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Emir Akgün: I started an LGBT website in Turkey

Emir Akgün, the publisher of Gmag, is resilient and resourceful — but there’s still a long road ahead towards equality.

Emir Akgün, publisher of Turkey’s Gmag. Image courtesy of Emir Akgün

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When you think about places in the world where it probably wouldn’t be that easy to be openly LGBT, then Turkey is going to be somewhere near the top of that list. In recent years, the LGBT Pride celebrations in Istanbul have been aggressively dispersed by police wielding rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons.

But what’s day-to-day life like for Turkey’s LGBT people?

We spoke with Emir Akgün, publisher of Gmag — Turkey’s leading LGBT website:

Why did you decide to found Gmag?

I wanted to show people how big Turkey’s LGBT community actually is, that we’re not some small minority that can just be ignored.

Gmag is a way that we can shake-up some of the prejudices that have formed in Turkish society.

gmag

Gmag — Turkey’s LGBTI website. Images courtesy of Emir Akgün

Before Gmag, how did LGBT people in Turkey access and share information?

Kaos GL is an association that was founded in 1994 and has been a real pioneer for us, in terms of sharing information that is relevant to our community.

If it wasn’t for Kaos GL, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to have established Gmag.

Across our website and social media channels, Gmag’s monthly audience is 300,000 people. If we had some money for marketing we could reach a lot more.

White type of content do readers find in Gmag?

We cover popular culture and some celebrity news, but we also cover serious subjects as well.

For example, a 16-year-old high school student who was trans reached out to us last year, the principal was forcing him to withdraw from the school. He was depressed and suicidal and asked for our help. We highlighted the issue, raising awareness and concern — even some of Turkey’s members of parliament publicly supported the case. Eventually the school changed its policy, the principal apologised, and the student is back at school.

Knowing that our work has really helped someone is a great feeling.

What’s it like being a gay man in Turkey?

There are hardships, but looking at the international news that we publish, being gay in Turkey seems to be better than many other countries around the world.

But we are dealing with a general social oppression of LGBT people, and that forces a lot of gay men to stay in the closet. If you’re ‘masculine’ or ‘straight acting’ then you can generally lead a problem-free life. However, if you’re a guy who is perceived as being feminine then it’s highly likely that you’ll be subjected to physical and psychological abuse.

However it’s trans people that have the worst time in Turkey. If we had a scale to measure the general stress level of LGBT people, then for gay men it would be something low like two, but for trans people it would be much higher at something like seven.

That’s what we’re struggling against it, working towards equality for everyone. Eventually no one will have to hide who they are. No one will have to try and masculine, or behave in a certain way in order to avoid being harassed or abused.

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Is it easy for gay men to meet other gay men in Turkey?

It’s not difficult, there are plenty of guys on the hook-up apps. There’s a lot more LGBT people in Turkey than you might imagine. Besides, Turkish gays are self-confident — they don’t need much assistance to meet up with each other.

istanbul pride

İstanbul Pride. Image courtesy of Emir Akgün

There’s no legal anti-discrimination protections in place for LGBT people in Turkey, does that cause problems for people?

It depends what type of discrimination we’re talking about. There’s a lot that’s not perfect about Turkey for LGBT people, but we are really involved in all aspects of society — we live and we adapt.

We have a long road to walk, and huge obstacles to overcome but we are in a better place compared to 20 years ago.

For example, marriage equality is something that seems to be impossible to achieve in Turkey. Being realistic, I don’t believe it will be possible either for this or the next generation.

However, social media has been a powerful force for change. Twenty years ago, people were afraid to be open about their sexuality, but these days I see teens and young people being open about their identities through their social media channels. It’s common to see rainbow emojis everywhere on social media — it’s very open and very brave.

Today’s young people are brave, courageous, and demanding change.

I hope, and I believe that things will get better. It will take time, but things will get better.

We want to hear your opinion

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Arts & Culture

Giving a voice to gay Arab men

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Samer Bo (image supplied)
Samer Bo (image supplied)

I caught up with author Samer Bo to talk about writing erotic gay fiction in Egypt.

What led you to start writing erotic gay fiction?

I was forgetting what was happening. I noticed that when someone asked me about what happened to me the previous week, I couldn’t remember the details.

I think forgetting was my defence-mechanism for all the pain and trouble.

So, I started by writing my diaries, which ended to be quite erotic sometimes. Then that moved to erotic fiction.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your stories?

Inspiration comes from my personal experiences and sometimes my friends’ experiences. Other times, I just meet a guy or watch a movie, and it inspires me to write a story.

Who are your target audience?

I write for myself before anyone else. I’d love all gay men to read and get aroused by my stories.

But I guess I do write for minorities — people who don’t usually get represented in media, porn, or erotic stories. I want people to see themselves represented in my novels.

What sort of feedback do you get from your readers?

I get a lot of positive feedback from people in the Middle East who finally find a voice speaking to them. Some see me as a role model — a type of Egyptian guy that they never see in the media.

Do your friends and family know that you write erotic gay fiction?

Only some close friends know. I’m not in touch with my family anyway. Samer is my real name, but I changed my last name to Bo.

Have you had any negative reactions to the gay erotic fiction that you write?

I only tell people about my writing if I know that they’re either gay or gay friendly. So I haven’t had negative reactions in that respect.

However, I have had multiple incidents of homophobia. I was arrested once.

Son of the President isn’t an erotic story, how did that story come to you?

That story is based on the real-life story of an older friend that I met a few years ago. I told him about my erotic stories, and he asked me to write an erotic story inspired by his experiences.

However, I felt that if I wrote it as erotica, it would take away from the essence of the story. So I left it as non-erotic story.

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What do you hope that people feel when reading your stories?

First of all, aroused from my erotic stories. Plus, I want people to feel represented.

Gay Arabs are not represented in any kind of media. We’re being suppressed and discriminated against. A lot of gay men in the Middle East feel that being gay is wrong, and that homosexuality is a sin.

This is my small way to help those men feel better about themselves.

What are some of your goals and ambitions for the remainder of 2018?

More stories, maybe some non-erotic ones. I’m also helping a friend of mine to change his non-erotic short story into a play.

Read the novels by Samer Bo

Follow Samer Bo on Twitter

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