We talked with the parents whose kids are homosexual, about the concept of family, alternative family experiences in Turkey and their adventures that started with their kids coming out to them.
Source: Yıldız Tar, “Türkiye’de aileler çocuklarını malları gibi görüyor” (“Families in Turkey see their kids as their possession”), 19 February, 2015 KaosGL, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=18792
Ömer and Şule
On one hand it is a warm nest, on the other it’s everyone’s trouble without exception: Family. We talked about family, a world of secrets nested in secrets, with two mothers and two fathers who have torn these secrets apart.
On the one hand Şule and Ömer who embarked upon the adventure of their life years ago, after finding out that their son is gay; on the other hand is Buzul and Kaya who has only recently faced this fact.
The transformation of the family known as a safe haven, friendships that go beyond kinship, a mother who drew the curtains when she first found out her son was gay, a father who says “I don’t know who I thought about the most”, new kinships and friendships built through LGBT Friends and Families of LGBTIs in Turkey (LISTAG)…
The stories of those who say “A different family is possible”, stories of taking a step towards emancipation, of reconstructing the family, of questioning themselves…
What does family mean? What comes to your mind when we say family?
Buzul: My nuclear family comes to my mind. It’s made up of the people I can’t live without; with whom I would like to realize my wishes. A more autonomous, freer environment comes to mind. I’m talking about creating a more cheerful and enjoyable space.
Kaya: I can define the family as before and after my son told us he is gay. Before, it was a safe haven, a castle for me. I saw family as something solely made up of blood ties. Afterwards I realized that it wasn’t only blood ties. The definition in my head keeps changing. I realize that it doesn’t necessarily have to be about blood ties.
What did you feel when your son first came out? What happened to the family you call a safe haven and a castle?
Kaya: Frankly, I don’t know what I felt the first time I heard it. It was as if there was a great explosion and I was in shock, didn’t know what to do. I don’t know whether I thought about him or my wife more. Our son is abroad and wrote about his sexual orientation in a letter. When I first read the letter, I told my wife Buzul “Nothing is going to be the same. Our life passed onto a new phase.” After that we talked about what we should do. Our son gave us some information about LİSTAG and Lambdaistanbul in his letter. My wife called immediately. My first feeling was despair.
“My first reflex was to draw the curtains”
Buzul, you were to first call LISTAG. You called and someone answered the phone. What did you feel during that first conversation?
Buzul: I’m lucky that a calm person answered the phone. I had someone who was similar to me emotionally.They were talking with a calm voice, explaining the situation to me in a casual manner. It gave me confidence. I wanted to talk face to face immediately that day. I had to see, we had to be face to face. When my son first told me, I thought that he assumed being that way. I interpreted it as a confusion.
It was a hard day for me that day. I opened the letter first. I talked on the phone first. We actually talked about a detail about that day recently. The letter came in a decorated blue envelope. I thought it was a card from my son for my birthday. He had been holding off on our relationship for a while so I thought he sent it for my birthday. I was all alone when I first read it. My first reaction was to draw the curtains. I got into a terrible crying fit. Then I couldn’t really predict how my husband would react. I started thinking about that.
I called my husband. When he insisted to know what’s going on, I was forced to tell him. Later when he came home crying I was more composed. When I saw his reaction, I pulled myself together. I was scared for my husband. He has high blood pressure and heart problems. It was a weird state of mind. I first thought about the boy. Then myself. And when I saw my husband, I came to my senses thinking, “Pull yourself together, the boy and the man need you.”
“I found out how we have been fooled until today”
Ömer and Şule, you told about your experiences on different occasions. Therefore I’d like to ask what changed in your life. Şule, what changed in your life after your son told you he is homosexual? Has Şule remained the same?
Şule: I’m in a very different place right now. Most importantly, my relationship with my son is in another dimension. We’ve always been very good but there were secrets between us. He couldn’t open up to me. I knew things about him but I acted like I didn’t know. I couldn’t face myself. Afterwards I was liberated. After LISTAG, in each talk I had with a new person I noticed that burdens were lifted off my shoulders.
