TURKEY: Unnatural Sexual Relation or Psycho-Sexual Deficiency: Is A Third Way Impossible?
Within Turkish society, which is dominated by a spiral of ‘masculinity’ and ‘military service’, sexism and homophobia are ever present. Militarist institutions humiliate and label homosexuals, they treat them carelessly and make their life miserable, especially when it comes to the ‘military service’. Firstly, the army as an institution has been presented as a gift that remains out of reach if one is gay. The fact that the institution called ‘the army’, known as the fortress of ‘masculinity’ and of institutional militarism, excludes women and homosexuals does not mean of course that they are unable to serve in the army or to fight. The fact that women and gays are being excluded is a result of the ideology of masculinity. This ideology, and its spearheading institution, the army, where this ideology is engendered, perceives homosexuality solely as ‘faggotry’, humiliating the gay individual by treating him not as a human being and assaulting his soul and character. It insults him, it makes him worthless.
The army, as an institution where authority is made almost absolute, is always a threat, not only to the insiders but also the individuals who remain outside. This threat is not restricted to what has been experienced in wars. In fact, everything the army opposes becomes institutionalized. The military opposes only what has been done without its permission, what it cannot detect and supervise. It is against immorality, but it perceives women completely as a sexual commodity, it never refrains from sexual harassment and rape. The army does not allow a military officer to cohabit with a woman whom it does not find appropriate, but it is not a problem for the institution when it calls this woman for ‘striptease’ parties for soldiers. It is claimed that today there are no female soldiers who are raped or sexually harassed in the US army. But all armies do this because all armies are ‘male’.
In Turkey, military psychiatry provides a basis for the ideological approach of militarism. Military psychiatry still makes use of DSM II (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) from 1968 of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). So, according to military psychiatry, homosexuality is a psycho-sexual pathology, in opposition to the current literature of psychiatry. Those who have a psycho-sexual “deficiency” cannot be recruited even if they want to be. If it is the case that his “deficiency” is revealed after the process of joining up, then there is the same approach. In this stage the law concerning “unnatural sexual relation” is put into practice. Through this law the soldier who has “homosexual relations” is not only discharged, but it is also told in the first place that the relationship is not natural! However, in reality the situation may not always occur as it is prescribed. There are people who are recruited because they hide their homosexuality, and others who, even if they are not gay, have sexual relations in the barracks – these are facts of life!
When what happened is revealed, one of three approaches is: to overlook, to ignore the situation so that the force may not fall into disgrace; to exile the people involved to different places; and especially, if one defines oneself as homosexual, to issue a medical report and to discharge the person concerned. As one may surmise, which one of these approaches will be put into practice depends on the place and the military officers in charge.
Turkey has military conscription. The right of conscientious objection is not recognised. The response given to conscientious objectors who do not obey forcible recruitment orders is arrests and imprisonment on the grounds of civil resistance. TSK (the Turkish Armed Forces), defining homosexuality as an illness, fires gay military officers and labels gay privates through medical reports. Gays, labelled with “psycho-sexual deficiency: homosexuality”, are exposed to physical and psychological discrimination in working life and the violation of their rights through this label. Turkey is the only army among the NATO countries which defines homosexuality as an illness.
According to Article 17 of the army regulations, which defines “obvious homosexuals who cannot be recruited”, homosexuality, as well as transvestism and transexualism, are a “psycho-sexual deficiency to the highest degree”, a psycho-sexual pathology; however, psychology and psychiatry as sciences do not accept that homosexuality is an illness today. Yet military psychiatry uses DSM-II which uses criteria of psychiatry and psychology from before 1973 and defines it as an illness. It is not known when GATA (Gülhane Military Medical Academy) will accept (or whether it will ever accept) the criteria of DSM IV-TR (the current manual), that is, that homosexuality is not an illness or a psychosexual problem, that it is rather a sexual orientation, or whether it will progress the intra-professional regulations of the military in order to get rid of this problem from the perspective of “science” of “scientificity”. It seems that the entire problem is entangled in “masculinity”. Everybody knows that the Turkish Armed Forces do not need to count heads, as there are more than enough men at conscription age. If in Turkey, as the sole NATO country which regards homosexuality as an illness, military psychiatry will persevere to try to regard itself as “scientific”, this approach must be revised somehow, from the aspect of possible EU membership as well. Until now the prevalent approach was to keep it within military logic. Until now they were not interested in ways of managing what might ever injure or harm “masculinity”; but tomorrow they will have to think about it in new ways.
