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social sciences

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Homosexual relations are a predictable outcome of a social system in which the sexes are segregated, individual masculine prowess is highly valued, and women derogated and isolated. That the boys were watched carefully by eunuchs, both day and night, paralleling the surveillance of harem women, indicates that homosexual relations among iç-oglans was a concern.

While serving a sultan or other high official sexually might have been expected on the part of iç-oglans, a high-placed Ottoman official would not have been eager to publicize such service, as it might subject the youth to taunts similar to those that reminded Julius Caesar of his youthful relationship with Nicomedes of Bythinia (in the northern part of what is now Turkey).

Sponsor Message.

There are many reports that was rife in the Ottoman Empire, but none suggests that being inseminated increased one's masculinity. However, such homosexual receptivity did not debar one from the responsibilities and honors of high office. Favorite boys grew up to marry their masters' daughters, and to take over management of businesses and properties. The Sultan's favorite boys often grew up to be generals, governors, and high court officials.

Although the system of staffing administration and army with aliens was successful in preventing hereditary power from accumulating outside the control of the sultanate, it did not prevent collective action in behalf of group interests. The "Janissaries" (the usual Western designation for the Ottoman army, derived from Yenicheri, which meant "new troops," the sultan's infidel-born infantry that comprised only a quarter of the army) meddled in successions, refused to go too far afield (thus saving Persia and Vienna from conquest), rioted, and increasingly extorted sultans.

The tribute in the form of boys (devshirme) officially ended in the late seventeenth century, but handsome males (especially Armenian ones) continued to be sold into service in male brothels and to powerful individuals until the disruptions of World War I.

In addition to much homoerotic poetry and a reputation for use of youth from the Balkans, Armenia, and Georgia, Ottoman Turkey was renowned for the institution of the hamam (bathhouse). Hamams were constructed throughout the empire (for example, one in Budapest continues to operate). The young male attendants (tellaks) were available for sex as well as for washing and massaging clients. The Dellakname-i Dilkusa (The Record of Tellaks) detailed the services, prices, and beauties of tellaks, even specifying how many times a tellak could bring a client to orgasm.

There were also baths for women. Pubic hair and any other body hair was rigorously removed. This required close scrutiny of women's bodies by attendants or friends, and some female hamams had a reputation for rampant lesbianism, though, like the reputed activities of those secluded in harems, there is vastly more male surmise than actual observation of behavior in the sometimes lurid accounts by foreign residents. (There are no sexual life histories written by women of the Ottoman Empire.) The Venetian envoy to the court of Sulayman reported that unsliced cucumbers could not be taken into the harem, because they would be used by the women on each other as dildoes.

Coffee houses were also notorious locales for male-male sexual liaisons in Ottoman Turkey. The first one opened in the capital in 1555. The government made periodic attempts to prohibit coffee houses, the most drastic being Murad IV's 1622 law mandating execution of coffee drinkers (and tobacco smokers). Throughout the empire, dancing boys were routinely prostituted.

The Ambiguous Current Situation

Very much as in Latin America, in contemporary Turkey sodomy is not prohibited in the criminal code, but and homosexual persons are nevertheless frequently harassed by police. Police have vaguely specified mandates to uphold public morals and order, and that gives them license to attack the more visible departures from conventional sex or gender patterns.

Moreover, glbtq organizations have recurrently been banned as affronts to public decency under the Law of Association's tenth article.

Also as in Latin America, in Turkey there is strong family pressure to marry and procreate, and those who do not are treated as less than adult.

The traditional and still predominant organization of homosexuality is "heterogender." That is, a masculine insertor (kulanpara) is not stigmatized as homosexual, while the ibne he penetrates is feminized by sexual receptivity and expected to be feminine in other ways. In the capital of Ankara and the metropolis of Istanbul, some persons have rejected being defined by these roles and consider themselves "modern" and "gay" (though the word gay is used as a new synonym for ibne by many).

Turkey is a member of the North American Treaty Organization and has sought to become a member of the European Economic Community. Since 2001, efforts have been made to bring Turkey's legal code into conformity with the Amsterdam Code's human rights policies, which specifically include concerns about discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.

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