Our Governmental Authorities and Lesbians

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç made a statement to imply that the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has very little chance of passing the election threshold [and thus of getting elected in the parliament]. He said, “… additionally, the HDP received votes from different under-represented groups. That is, it was voted for by electoral groups such as lesbians, bisexuals, trans who say ‘I cannot find an opportunity to be represented in other parties’.” The comment was made in January 2015.

Since his goal was to portray the HDP as an unelectable political party in the eyes of his constituents, could there be a reason why the word “lesbian” was more seductive to him than the word “homosexual?”

Source: Yeşim T. Başaran, “Hükümet Yetkililerimiz ve Lezbiyenler” [“Our Governmental Authorities and Lesbians”], 5Harfliler, 06 May 2015, http://www.5harfliler.com/hukumet-yetkililerimiz-ve-lezbiyenler/

Three months later, again on a topic related to general elections, lesbians were mentioned yet again to stigmatize the HDP. Yalçın Akdoğan, another Deputy Prime Minister, said: “In its election declaration, the HDP claims ‘I will abolish the [mandatory high school] religion courses, I will abolish the [Directorate of] Religious Affairs, I will abolish this, I will abolish that.’ The CHP has been saying this for years. It’s the CHP of the Kurds. They supposedly will recognize the Armenian genocide. You, how will you be a Turkish [political] party? How are you going to do that while ignoring all the sensibilities of Turkey’s society? They mention Kurd [sic] eight times in their declaration and lesbians and stuff nine times. Is this the Turkish society?”

Turkish society is much more diverse than what Akdoğan is referring to. I am sure that the HDP can be a party of Turkey with what it has been saying, since there are similar movements in Turkey that struggle for similar rights and freedoms.  However, what Akdoğan is trying to say is “even if you are Kurdish, you cannot get our constituents’ votes, because you say things that are against their worldviews,” or, to his own Kurdish constituents, “look, don’t let the HDP dazzle you, look at all the things that you would otherwise find offensive.”

This approach, which draws its politics through populism is a dangerous political strategy that is employed intentionally by AKP officials and those intellectuals who support them, knowing that they will gain supporters. While they oppose similar discourses by parliamentarians or social groups as “unfairness, injustice, oppression” in nations where Turks or Muslims are in the minority, when it is being discoursed within our nation’s borders, all of a sudden it becomes a norm.

We are confronted by this majority, which they surround by a halo of self-proclaimed innocence, as a political object whose every wish we are to comply with. As if it would be within the authority of this majority to suspend basic human rights if it were to desire to violate the human right to life, to target another’s life or property. As if the raison d’etre of the state were not to be the mechanism through which social conflicts are resolved but to kick once more those who fall, saying “oh shute, you see, it’s the majority, we can’t do nothin’” when the majority decides to wipe off everyone else.

That they use the HDP’s defense of LGBTI rights to humiliate it in the public opinion, that is, that they use us to hit the HDP shows that, at this political moment in Turkey, the LGBTI movement is one of the subjects that has influence on parliamentary politics, and that the views that people and organisations have on LGBTIs have become important, and a significant subject of politics.

It was not long ago when, in 2006, even the main opposition party [former] leader Deniz Baykal no longer used sentences like the ones he once uttered, such as “homosexuals have no politics.” That is why not only the organized LGBTI activists, but all LGBTIs should be aware that a threshold without return has been passed. They should understand that by closely reading the current political field, that we need to produce a new set of politics and new methodologies of resistance.

While I was becoming aware of this revelation, a topic from one of the latest statements stuck with me. How did it happen that they started emphasizing lesbians while the LGBTI movement uses the self-evident term “LGBTI” in all its texts and all its discourses? It is no little feat that two deputy prime ministers of this government talked about us even if to objectify us for their own interests and did so by using the term lesbian in a sentence. This ended up becoming a question mark for me, since even the LGBTI movement cannot display such a performance in emphasizing the differing experiences of different identities.

What happened all of a sudden that the topic moved from decades of speeches on “homosexuals” and “homosexuality” to lesbians?

I tried to imagine how this situation came to being. I mean, it is not like Bülent Arınç used only lesbians, he used three of the LGBTI identities in a single sentence. His could as well be an instance of “Well if I say LGBTI, no one will understand me, so I’ll just use lesbian, bisexual, trans just to make sure I get understood.” What can I say, he’s right. The term LGBTI is not a commonly known concept even though it has just began finding space in the mainstream media; we can’t even say “all LGBTIs know of this term.”

Let’s say the discourse of Arınç developed as such. But why did Akdoğan say what he said about the HDP election declaration, which does not include the word lesbian? Even if he thought people would not understand him if he were to say LGBTI, why did he choose “lesbian” from these five words?

The first thing that comes to mind is that it is the first letter. If that is the case, then the LGBTI movement should be proud of itself. Because while the common term that was used a short 15 years ago was GLBT, we chose LGBT because we felt the need for positive discrimination [sic, see footnote 1. –Trans] for women.

We felt the need to emphasize the word lesbian because, let alone those who were unfamiliar with the topic, even homosexual men thought only of men when one mentioned homosexuality and were asking “does a female version of this exist?” As it turns out, these debates were not in vain. Even if it was for political criticism, we lead to the notion that there are lesbians among homosexuals and to the emphasis on lesbians when one speaks of LGBTI.

But I cannot settle with this explanation either. Because Akdoğan could have easily prefered the word homosexual, which they have been using for decades in their statements. There was no concern of using a term that is in the HDP’s election declaration anyhow; if he wanted the term to be understood, he could have as well said “the word homosexual is used 9 times in the text.” But he prefered “lesbian” instead.

