Comrade, I am a Faggot

Source: Elif Akgül, “Yoldaş Ben İbneyim,” (“Comrade, I am a faggot,”) Bianet, 25 October 2013, http://bianet.org/biamag/diger/150839-yoldas-ben-ibneyim

Journalist and LGBT activist Yıldız Tar talked to bianet about the newly released book Comrade, I am a Faggot and the perception of socialist organizations on the LGBT movement.

Journalist Yıldız Tar’s book Comrade, I am a Faggot: The Left’s Perception of the LGBT Movement has been published by Ceylan Publishing House. Tar answered Bianet’s questions,  stating that the LGBT and leftist organizations had close contacts for the first time during the Gezi Resistance and that this encounter affected all of them Tar also adds that they have to face up to our existence and cause. Those who cannot embrace the LGBT movement will end up in history’s trash bin.

Tar presents various socialist organizations’ perceptions of the LGBT movement and the ways in which they communicate with the movement. Tar wanted to understand the mid-level management’s point of view and interviewed the Chairperson of the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP) Figen Yüksekdağ, Vice Chairperson of the Labor Party (EMEP) Ender İmrek, Chairperson of the Community Centers Oya Ersoy, Istanbul Branch Chairperson of the Human Rights Association (IHD) Ümit Efe, Chairperson of the Liberation and Solidarity Party (ÖDP) Alper Taş, Chairperson of the Proletarian Movement Party (EHP) Sibel Uzun, Chairperson of the Socialist Reestablishment Party (SYKP) Tuncay Yılmaz, Chairperson of the Greens and Left Future Party(YSGP) Sevil Turan.

The most important part of the interviews was the question Tar asked all party executives:

“What are you doing on LGBT issues and what will be your organization’s policy in the future?”

The subtext to be read in Tar’s words is: The interviews in the book serve as documents and we can talk through them.

“The groups we would like to think of as allied are not outside of power relations either”

How did you come up with the idea of this book?

The idea came to my mind during the most ardent days of the Gezi resistance. Because probably for the first time, the LGBT movement and socialist organizations were in close proximity. I wondered about the fissures that this close proximity might create as well as the more positive outcomes of this interaction.

I am an LGBT activist who has been a part of the socialist movement for about 9 years in one way or the other. The LGBT issue is something that the leftist movement either just perceives as a human rights issue or ignores completely. One of the main things I was curious about was whether I could even have a reasonable interview with an organization about the issue. Another reason was my private experience. When I was part of a socialist party in high school, Mehmet Tarhan went public with his conscientious objection and went to prison. That case was on the oppositional movement’s agenda. And I was really excited, because by way of Tarhan’s sexual orientation I could make my party discuss the LGBT issue. However, the comment I received when I brought the issue up was, “Mehmet is the … one, right?” That was a breaking point for me. After a while I left the party and for a long time I only participated in the LGBT movement.

A similar situation was the negative reaction to the LGBT organizations in the meetings for Güler Zere during the ill detainees campaign. We had expected the ignorance and the gaffes but we encountered homophobic violence from a place we did not expect at all. So I understood that the groups we would like to think of as allied are not outside of power relations either.

But some time after that you became a part of the People’s Democratic Congress (HDK). What changed?

The balance changed with the HDK. The internal structures of the party were forced to auto-censor themselves but there were still some absurd occurances. For instance, we were going to establish an LGBT commission but nobody wanted to be on it. In the end, we spoke up and said “Don’t worry. Nobody will call you faggots just because you are a part of that commission.” After that, a lots of barriers came down and we became a part of the HDK struggle.

“Society is ready for the LGBT movement, some organizations are not”

Most feminists and LGBT activists prefer not to be part of these kind of “combined” structures. Why did you prefer the opposite?

I am just as worthy as the people who exhibit homophobic attitudes towards me. Me leaving that particular political arena means handing it over to them. Of course it is an understandable choice; I stayed away from that arena for years. But as an LGBT activist I want to be involved, I want to be in the middle of it. I am as much of a revolutionary as a homophobic socialist revolutionary and discussing this with them gives me hope.

You say that the LGBT movement and the left were in close proximity for the first time during the Gezi resistance. What was the outcome of that interaction?

The two groups who understood and handled the Gezi resistance most effectively were the LGBT movement and çArşı (Beşiktaş supporter group) with its handsome guys we know and admire. Everybody got to know LGBTs all of a sudden and had to be in close proximity to them. With Gezi, the visibility politics moved up to a new level. So socialists were forced to see us,  although they did it more slowly than the rest of society.

Why did socialists take longer in this process of recognition?

What I saw in both Gezi and the interviews was this:

For instance, during the resistance when someone from çArşı used the word “faggot” as an insult, another person would make an intervention by saying, “You are fighting alongside faggots here” and that person would apologize. But socialist structures still ask: “Is society ready for this?”

We saw what society is ready for and we saw society’s radical revolutionist attitude when they encountered those things they thought they were “not be ready” for. Society is ready but some organizations are not.

But we also saw that the socialist society is not homogenous. Some organizations got over these arguments because they already interacted with the LGBT movement whereas some of them still perceive the subject as taboo.

“A structural refusal of homophobia must be built up in organizations”

How do organizations discuss LGBT issues?

It depends. For example, the SYKP sees the LGBT movement as one of the dynamics of the revolution. As for the ESP chairperson Yüksekdağ, she sees fighting homophobia as a prerequisite for being a revolutionary. In fact, Yüksekdağ describes the LGBT movement as a radical struggle in the front-lines.

However, some organizations approach the LGBT issue as a human rights issue. That’s true, it is a human rights issue. As socialist organizations, they contribute to the theoretical discussion on the Kurdish issue, the class issue, and partially the women’s rights issue but when the subject matter is LGBTs, they do not bother and evade it by saying: “It is a human rights issue, pity them!” This approach is something I can tolerate in others but not in socialist organizations.

When we look at your interviews, what do you think the socialist movement needs to do  about the LGBT issue?

The first thing that should be done is to confront the homophobia within the organizations. This should be done individually but with an organized mechanism that would force the organizations to put the LGBT issue on their agenda.

Translator’s Note

*The Turkish term ibne is originally derived from the Arabic word “boy” and is widely used today as a derogatory slang for gay men. The Turkish Language Institute Dictionary defines ibne as “a passive homosexual man” and “a word said in anger.”  The term is being reclaimed by many in the LGBTI movement in Turkey. The court case of Levent Pişkin can be seen as a critical instance of such reclamation.  In this sense, ibne’s current connotations lie somewhere between the American English terms “fag” and “queer.”

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