Source: Elçin Turan, “Bir Zamanlar Lubunistan,” (“Once Upon a Time in Queerland,”) Ajans Tabloid, 7 February 2011, http://www.ajanstabloid.com/haber.aspx?pid=63
When we look back in history, we see that Cihangir has been the location of special meeting houses or “bachelor pads” from the early years of the Republic. After the 1980s, Cihangir’s embrace of transvestites and transsexuals made it the place for marginals and bachelors, intellectuals and artists who did not mind living with them. Trans people get displaced as a result of police operations time after time; after Abanoz Street, Pürtelaş, Sormagir they settled in Ülker Street. Ülker Sokak became a “liberated area” and trans people succeeded to organize under their own identities. However, police forces under the helm of Beyoğlu Police Department’s Chief Police Officer Süleyman Ulusoy launched constant operations and violated trans people’s right to live. According to trans testimonies, neighborhood resident “Güngör Abla’s” collaboration with the police and her exploitation of discourses such as honor, religion, country in order to persuade other residents to join her in the assault of trans people in one more street in Beyoğlu made trans people’s identity, culture, lifestyle, and lives a target and thus another part of the area was “cleaned” of trans people.
We talked with İstanbul LGBTT activist Demet Demir and LGBTT member and Women’s Gate (Kadınkapısı) STD prevention center activist Şevval Kılıç about the creation of a street and the story of its downfall, trans people’s organization in the streets of Beyoğlu, and living/not living with transvestite and transsexual identities.
Why did transvestites and transsexuals (TT) choose Beyoğlu as their living place?
Demet: Beyoğlu is a place where othered people can live. It has been the place of artists and all othered people from the beginning. Cihangir and Tarlabaşı embraced the TTs 30 years ago just like they do today. The difference in Tarlabaşı was the fact that the first TT residents there did not bring clients to their homes as neighborhood residents did not allow them to.
Şevval: Pürtelaş, Sormagir (now Başbuğ Street) and Ülker Street were our hangouts. The fascist attitudes of the Beyoğlu Beautification Association and the Cihangir Beautification Association towards us should not be overlooked when life in these streets is discussed. They were the ones who brought Süleyman the Hose (Süleyman Ulusoy aka Hortum Süleyman, dubbed the Hose because he used hoses to beat trans people), they all collaborated with the state back then.
Demet: Cihangir disbanded in 1989. There was nobody left there by 1990. We owned 5 or 6 streets back then. Cihangir was our empire.
Şevval: We called it Queerland or Fagland.
Demet: Think of an empire disintegrating and a small part remaining. Ülker Street was that small part left of that empire. Then going out to the E5 highway, deaths, and migration to other places started. We were deported. Then came the second dispersion with Ülker Street.
Şevval: I call these streets ghettos. There are both positive and negatives results of a ghetto’s dispersion. Cihangir was the first LGBTT ghetto and probably the only real one. It was perfect for its group dynamics but it also set us back in the matter of social integration because all our friends and our role models were trans. We were introverted. We became more exposed to hate-motivated killings. The Hose came and broke our doors, burned our houses down. We gained Kurtuluş and Pangaltı but still…