Jan 12, 2014

Spring 1989: More Turkish Bodybuilders and Culture Shock

After reading my post on my semester in Turkey, you may have gotten the impression that it was a homoerotic paradise, full of oiled-up wrestlers, bodybuilding contests, and cruising at the hamam.  But that's just the sugar-coded nostalgia version.  There were problems from the start.

1. Learning Turkish was a slow process, and outside of the university,not a lot of people spoke much English or French.

2. Everyone sounded loud and angry all the time.  Shopkeepers yelled at you.

3. No one had ever heard of waiting in line; they just shoved each other out of the way.

4. Ankara was dry, cold, and windy.

5. It was not important in the Ottoman Empire, so there weren't a lot of ancient ruins, palaces, or mosques, mostly just bleak brutalist concrete slabs of office buildings.

This has got to be the world's ugliest cage...um,. I mean building. It's a tv station.

6. You had to pay to use public toilets, and they didn't furnish toilet paper.  Sounds like a minor annoyance, but it's a surprisingly big deal when you're a half hour metro ride from home.

7. There were few direct flights from Ankara to anywhere else; mostly you were routed through Istanbul.  So flights took forever: 6 hours to Athens, 7 to Tel Aviv. Too long for a weekend jaunt.

8. Back in West Hollywood, I was very active in the Metropolitan Community Church, but Ankara had no Christian churches at all (don't even think about gay churches).  You could go to Anglican services in a kind of windowless crypt on the grounds of the British Embassy.

9. Most guys were open to same-sex activity, but not to dating or romance.  They had girlfriends; they planned to marry women.

10.  There was no way to find gay people: no gay bars, publications, or organizations of any sort.  It was like my year at Hell-fer-Sartain State University in far, far northern Houston, Texas, but with no gay ghetto nearby.

I left West Hollywood for this?

Bilkent offered me another year, but I said no. The moment classes ended, I got on a plane for a week-long detox in Tel Aviv, and then back to the United States.

But my semester in the Middle East helped me make an important decision: I'd rather drop out of grad school than take any more "gays are too controversial" guff from my my dissertation committee.

See also: The Penis Valley of Turkey