- Staging Queer Marxism in the Age of State Feminism:Gender, Sexuality, and the Nation in Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpınar's Kadın Erkekleşince (When Woman Becomes Masculine)1
The rise of European dramatic forms in the Ottoman Empire beginning in the nineteenth century was a process that reflected the turbulent political environment, which would culminate in the transition from the Empire to the nation-state in 1923. In this period, the governing elite, dissident intellectuals, and members of different ethnic groups utilized the theatre to propagate diverse and at times conflicting political views and desires for the future. Moreover, fantasies of modernization and Europeanization rendered the theatre a site where individuals rehearsed and performed new modes of Ottoman and Turkish subjectivity not only on- but also offstage. Gender and sexuality were often at the core of the processes through which people negotiated the politics of belonging in and through the theatre.
The plays about queer sexualities make up a relatively small yet critical body of work from this period. For the purposes of this essay, I use the term "queer" not to refer to the contemporary Western European and North American categories of sexuality but rather as an analytical tool to study the structures of feeling, practices of pleasure, and modes of identification that are "at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant" in gendered and sexualized ways.2 While exploring the politics of gender and sexuality during a time of transformation, the early examples of queer Turkish dramatic literature often presented scathing critiques of the broader sociopolitical environment as well. The queer3 canonical [End Page 243] novelist Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpınar's 1932 problem play4 Kadın Erkekleşince (When Woman Becomes Masculine) presents a vital vantage point from which to study these dynamics.
Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpınar (1866–1944) is among the most prolific and popular figures in the Turkish literary canon. His works in diverse genres were guided by the author's desire to educate his readers with his "high philosophy" (yüksek felsefe): an amalgamation of elements from Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Darwin, and Enlightenment philosophy, combined with a profound sense of queer negativity. The best known of Gürpınar's plays, Kadın Erkekleşince tells the story of Nebahat, a heterosexual and female-presenting feminist who identifies as male. Contrary to the dominant conceptions of female masculinity, which focus on the practices of embodiment,5 Nebahat's performance of female masculinity is defined by his linguistic self-identification and, more importantly, his self-positioning within labor relations. This is a radical queer feminist strategy to resist phallogocentric violence and patriarchal capitalism. It is radical in the sense that, unlike most mainstream Ottoman and early Republican Turkish feminists, Nebahat does not seek to overcome gender inequality through legal and institutional reforms. Instead, he rejects the law and aims to undermine the very foundation of his oppression by erasing the binary gender paradigm. As a parodic form of everyday activism, Nebahat's articulation of female masculinity exposes the performative constitution of normative gender identities and shows that labor relations are at the core of such processes. In the end, Nebahat's performance of masculinity leads to the death of his child, signifying the demise of both heterofuturity and a queerly gendered future. The play thus features a poignant critique of "state feminism," which was a fundamental element of Turkish politics during the country's formative years (1923–1938), and explores the conditions of (im)possibility of a queer Marxist feminism.
In this essay, I will study the complex politics of Kadın Erkekleşince and the play's significance for the queer Turkish dramatic canon as well as for the histories of queer negativity, radical feminism, and queer Marxism. I use the term "queer Turkish dramatic canon" to refer to plays in Turkish that explore queer sexualities and identifications. Other early examples of such works include texts by Şahabeddin Süleyman and İbnürrefik Ahmet [End Page 244] Nuri Sekizinci. In the scholarship on Turkish theatre, late Ottoman and early Republican queer plays have either received very limited scholarly interest...