I just sat down and watched a very curious bit of TV via the BBC iPlayer app on my tablet. Strictly speaking I shouldn’t be able to but with the help of a VPN (otherwise known as an IP spoofer) I am able to download program episodes as if I were doing so from within the UK.
My usual fare are espionage, thriller, the odd comedy and drama thrown but the programme I’m elaborating on here is a documentary episode showing on BBC3, also available for catch-up via the iPlayer, entitled Sex in Strange Places – Turkey.
I was intrigued for several reasons. Firstly, I have a fond relationship with Turks and Turkey – not all of them of course – but having worked and traveled there for several months at a time I’ve made friends and acquaintances in many of its towns and cities.
Secondly I am fighting against the imposed sensibilities of my conservative upbringing and trying to take a healthy interest in the whole issue of sex and sexuality. I identify as a heterosexual male but I increasingly feel the limitations of describing ourselves confidently when we know so little about how other people identify. Sex is, after all, something all of us will contemplate at some stage and for most of us it will involve much more than contemplation alone.
Thirdly, and a little superficially I guess, I like the presenter, Stacey Dooley. She’s young (28), attractive and engaging, flashing a wide and disarming smile quite frequently. She wins over the trust of her interviewees with her smile and genuine empathy. To add to that I overheard somewhere that she’s from Luton, a town where I’ve spent a good deal of time in the UK. Like many Lutonians, who tend to of working class origin, she doesn’t always pronounce her ‘t’s or her ‘l’s which makes me a little sentimental and definitely not objective e.g. Water becomes wah-ah and girls become geh-wzah.
Anyway I found it all quite fascinating. The hypocrisy of many Turkish men and indeed society, is unveiled in this hour-long feature. I’d heard some of the proclamations through an Arab friend of mine who bemoaned the importance that Turkish women put on virginity at marriage. Apparently this is an expectation held by most Turkish men. An Algerian friend of mine alleges that young brides-to-be will go so far as to have surgical operations to try to ‘restore’ the undefiled state of their womanhood in order to meet this expectation.
In truth many of these same men are visiting prostitutes as Stacey discovers. Some visit transvestites because they are apparently more authentic whilst many married men frequent brothels. They choose to use prostitutes because they feel inhibited at home, unable to play out their sexual fantasies in the marital domain.
Stacey manages to elicit some very candid interviews from some of her interviewees. One of the first, a prostitute names Hulya, elaborates on how many of her clients don’t even know the basics of sexual intercourse – which bit goes where! A man might penetrate his wife’s navel on their first encounter she says. Quite bizarre but a testimony to the virtual absence of sex education in the school curriculum.
There are also some touching interviews with an outgoing transvestite and a young gay lawyer who is trying to get justice after being raped by three men. His attempts to report this to the police at the time go unheeded and only with persistence and financial support from the broader community of independent lawyers does the case make it to court. At the first court appearance they are in complete denial and accuse him of lying. During the second court hearing the three fail to turn up at all. No action is taken by the authorities we are informed.
It makes me angry many times over for these and many other injustices which are perpetrated in this beautiful nation under the autocratic and religiously conservative Erdogan and his AKP. It also reminds me why I am so very against any sort of conservative ideology, usually dressed up under the guise of religion, which seeks to limit, prohibit and sensor people on the basis of their sexuality. I look forward to subsequent episodes in the series where Stacey will travel to Russia and Brazil for some further investigative work.