Sexuality Institute and the City of Firsts

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June 11

As the old-time tramway left Ataturk Airport to meander in unfamiliar streets, and as I watched the city slowly unravel its sounds and colors to my reluctant eye, I wasn’t able to foresee the most intense twelve days I was about to live; I wasn’t able to tell I was on the very edge of taking a further step towards self-assertion.

All I could see was “SGRI 2010” in my e-mail inbox and the selection letter that came with it as an attachment, the goodbye of my friends teaching me how to slice a condom, and the terror of flight.

June 12

The Sexuality, Gender, and Rights Institute (SGRI) 2010, as a CREA project, took me to Istanbul for an intensive 8-day training.

From the bored academic that occasionally speaks up to insipidly comment on an unmet thesis statement or an infuriating abstraction in a poetic line, here I was, in a room full of activists and advocates, wondering what I was doing there. I thought I had nothing to offer but a limited life experience of “how-to-break-free” and artistic questioning, and perhaps it wasn’t exactly the space for the kind of knowledge I muscularly held on to.

June 13 to 19

Nevertheless, as I came to the realization that being queer, sexually active, non-reproductive, fond of dubious sexual practices, and very (very) kinky would instantaneously place me at the bottom of any institutionalized sexual hierarchy, I comprehended how embedded sexuality is in our every day’s life: from the bus driver’s lewd eyes in the rear-view mirror to the honks and the handfuls of rice of a Sunday wedding; from the old 3ammo that frowns and mumbles at a couple holding hands to the monochord lullaby of a schoolteacher’s voice talking about reproductive organs; from the signs on bathroom doors to the pharmacist’s face when you buy condoms or worse, lubricants; from Charles Perrault and Brothers Grimm as an educational tool for kids (every night before they go to sleep) to the same movie plot of Good-Girl versus Bad-Girl pulling each other’s hair over Handsome-Guy (who by the way is filing his nails while enjoying the show).

I stared at my own sexuality written on the white board, defined as postcolonial, instrumental, gendered, or communal. Slowly, in a conference room in the Old City of Istanbul, these words shrouded shapes and faces, so I became the muffled protest of the guy that lost his job for coming out as a transsexual. I embodied the subtle gesture of the sex worker of color standing in the streets. I internalized the same rage of the patriarchal man who looks down at her but will pick her up later in the evening. I tried to escape consumerism as a unidirectional mean for love. As all of these thoughts confounded in my mouth in strained syllables, I found my own voice that segregated into perspectives at an alarming rate. I had roots soaked in promises of a white horse, but I also had branches that managed to develop despite the antidote to non-essentialist threats.

I could see.

June 20

Perhaps my boggling self decided to complicate things even more by combining theory to practice, and it’s in her bedroom overlooking the city and the Bosphorus that I understood what the difference between sexual behavior and sexual meaning entailed.

June 23

Back to Beirut and swallowed up by the city already.

While we were critical of feminism itself and developing a denaturalized approach to human rights and sexuality in the SGRI context, I realized how far we are here from even questioning the efficiency of an activist or advocate’s work. We are struggling still for the most basic of all, being the recognition of feminist theory and sexual rights, or the possibility of a shift from a normative consumerist life. Our constitution still groups the mega-scale of sexual behaviors under “unnatural sex acts”. We come from far in terms of visibility and alternative lifestyles, but a lot is yet to be done.

This brought me to another realization, or perhaps a question, that of how to challenge essentialist approaches and bear a non-judgmental view to the multitude of behaviors surrounding us when they are the fundamental manifest of a discriminatory patriarchal structure, the main focus of our struggle.

July, Every Day

As for her… she is lost somewhere running the city, waiting for trams and drinking beer drafts that linger on her lips, but she comes back to me every time I smile, or in a dream angle hugging me fervently somewhere between Taksim and Kabataş.

Gya is a queer feminist who lives in a pink bedroom in the “2aryeh”. She doesn’t notice the curious setting as she remains in her bubble of unknown poets and mysterious femme fatales. If she’s not busy laying a poem in a cafe on Hamra street while sipping her French Press, she is most probably daydreaming about someone somewhere. Tough life that is. She looks innocent almost all the time, yet being obnoxious is one of her main daggers (or so she was told). Gya likes to live life to the fullest. She can't be put in a box, even if it's pink. She loves strong feelings and colors, and expresses herself with both her body and mind.

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