Since his goal is to render the HDP as an unelectable political party in the eyes of his constituents, can there be another reason why the word lesbian is more seductive to him?

That is, unless I somehow missed a national meeting you all held where a decision was made to change the state of affairs, lesbian is not a word that is used as commonly as gay or homosexual. I wonder if, to Akdoğan, lesbianism was more difficult to swallow for the “majority” of the society, and so he used that word? Since a study is yet to be conducted on this issue, I can only try to infer a meaning from the choices politicians make in their statements!

The commonly agreed upon perspective in the LGBTI community and outside it: “lesbians’ lives are easier than gays’ because it is accepted more readily.” To me, this is a prejudice, not a reality. But, unfortunately, it is a quite commonly held view not only in Turkey, but globally as well.

We were recently conducting a study with Lambdaistanbul for the “LGBTI urban legends” projects. We uncovered 40 such prejudices and were scanning the web for these, to see what people said about them. When we searched for the keywords “lesbians suffer less than gays,” the only result we could find was a lesbian saying how her life was easier than that of gays. I searched for it again just now and it’s the same story, but a woman’s video, and yes she is saying the same thing: “gays’ life is more difficult than ours.”

During my time in the struggles for freedom, I have never compared the suffering of one identity with that of another identity. Because pain is pain and the ember burns where it falls. To me, the goal of liberation movements is not to hierarchize sufferings but to try to understand them, analyze them, tell about them to others, and to produce solutions.

Yet, as it turns out, we do not perceive our problems worthy of resolving, including homosexual women; we do not see them worthy of putting at the center of the political agenda, since “gays suffer more than we do.” To this prejudice, which has nailed us like cement to wherever we are, even the Internet, where all perspectives can be found, cannot provide us with a counter-argument. We as lesbian and bisexual women find this prejudice in front of us, as an unimaginable obstacle against our productivity of policy and action. As in, if we do not suffer as much, if our lives are easy, if there are others whose lives are harder, then who are we to complain, what are we going to produce politics for, is that not so?

What constitutes the foundation of the prejudice that lesbians do not really experience any real problems? What is it that leads to the thought that gays have a harder time in life?

Even though it seems paradoxical to me, the reason for this is sexism. In our sexist world, because to become a woman is less than to become a man, and because homosexual men are perceived to somehow becoming feminized, one argues that “gays’ life is harder.” That is, just think about it, while he has a certain social privilege because he is a man, he says he is gay and becomes feminized in the public opinion and this becomes a problem.

How are homosexual women perceived, then? According to the subtexts of this prejudice, lesbians are perceived as poetic and aesthetic, they do not damage the male ego, because they are already perceived as objects sacrificed to the male gaze. As such, there is no problem for lesbians, no one will notice if she hides, because no one will ever think that she is actually a lesbian in real life!

I read this last sentence I wrote as an insult to my very being, and that is precisely what it is. Unfortunately, when the topic is lesbianism, no one feels the need for a deep analysis, everyone lays bare where we are situated in those “male egos”, and accept that situation by saying “we/you are not thought of in real life anyhow.” In case you did not understand already, let me specify: what they mean is the porn industry.

This is the worldview that says “lesbian relations exist in the porn industry and men are very much pleased by this, that is, they don’t have a stance against lesbians.” My goal here is not to discuss the porn industry, my problem is the perception of our being as a tool of pleasure being offered to men, and that no one sees anything wrong with this perspective. Add to that the added sauce of “no one thinks a lesbian can be a lesbian in real life anyhow.”

It might come as a shock but let me specify: there are lesbians in real life, they are constructing their own lives where men do not exist, regardless of whether they want to hide this or not, they experience a life full of problems and this is a serious reality in their/our lives. Lesbians too lose their jobs on the basis of their sexual orientation, they lose their homes, they are subjected to physical/sexual violence, they do whatever they can just to avoid becoming target to all these things. You cannot believe how hurtful it is to have to explain these realities to the LGBTI community, let alone the rest of the world. We are forced to prove ourselves: “Yes, we suffer, yes, our lives are not easy!”

Let me tie this topic back to Akdoğan. I wonder if Akdoğan chose the word lesbian instead of the word homosexual because it was going to create more outrage among the HDP constituents? Intentionally or automatically, that does not matter. I wonder if he thought that talking about lesbians allowed him to refer to a conceptualization that is even more inferior, even less accepted as a political presence than homosexuals. If that was his reason in the present situation, I am not surprised at all. Let me remind you what male and female sexuality means in the context of the patriarchal society: the man’s disposable, the woman’s virtue.

I wonder if this standardized formula is valid for gays and lesbians too.

The demand for homosexuals’ human rights carries the potential of being understandable for gays. I wonder if the same understanding is not the case for lesbianism, which is seen as an element in porn.

I wonder if, because a lesbian woman tells society “I am sexual, but not in the way you affirm,” she is perceived as a woman who shows the courage to pierce the armor of virtue that is posited to be a normative measure for all women. I think so and I want to discuss that with you.

This article was previously published in Kaos GL.


[1] In English-speaking parts of Europe and in the US, those who oppose the negative effects of the historicity of power and privilege on current social organizational patterns commonly use the term “positive discrimination” instead of “affirmative action” as a rhetorical maneuver against affirmative action legislation. In contrast, the only existing Turkish term for affirmative action is the negatively charged term, “pozitif/olumlu ayrımcılık” [“positive/affirmative discrimination”]. Comparable terms, such as “yapıcı fiil” or “olumlayıcı eylem,” are considered not to exist. –Trans.

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