care of the family and the household. Men are the providers for the family. Even when women are outside working on their careers they are still obligated to take on domestic roles.
Women are also expected and obligated to refrain from speaking with men who are not their spouses or relatives. This is done in order to prevent premarital relations or the temptation of such relationships.
Sexuality in Turkey
The predecessor of the nation of Turkey, the Ottoman Empire, had a friendly approach to the issue of homosexuality. The modern Turkish nation today has more or less the same position, although in recent years there has been a strong resistance by the government to their demonstrations. Specifically, the gay pride parade held annually in their country. In order to justify homosexual relations among men during the Ottoman Empire, literature and poetry was used. Much of the literature pointed to the scarcity and absence of women. Prestigious Ottoman men replaced women with young male servants who served as companions on their trips.
Mustafa Ali was a well respected Ottoman historian and successful bureaucrat. He wrote about the relations between these Ottoman elites and their young servants. He described them as “friendships”. Even though they had relationships with these young men, these elites never claimed an identity either in their public or political life. In the academic article, Friendships, Sociability and Masculinity In the Ottoman Empire: An Essay Confronting the Ghosts of Historicism, Serkan Delice notes that these types of relationships were not frowned upon as long as they stayed within the bounds of decorum.
Men who engaged in homosexuality, in addition to not forming an identity around this, claimed to be even more of a man than a “regular man” because they took the dominant role in the relationship as opposed to the submissive role. This power dynamic solidified the perception of dominance over other adult males. This dominance perception was due to age, elevated social status, superior intelligence, observable masculinity, and the dominant sexual role.
This friendly relationship between the Ottoman Empire and homosexuality was drastically reversed when the Ottomans came in contact with European travelers and diplomats. According to Dror Ze’evi’s work Producing Desire: Changing Sexual Discourse in the Ottoman Middle-East, European setters regarded male to male sexual relations as a “timeless degeneracy of the East.” This caused Ottomans to adopt the heteronormative sexual paradigm as normal and the only relations allowed by individuals in society. The article from Delice notes that the marginalization of male to male sexual relations led to shame. As a result, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century this activity was marginalized and it was only in the reformation period known as the Tanzimat that homosexuality was decriminalized. In the years between 1839 to 1858 religious and customary laws were replaced by European secular laws. Even though it gained legal status it had lost the cultural and social acceptance that it once had.
In modern day Turkey, the history of the Ottoman Empire is remembered selectively in favor of heteronormativity. This mindset easily transferred into violence in 2006 when an organization protecting transvestites, transgendered, gay and lesbian individuals organized an event in the city of Bursa. The mayor was infuriated and stated that they would not march in the streets. Numerous people heard his speech and fans of a local football team threw stones and overwhelmed the community center of the local LGBT association.
In Turkey 98.9% of the population is Muslim. The nation has had debates on how much of the religion to allow to affect social preferences. These preferences influence the interpretations of the Quran and its various passages as well as the Hadith. However, to the members of traditional Islam homosexuality is still frowned upon and seen as a deviant sin and worthy of criminal prosecution. They point to the story of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah. The interpretation is that the city and its inhabitants were punished because of their homosexuality. The interpretation of this story thus justifies their positions.
However, Islamic art and literature contradict this interpretation and how it’s implemented. Beginning from the Middle Ages and forward, homoeroticism was a very prevalent theme in the form of pederasty among numerous Muslim writers and poets. In Arabic, Persian, Turkish and finally Urdu, love poetry between men and young boys significantly overshadowed those about women. This reestablishes the fact that regardless of Islamic law, homosexuality was still accepted in society and even celebrated.
Researchers have noted that even if Islamic law outlawed homosexuality it would have still been clandestinely allowed because of the perception of the increased masculinity of the dominant partner instead of the passive partner. The passive partner was seen as more feminine and as a result was the one who suffered shame and ridicule. While the dominant partner did not lose his standing in the community or society the passive partner most certainly did. Another aspect of this is that the women are segregated from the men and men are seen as having virility. Premarital sex is also forbidden in this culture. As a result of these restrictions, same sex sexual relations will continue in mostly covert ways.
Those who engage in same sex sexual relations do not necessarily see themselves as part of the gay community. Those who take the dominant role do not identify themselves as part of this community, consciously.
This predominantly Muslim community struggles with secularization and human rights. Therefore, although homosexuality is legal it may not be socially acceptable. This may be the justification for things such as honor killings because homosexuality is seen as going against Islamic law.