- Third Space MasculinitiesUnnamed Sexualities in Turkey
Grounded in everyday life, the practice of male same-sex relations is neither uncommon nor a dominant trend but rather a renegotiated space for many young men in Turkey today. This unnamed practice creates a “third space” that forms and transforms young men’s alternative sexual subject positions. My conversations with young men revealed that in this third space the male body comes to terms with a new form of masculinity and male sexual pleasure that destabilizes both heteronormativity and homosexuality. I conducted fieldwork in Ankara, Turkey, between 2003 and 2005 to study the rhetorical uses of language in the context of virginity examinations. My study was based on participatory action research methods, and my field sites included a squatter settlement, a village, and an upper-class neighborhood. While there is a large literature on homosexuality and same-sex relations in Iran and the Arab world, this essay adds to the emerging scholarship that focuses on Turkey through its identification of a “third space” masculinity and its examination of not only urban but also rural and semiurban areas.
Young men who engage in same-sex practices often seek release from the material conditions of social norms governing premarital sexuality and virginity. Men who have sex with men do not have a language to name the sexual activities they engage in. They neither use terms such as homosexual or gay nor conflate their sexual encounters with homoerotic desire similar to what Huseyin Tapinc’s (1992) research revealed in Turkey. Rather, they perform their sexualities in a ritualized manner to prove their maleness or abilities at penetrating. Hence rather than ascribing to a sexual orientation or gender identity, men who have sex with men build an alternative sexual space where they reconfigure masculine sexual behavior. [End Page 288]
In the newly configured third space of male same-sex practices, where affection and romance mostly do not reside, roles and meanings associated with masculinity, heterosexuality, and homosexuality blur. Contained in spaces reserved for young men, men who have sex with men do not depart from heterosexuality toward homosexuality. Rather, the third spaces they create are sites of response to social codes that prohibit sexual encounters between men and women. Hence men who have sex with men are dissidents renegotiating their sexualities and redrawing the boundaries of what may be possible in a culture of compulsory virginity. The third space is a way to reinscribe sexual behavior and build solidarity in the spaces reserved for men where opposite sex partner relationships are not available. However, this is not to say that male same-sex sexuality is always a direct consequence of norms regarding virginity and women’s seclusion. As Afsaneh Najmabadi (2006) points out, it can be reductive and totalizing to always attribute same-sex sexuality to societal practices such as gender segregation and veiling.
The third space masculinity in the Turkish context illuminates modes of sexuality that lack a linguistic space. Situated in a context that legitimates only marital heteronormative sexual behavior and pleasure, men who have sex with men live in a culture of secrecy and silence. Yet, in spite of the lack of a language, this third space masculinity speaks in other ways. First, third space is liberating in its attempt to create a medium through which entry into a sexual subjectivity is sought without privileging a sexual identity or sexual orientation. Second, it is a space of critique and empowerment that makes a potential argument for sexual freedom a possibility. In this nondiscursive space silence seeks to break away from repressed sexualities. Although an everyday language to name it does not exist, this space is a means of coming to terms with societal norms and men’s relationships to each other. Without female participation, it is a space where patriarchal economies are reproduced; it is a male-defined marginal space structured around the male body and the phallus.
The presence of this male domain points to the need to develop a new discourse to theorize the unnamed third space and its implications. As an alternative space partly created in response to societal constraints, third space masculinities provide an opportunity to...