Source: Margarethe Asgard, “Balkonumda 24 Saatini Tamamlayamayan Gökkuşağının Hikayesi,” (“The Story of the Rainbow That Could Not Stay 24 Hours on My Balcony,”) Radikal, 04 January 2014, http://blog.radikal.com.tr/Sayfa/balkonumda-24-saatini-tamamlayamayan-gokkusaginin-hikayesi-45149
What you will read here is based on an incident of homophobic harassment that I experienced on the first day of the new year. It was both hilarious, maddening and thought-provoking at the same time.
For about 6 months now, I have been living with my partner, a non-Turkish citizen who works here in the neighborhood of Bakırköy, Istanbul. In the rest of this blog post I will be talking about an experiment I carried out as a reaction to the flags that are hanging out of windows, all at the same level everywhere in my neighborhood, like they are in other neighborhoods as well.
As someone who has been involved in the LGBTI movement for the last 6 years, I have been playing with the idea of doing something like this for some time. I was going to hang the rainbow flag the same way everyone in the neighborhood was hanging the national flag. (Hanging it in the same fashion as everybody else is an act open to debate of course, but I can say that I did it as a reaction to this flag-fetishism, to show that other people can hang other flags, and to question why they hang flags at all.)
Finally, I decided on the ribbon from the cake that my friends brought to our New Year’s Eve house party, tied the flag right in the center of the metal railings of the balcony and let it hang down. We went through meat, potatoes and wine in the process of counting down to say farewell to 2013 before finally throwing ourselves into bed. Next morning, that is New Year’s Day, we went out to get some fresh air to get rid of the slight headache we woke up with and we came home with stuff for a complete breakfast. We were talking about all the foolishness that happened the night before while starting the clean up.
After a boring round of vacuuming, I was just about to go to the bathroom when my friend, who was smoking on the balcony, called out to me. Then the other one stepped in and said, “Dilara, can you come out to the balcony for a second?” I went out to the balcony, with curiosity, not suspecting that it could have anything to do with the flag. My friend who was smoking pointed to the head of the man who was looking up at us from the floor below and said, “the gentleman says the flag is bothering him.” To avoid the “I said, he said” confusion, below I am putting what followed in the form of dialogue:
Man (grabbing the flag and pulling it down): Do you know what this flag is?
Me: Yes. A rainbow flag.
Man: No, it is the gay flag. What are you trying to do?
Me (laughing): I am not trying to do anything. This is the peace flag.
Man: No, this is the gay flag. Am I not making it clear?
Me: Listen, sir, this rainbow flag is the peace flag. And yes, LGBTI people also wave this flag.
Man: No, it is the gay flag. Take that flag down. That flag will go!
Me: Use civil language with me. You cannot give me orders.
Man: Look, you will get us in trouble. You are misrepresenting the building. That flag will go!
Me (showing the Turkish flag): Sir, look! Other people also hang flags in this building. I don’t understand why you are singling me out and not saying anything to them.
Man: There is nothing unclear here, I am telling you, that flag will go!
Me: Sir, you are still giving me orders. I told you to use civil language with me.
Man: Look, whatever you do in your home is none of my business but this flag is giving a wrong impression of the building. Do you want the whole neighborhood to gather here?
Me: What I do has nothing to do with this flag. Also, why would people gather here?
While we were going on like this, not being able to form any sort of dialogue, the most absurd part of the story happened. While the man kept raising his voice and saying, “I am telling you to take that flag down,” two blonde middle-aged women who were walking towards the street on the left side of the building, looked up and started shouting at me. These two women, who were total strangers, joined the man in picking a we-are-the-children-of-the-republic fight with me. I am presenting this short oratorio-like monologue below:
Woman 1: That flag will go; it will be taken down!
Woman 2: There can be only one flag in this country, and it is our glorious red flag!
Me: I really don’t understand what your problem is now. Who are you? You cannot shout at me!
Women 1&2: There is nothing unclear here. That flag will be taken down!
The man, who was emboldened by the oratorio of the women said, “See? It has already started!” He threatened me claiming that the “voice of the people” was against me and that the flag would get me in trouble. Again to avoid word clutter, I am presenting his three-fold threats to me in the form of dialogue:
Man: I know your landlord, is that what you want? Do you want me to get you in trouble?
Me: I don’t understand how the fact that you know my landlord would change anything. I have been telling you, you need to use civil language to me.
Man (pointing to the municipal security officers who were sitting across the building): OK then, do you want me to send the security officers after you? Is that what you want? I am telling you to take that flag down! That flag will go!
Upon my reaction in the form of “God give me patience!” he threw his last threat at me in an even higher voice:
Man (pointing to the crowd that started to gather to watch our fight): Look, everybody is looking at you, do you want me to send them all after you?
Me: Enough is enough! Who are you to talk to me like that? You cannot threaten me! Shut up!
Man: Take that flag down! That flag will go!
At that point I had to make a decision. An impossible dialogue that was going nowhere, the people gathering around the building, a partner who is here on a 1-year residency permit and who works in a conservative place and therefore does not have the luxury of getting in trouble with the police… After considering all of these things, I decided to take the flag down. And while taking it down, I was so infuriated that I told the man how homophobic he was, that he was making me a target for lynching, etc. before I went inside. After calming down a bit, I decided that I needed to talk to the man and went to knock on his door. I was going to ask him if he was aware of what he was doing and tell him that I could go to the police to complain about his threats and that I had witnesses but either he did not open the door or he was not at home.
After that, I went down to talk to the building manager and told him about all that took place. There I found myself in a whole other situation. After I told everything, the building manager who defines himself as “Assyrian” told me that the man was wrong and added, “You know, he is a Jew anyway.” The reaction inside my head was, “Where did that come from?” but I did not make any comments on that at all and said, “OK, then,” and left the building manager’s apartment.
Now the flag is not on the balcony anymore but I am planning to hang it somewhere that will not be considered as representing the whole building, on my window right next to the balcony. Or I will hang a different, completely handmade flag that has tomatoes and peppers on it. I don’t know what the reaction to that would be but I know that against this huge intrusion into my life, I want the rainbow to stand somewhere, to bring some color to the dark lives of these awful people.
You unhappy people who are stuck between heterosexism and nationalism/racism, who confuse the rainbow flag with sexuality, or sexual orientation with gender identity, who show me as a target for hate with chauvinistic monologues because they consider the flag that I hang on my balcony as a threat to “Turkishness,” and who keep repeating the same things like a parrot, I hope that 2014 will bring you happiness, reason and sensibility.