Global Gayborhoods: Istanbul

Exotic and familiar to Westerners, Turkey's cultural epicenter contrasts its historically cosmopolitan character with growing Islamic conservatism. Gay life abounds, but is it going underground?



Outside In

Literally split
by the Bosphorus Strait into the "Asia side" and
"Europe side," Istanbul is a destination stuck between two
poles. Seen from Europe, it is exotic yet within
cultural spitting distance. By the same token, it
feels foreign to the vast majority of Turkey, a
conservative Muslim nation.

Despite its
deserved reputation as wealthy, secular, and liberal, the
former Constantinople faces a rising tide of political
conservatism, from the traditional population and the
religious government they elected in 2006.

This is a
particular concern to gay travelers, who can no longer rely
on the country's biggest and most visible gay
organization; Lambda Istanbul was closed in April
by a government raid under unfounded charges,
including promoting prostitution.

The climate has
by no means shut down Istanbul's gay life, but it has
made resources more difficult to locate, rattling the nerves
of out and proud individuals and businesses.

Inside Out

Tricks: Tricks

Western visitors
should be on the watch for two troublesome groups. Rent
boys hang out in the seedier locations, do not always
identify themselves, and can be dangerous. Also common
in gay venues are men who sleep with men but do not
identify as gay. Generally from lower-income and more
traditional backgrounds, these groups tend to see
"gayness" as emasculation and will sleep with men only if
they are "active" or the penetrating partner, an
ancient Mediterranean convention of masculinity. Start
your night in sophisticated and newbie-friendly Sugarclub Café (Saka Salim
Cikmazi, 3-A, off Istiklal Caddesi; +90-212-425-00-96;
4-6 YTL for drinks, open 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.). The
bartenders speak English and are happy to inform you about
the city’s gay life.

Your next stop
should be Barbahçe (Soğancı
Sokak No. 3/1, off Taksim square; +90-212-245-17-18; 7 YTL
for drinks; open 10 p.m.-5 a.m. weekends). The
venerable dance club is most well known to tourists,
and although locals roll their eyes at Barbahçe
(which features go-go boys, good music, and a lesbian
section) they all go because it has such staying

For the newest
hot location to party ‘til sunrise, Love Dancepoint (Cumhuriyet
Caddesi 349/1; +90-212-296-33-57; 8-10 YTL for drinks;
Wednesday, Friday, Saturday; 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.) boasts
popular DJs, drag queens, and sexy Istanbul men to

Tags: Travel