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BOOKS > Book by gay couple provides new view on same-sex marriage in Turkey

Hugh POPE

Jack Scott and his spouse moved to the Bodrum peninsula, a move that is described in detail in a newly released memoir by Scott

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‘Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam move to Turkey’ is the story of one of the first overtly gay married couples to set up house and home in Turkey.

‘Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam move to Turkey’ is the story of one of the first overtly gay married couples to set up house and home in Turkey.

Turkey is stuck between East and West, which is why I like living in Istanbul. It’s also why I get frustrated each time I see the headline “Where is Turkey going?” as if the country was about to run off somewhere. So it was fun to read a book that included both a fundamental challenge to Turkey’s status quo and accepted the country as it is. More surprisingly, “Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam move to Turkey” is also the story of one of the first overtly gay married couples to set up house and home here.

Moving to Bodrum

To be precise, Jack Scott and his spouse moved to the Bodrum peninsula, a hedonistic enclave on the Aegean coast that some Turks barely think of as really being Turkey, or at least where some Turks go in order to escape from the rest of Turkey. It’s hard to imagine their openly homosexual household lasting long in many other places in the country. But they managed, for a year or two anyway. Their experience makes for a compelling and enjoyable read, if you’re broad-minded enough for some in-your-face emotion and choppy BBC sitcom dialogue. Scott is always empathetic, respectful to the country and people that became his host and pretty acute about Turkey’s politics, society and foibles.

It was nice to see someone else agree, for instance, that “there are more parallels between Britain and Turkey than many realize … anchored to the edge of Europe but chained to it economically.” Living in the Turkish provinces opens his eyes to something those trapped in the bubbles of Istanbul high life or Ankara government rarely see: “How could Turkey ever hope to become an industrial powerhouse if they couldn’t keep the bloody lights on?”

Despite limited Turkish, his insights are sharp: “Turkish arguments are different: loud, passionate, sometimes physical and ultimately pointless. No one gives in, no one wins and no one loses.” And he has a great answer to that most difficult question: what’s Turkey like? “Amazing. Educational. Terrible. Surreal. All four.”

Scott is amusingly merciless in his dissection of British expatriates – one category is the VOMITs, well-off, middle-aged nymphs who become “Victims Of Men In Turkey,” including a VOMIT subgroup of MADs, those who have persuaded themselves that “My Ahmet is Different.” But such diversions were not enough to keep the couple interested in staying for long. Any frictions over their open gayness seem not to have been the main reason for leaving Turkey, but a bigger, less-defined disorientation and missing of home, a realization that without family, language and roots, “our life in Turkey wasn’t real. Not really. We were drifting around in an extraordinary expat bubble with people we didn’t know or really care about.”

The gay angle on Turkey was of particular interest to me. My first visit to Turkey was with a fellow student at Oxford, the remarkable, warm, generous French polyglot Pierre Thieck, who died of AIDS in 1990. This brilliant Arabist also introduced me to his Middle East of addictive homosexual encounters, often several times a day. But his Turkish and Syrian counterparts would rarely have viewed themselves as homosexual, and, paradoxically, I was always astonished at how normal and even socially acceptable Jean-Pierre’s extraordinary behavior was considered. As in Europe, Middle Eastern societies have much more trouble with the idea of a stable, loving, explicitly homosexual marriage.

Model was ‘making a real difference’

Scott and his spouse bravely hoped that their pioneering model was “making a real difference.” It was difficult for them, especially when one of their Turkish homosexual friends in Bodrum was murdered. Scott points out how hard it was to understand repressed, contradictory attitudes in a country “where sexual ambiguity is an art form … my gaydar [gay radar] malfunctioned as soon as I entered Turkish airspace … I was left in a continuous state of disarray, thrown by the intensive penetrating stares and contradictory playful signals from the swarthy men around me. I never played the game because I never got the rules.” In his epilogue, Scott suggests that “a respect for difference won’t destroy” the many old-fashioned qualities of Turkey, and a parting message: “It’s okay to be queer. It won’t bring down the house, though it might bring in a little more style.”

