This is a blog post I wrote for Emre’s blog for exchange students at Bogazici. I decided to post it here also to recap my study abroad experience. Enjoy!
When I decided to study abroad, that’s pretty much all I had decided: that I WANTED to study abroad, not where. I had some ideas, but nothing concrete. Initially, I wanted to go somewhere really exotic and experience things that I never had before. But after listening to my friends who had studied abroad before talk about the amazing parties they went to, I thought that maybe I wanted to go to a more western country, where I could get sloshed seven days a week and not give a care about learning a new language, culture, etc. My roommate once talked about her time in Buenos Aires and told me “it’s a shame because all the cute boys were gay.” What a shame indeed! So that also contributed to my thoughts (and made me really want to go to Argentina!) In the end, I chose to study in Turkey because it was unlike any place I had been to before. I had my reservations about my “sloshing” potential in a Muslim country and whether or not I would find a single other gay person in a city with a population of 15 million, but I’m happy to say that my study abroad experience as an American homo in Istanbul was one of the best times of my life.
Coming from a conservative area of the United States, like Oklahoma, society, along with religion, teaches you that most topics relevant to sexuality should be kept hush hush. Now! Try being GAY!!! How fun do you think that is? You’d assume that there are very few people who are comfortably “out” and that most gays either “move to the city” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeahDax24Dg) or use Craig’s List/Adam4Adam/Man Hunt to post pics of their man parts/solicit sexy times…This is pretty much true. And because I never felt comfortable in any of these categories, I became what I call, “a non-active member of the gay community.” So, at parties, when my hetero friends were on the prowl looking for their next hook-up, I was busy being the fat girl, knocking shit over and then passing out alone in my own bed.
Like I said before, I was terrified of being gay in Turkey. I thought I would get stoned or something if anyone found out. All the websites about gay Turkey made me think of dark rooms and chains and lots of sweat and STDs and…and…and I don’t even know what! But I realized that if I could survive being gay in Oklahoma, I could be gay in pretty much any country in the world (except maybe Iran, because they don’t have gays).
Once I arrived in Istanbul, I decided to keep my sexuality on the DL for the first few weeks, at least until I got to know people better. That didn’t really work it. After two beers at the first mixer for exchange students, I was “whispering” to everyone how I like boys! But after coming out in the open with it, things went surprisingly well for me. I found out one of my friends lived with three gay Turks and a few weeks later, one of them took me to a gay club. There, I was introduced to the Istanbul scene. AND. IT. WAS. AWESOME. (in comparison to Oklahoma)
After spending a year in Istanbul and getting to know a variety of places and people (not to brag), I will break down the gay scene and give you some advice on how to work that scene to your advantage.
Internet. Turks and most Europeans like to use Gay Romeo. Like any other gay dating site, it’s pretty much porn. “Show me yours, I’ll show you mine” “What positions do you like?” “Active?/Passive?” that sort of thing. If you’re into that, you’re in luck. Just be careful and if you decide to meet up with someone, do it in public the first time.
Bars and Clubs. There are probably more than a dozen of these in the Taksim district of Istanbul alone, but not all of them are worthwhile. They’re usually expensive and a lot of them just plain suck so no one important is there. My fav is a place called “Tek Yon” and it’s really close to Taksim Square in Cihangir. Ask any gay person and they’ll know it. It plays pretty good club/dance music and there are always lots o’ guys there on the weekends. But! Don’t buy any drinks there and don’t check your coat. Get drunk beforehand if you want and either carry your coat around or stuff it in some corner if you want to have money for a cab ride home.
Peter’s tips to reach your gay potential:
1. Don’t go to gay clubs with girls. I know that in most countries, gays have a token “fag hag” who like totally loves to go gaying, but most G clubs hardly let girls in. Turks like to get right to the point. It may sound strange at first, but you get used to it.
2. Because of tip #1, you’re going to need to some gay friends to go out with you. Try to befriend Turks. They are usually very friendly and their language skills may come in handy. DO NOT make friends with Americans. They are bitches and can go straight back to their pretentious gay commune a.k.a New York City. And Germans are just assholes from MY experience.
3. Say you’re foreign as much as possible. Having brown hair, I sometimes was mistaken for being Turkish. But once I said I was American, BINGO! All eyes were on me, the former fatty from Oklahoma. If you’re blond, you’re in luck. If you have a blond friend, bring him as bait when you go out. Turks will love it!
4. Do not go to a gay club during the week. You will look desperate and it will be EMPTY.
5. Before you go out, know your sexual limits. Turks will only stop if you tell them to. Otherwise, they will run laps around the bases (if you get my drift). Only go home with someone if you want to and use protection as needed. #maternal instinct
I hope my experience and advice will be helpful to you in the future if you’re planning to spend time in Istanbul. Besides being a haven for gays from Turkey and elsewhere, it is an absolutely amazing city full of history and excitement. I cannot imagine having studied abroad anywhere else and hope that you have the time of your life while your there!