Aside from me and my son’s process, my life has changed a lot too. I started looking around more carefully. I have realized how many people were pushed away, othered, discriminated against. There hadn’t been any place for them in my protected life up to that point. I even doubted their existence. Some people lived some place but I didn’t know how they lived. I learned about different opinions of different people. I saw how we have been fooled until today. Especially with Gezi resistance, I saw how much of a liar the media was. I witnessed how my experience at the part was twisted on the media. After that day I decided not to watch TV anymore. I was naive before, I believed. I thought the great media would not lie.
What do you think about this Ömer?
Ömer: After coming out Öner wanted to talk to me but I always ran away. So he started to leave Kaos GL magazine and some articles around. After reading those, I started talking with my son. When we first went to CETAD, I was saying “I’ve accepted this” but we were giving interviews with nicknames, avoiding to have our photos taken. When I gave an interview with my photo on November 2010 I realized that I hadn’t accepted but only learnt. After that day, my process of acceptance started.
An individual’s life is only his/her business. Ever since I was a kid, I have always stood against my father, the school, my bosses. I was a rebel. This is how I evaluated my son’s coming out and his sexual orientation. As I learned, I started touching people, relating to them. Touching gave me great joy. Helping even one person is an immense pleasure.
Throughout your experiences at LİSTAG and your years long activism, did the concept of “family” change in your mind? What comes to Ömer and Şule’s minds when they hear the word “family”? Who do you visualize?
Ömer: Not much has changed for me but my ideas. As I look at other families, as I question the concept of family, I came to think that the institution of family in Turkey is a great problem. My perspective was enhanced. Families in Turkey see their kids as their possession. It’s not something I experienced personally but families intervene, saying “It’s for their good, otherwise they would make mistakes.” And who is to know that you won’t make mistakes? Everyone needs to be free individuals and give their own decisions. If my child ask my opinion, I would tell them but s/he doesn’t have to do what I say. A different family is possible, but today’s family structure is not healthy. It’s detrimental to both the children and the parents. Families should not be built on relations of interest. Parents should do nothing more that building an environment where children can create their personalities freely. I don’t think family has anything to do with blood ties. I for once, see LİSTAG more than I see Öner.
I used to think only children should be free but I add women to this list as I see the violence and oppression against women. Men should be reliberated. Men are burdened in the institution of family too. They say “men don’t cry” for instance…Men are supposed to be strong. What’s that got to do with anything? Men are emotional too, they cry. All individuals must be liberated, collectively.
Şule: I’d like to emphasize the importance of the family as we know it, as formed of mother,father and child. We spoke to many kids and I saw that coming out to family is very important. Many LGBTI children seek acceptance from their parents and family. On the one hand they say “a different family is possible” but on the other they want to come out to their families and be respected by them.
“I’d like to come out to my family just like my child did”
Buzul, what do you think? Is a different family possible? What is this different family like?
Buzul: These ideas are flying around in my head. I can’t say anything clearly yet. But basically a happy and a peaceful life. I envied the LGBTI parents who came to the family meetings with their siblings or their mothers. A part of me expects acceptance like the children who come out and are not accepted. I’m wondering how my own parents will react to my child’s sexual orientation.
Your child came out to you and now you want to come out to your own family as the mother of a homosexual child…
Buzul: I ask myself why I want such a thing. If being homosexual is something sexual; and people don’t talk about their sexuality why should you be forced to explain it when you are homosexual? In the same manner, why must I explain my child’s sexuality? But if anything happens to me, I want to teach my relatives a thing or two, so that they won’t harass my child. I became a liar in this process. I’m an educator and I tell my ideas about the film “My child” coming to our school. It’s like slowly we are coming out. On the other hand, why am I doing this like I’m giving an account for it? I guess my experience is very similar to what homosexual children go through.
As I got in touch with youth thanks to LİSTAG, I met various types of families. Through the young people coming to the association I notice different types of families. You can become a family with your dog. My parents disappeared in my head. My mother and father are still precious to me but I called all LISTAG mothers last Mother’s Day. I look at my son and his friends, their worldview carried me forward.
Let’s ask the father as well, if people heard your son is gay what would they say?
Kaya: I’m a person of rationality, emotions come much later for me. Lately, I’m thinking of settling accounts with family in my mind. I’m wondering what kind of reflex my own mother, father and relatives will develop. I want this encounter for myself. This way I can clean my environment. I will be free of people who don’t accept my child. One day I want to talk to my son and “get things off my chest”. I find many people to be hypocritical.
*This interview was first published on Kaos GL’s issue no. 139 on “Family”.