Hugh Pope is the author of “Dining with al-Qaeda,” “Sons of the Conquerors” and “Turkey Unveiled.” After 25 years in Turkey, Scott would probably define himself as part “emiköy” (the village type of expatriate with chickens) and part “vetpat.”

March/22/2013

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READER COMMENTS

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mara mcglothin

3/25/2013 6:05:34 PM

USOBSERVER I do believe that bi-sexuality is a choice, but being homosexual is something that occurs in nature naturally. It isn't a choice as you say. Sure there are other factors, but for the most part people are gay from birth. There is a book that suggests there are 5 levels of sexuality. Haven't you ever known a straight man who was a bit feminine, but not gay? Or a woman who was like a man, but was not a lesbian? The research is out there.

US Observer

3/22/2013 9:10:55 PM

@ Red - Who said the word hate? Typical to refer to someone who disagrees with you and label them as someone who hates. Brit nor I said we hate gay people, we both said we have no problem with them. @ mara, I rarely disagree with you but in this case I do. Whether someone is born gay cannot be proven, I personally believe there are physcologial, abuse, influenced and other factors or a choice. Anyone that claims to be "bi-sexual" is making a choice.

lara ulusoy

3/22/2013 8:41:55 PM

Uff Uff RED TAIL"What right does Brit in Turkey have to have opinions on other peoples life?" Whatever happened to the age of freedom of expression? People have the right to have different opinions without the need to be afraid of hate mail coming or even sound apologetic!Gays and Lesbians are imposing themselves on society and twisting normal patterns of living.Turkey is Moslem I cant understand why they feel obliged to accept behaviours that dont belong to our culture and religion.

Not Here

3/22/2013 7:53:19 PM

To be honest, I'd like to read the book just to see what his take on Turkey and the gay situation is here. Gay sex might be easy here, easy enough to draw men here for sex holidays, as well as women who want to escape the boredom of their straight lives, but it does come at a cost. The filth and lowlife criminals prey on them here.. As far as narrow-minded comments like Brit in Turkey's, they make it hard on children of gays with their views on how others "should be". Sad

Brit in Turkey

3/22/2013 7:32:42 PM

It is the high-jacking of the word "gay" that I find so insensitive. We should remember that many traditional books, including childrens' books use the word in its correct sense. How are you going to explain that to the children, unless the books are censured as they tried to do to Noddy and Big Ears and Watership Down? You are homosexual, lesbian or heterosexual. And I wish to have a gay day for each day of my remaining life. ("Oh, what a gay day" was the by-line of an English comedian.)

Brit in Turkey

3/22/2013 7:21:01 PM

JRC JRC: I did not imply that "gay" people do not contribute to society, but to my conservative mind heterosexual relationships are as life ordained. Red Tail: You are doing exactly as I said. I am not complaining about the "gay" way of life, but you are now complaining about me. To my mind people can do what ever they want, particularly in private, provided it does not impinge upon me. I do not force my views on others, but that does not stop me from expressing an opinion.

mara mcglothin

3/22/2013 4:29:50 PM

BRIT IN TURKEY You can't make someone gay, so all your fears are for nothing. Most same sex couples raise wonderful open minded children who go on to make a difference in this World. They are no different than the children you or I have raised. My child has benefited greatly from my gay friends. He is open minded. He once went on a college visit and the recruiter was gay. All the other macho boys were freaking out, but it was my son who had no chip on his shoulder. I was proud of him.

cezer "çapulcu" skonore

3/22/2013 4:13:17 PM

Acceptance of gays and lesbians is propagating throughout the world much faster than anybody could think in 80's. I am very used to having gay and lesbian neighbors and colleagues. I don't think that it has any adverse effect on the kids either.

Red Tail

3/22/2013 3:23:31 PM

I really do not understand people who hate homo sexuals. Just let gays live and do was they wishes, just like we (straight people) do. What right does Brit in Turkey have to have opinions on other peoples life?

US Observer

3/22/2013 2:59:18 PM

My thoughts exactly Brit in Turkey, well said.
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