Through conscientious and/or total objection the military may be questioned, and one can struggle against every kind of militarism. Moreover, in the context of demanding equality in every sphere, some gay and bisexual men may regard this situation as a discriminatory practice. On the other hand, professional soldiers and military officers may regard article 153 (concerning “unnatural” sexual relations) as discrimination against sexual relations within the scope of the law. At least these areas may be possible areas of progress.
In the medium run, things may be at sixes and sevens, since people experience problems or are exposed to discrimination and are deprived of constitutional equality. The recognition of conscientious objection may be dealt with more comprehensively in order to find a middle way for gays who do not want to undertake military service but at the same time do not want to be labelled.
If article 153 for military officers, and DSM-II of military psychiatry for privates were to be annulled, what would be the new situation? An exemption based upon a declaration which is in itself sufficient, equality, and the right to conscientious objection?
Since there are more choices than those between the devil and the deep blue sea, as it were, we are reaching a stage where no one knows how to handle the situation. Formerly, from the perspective both of the military and of gays, more precisely of “homosexuals”, things were handled somehow, everybody was rubbing along. The question is how much one sees from one’s own angle, but it is a fact that in the last 15-20 years everything has changed so rapidly in Turkey. Now will these winds of change cause devastation or will there be a restructuring where everyone will be included? Even if it is not as obvious as needed yet (it is not at a stage where it is discussed enough in public yet) two dimensions of the problem come to the fore. The military front believes that it may continue the game indefinitely thanks to the present legal regulations by making difficulties for gays. And gays are complaining constantly but cannot decide to choose which of the three ways forward mentioned above should be chosen.
The problem is obvious from many aspects: According to psychiatry-science and scientificity, according to civil servants working in the military, from the perspective of professional discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, equality in working life and in working life regarding the situation of military officers, according to the legality of mortgaging one’s remaining life in its entirety due to a report given by the military in which the service refers to a very specific time and place, from the aspect of what Turkey has accepted through the international agreements with UN and the EU, from the aspect of the necessity of decisions being accepted by members and candidate members of these international bodies … Unfortunately the military is one of the areas where gays are most humiliated and oppressed. This situation is no different anywhere else in the world. Even Clinton’s “don’t ask don’t tell” did not work. To ponder upon this subject is indeed a must for the gay struggle. Without ever diluting the issue and without strangling each other because of national interests, we should think about this issue. For many gays are getting hurt…
“You are a brave and honest person. I believe that you are sincere in what you said. However homosexuality is not a problem for us. We may be homosexuals as well, there is no problem. Your homosexuality is not obvious; you do not have feminine behaviours. You do not have to say that you are homosexual. Do your military service just as a man.”
“If it suits you, you say “do your military service as a man”; if it suits you, you label homosexuals as perverts and ill. If homosexuality is not a problem, then why do you dismiss people from the army on the grounds of being homosexual? In fact you are the one who is not honest.”
“Alright, as you wish. You are suitable. See your status at the information desk. You may leave.”
“I am not leaving. You will do what is written in law and regulations. Do your obligations.” Decision: D/17 F–4
Ali Erol, Kaos GL, Ankara, Turkey. email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Ali Erol, is an activist for LGBT rights from Turkey. In the early 1990s he started grassroot activities for the rights and liberties of LGBT individuals. In September 1994 he began to publish Kaos GL, which is the first Turkish LGBT magazine, together with Ali Özbaş.
He is among the founders of the Association Kaos GL, having the same name with the magazine. In July 2005, Kaos GL officially became an association under the name of Kaos Gey-Lezbiyen Kültürel Araştırmalar ve Dayanışma Derneği (Kaos Gay-Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association). The regulations of Kaos GL have become a basis for LGBT organisations which want to become recognised associations.