If you have not been to Istanbul before, it is recommended to start with understanding the special gay culture of this city. Being the most crowded city of Turkey, Istanbul is the heart of Turkish gay life. Although Turkey is undergoing a rapid change, certain things are still very traditional and peculiar in this country. The gay culture is a good sample of this. Taking immigration from all over the country, Istanbul is a summary of the whole Turkey.
Istanbulgay.Com is published by local people living in Istanbul and updated frequently with the latest information about the gay venues in Istanbul which you can not find anywhere else. We are not only listing the existing venues, but also the places which have already been closed down for various reasons, still being listed on other websites and printed gay-guides as well.
Turkish Gay Culture
Turkey has got a traditional bisexual or hetero-flexible culture taking its root from the history. The classic gay relationship is between real gay men and bi-curios men. In this culture the bisexual men would never consider themselves as gay - or even bisexual, and the gay-partners are mostly expected to be more feminine/queer. Hetero-flexible/bisexual guys are supposedly top (aktif = active is the common word in local culture) and do not have sex with each other. This culture can better be defined as buggery or sodomy in the western meaning. As a reflection of this bisexual culture, there is a big transvestite & transgender society in Istanbul and in other big cities of Turkey. In the last 20 years gay culture has been westernized rapidly, and the interactions between gays themselves have become more common. In fact there is still not a sharp distinction among the sexual orientations. The border-line is very transitional between straight, bisexual, gay, queer, transvestite and transgender people.
Safety and Warnings
According to the statistics Istanbul is listed among the safest metropolises in the world. But naturally, there are some risks in gay life as in other big cities of the world. Because of the under-developed economy and the wide-gap between the rich and the poor you can encounter some malicious people. You do not need to worry too much, as long as you know what is happening and behave accordingly. The most common criminal incident is robbery, as everywhere. This does not usually happen in central locations or in gay bars and clubs, but it is rather likely if you go somewhere with someone whom you know nothing about. If you don't carry a lot of valuable things and money on you when you are out for cruising especially in places like parks, nothing significant should happen. Do not go with local people (especially with bisexual men) to their places, and prefer public venues such as hamams or saunas instead, if your hotel is not suitable.
Avoid some tourist-hustlers who usually hang around Taksim and sometimes around Sultanahmet districts. They will try to take you to some scam clubs to rip you off. Your bill can be up to several thousand Euros depending how far you follow your basic instincts instead of your logic. There are few clubs/bars like that but their hustlers are always around who are said to be taking commissions from them. Simply stay away from people in these neighborhoods who are too friendly all of a sudden, no matter what their stories are.
If it is your first time in Istanbul, it is recommended to make a discovery tour to find the locations of gay bars and clubs in day time. It is not wise to ask people directions at night, because you can bump into a crook or get lost in risky back-streets. If you can afford, we highly recommend you to hire a private guide from BHN Mavi Tours
Another less significant risk is; some taxi drivers may over-ride tourists to charge them more. Although rarely it is also heard that some drivers may also switch the big banknotes with smaller ones, and blames you for giving the smaller note. It is better if you really pay them with small banknotes, indeed. If you have a problem with taxi drivers, write down the plate number of the taxi explicitly (make sure he understands), and try to tell him that you will go to the police ('police' sounds the same in Turkish). If you do not want to experience such head-aches on your holiday it may be wise to ask taxi driver how much you will pay for the place you go before you get in. You may ask your hotel receptions to call you a taxi driver which they know.
In general feel at home and even be a little snob when necessary. Make sure that there is law in this country, and fight for your rights if needed. In fact ordinary Turkish people are very hospitable and nice people, but do not expect everyone you meet will be like that in such nightlife or tourist districts of the city. Istanbul is a big metropolis ultimately, where you can meet any kind of people.
The gay activities have become more and more visible during the last 20 years. The number of the gay venues has increased rapidly especially during the last 15 years. Taksim district of Beyoglu town on the European side of Istanbul is the center of almost all major gay venues. In fact, this district is the center of local night life. There are many modern or traditional gay clubs, bars, saunas and hamams near the Taksim/Beyoglu area. This neighborhood is also frequented by many (mostly bisexual) rent-boys. Some of these boys can really be as handsome as models indeed, but caution is advised . There are also many clubs for transvestites and transsexuals in Taksim district. Indeed, the gay life of Istanbul is very colorful and vibrant. Istanbul is hosting gay pride parade every year since early 2000's, which is one of the biggest LGBT gathering in Eastern Europe. There are several LGBT solidarity groups in Istanbul, including Lambda Istanbul, SPoD and Istanbul LGBTT. Lambda Istanbul is the first gay and lesbian organization of Turkey.
Click here for gay events, parties, concerts and other LGBT friendly cultural activities in Istanbul.
Majority of Turks are a mixture between Caucasian (white) and Mediterranean ethnicity in appearance, and if not so many you can also see blond Turkish men with color eyes. Contrary to popular wisdom Turkish people have no direct language or ethnic connection with the Arabs except the religion and its cultural influence. In fact, Turkish people are relatively hybridized because it has been a land of immigration throughout the history as a result of its geographical position like a bridge between Asia and Europe. Kurdish oriented Turkish citizens have slightly darker complexion than average Turks. They are the second largest ethnic group in Turkey (predictably a 15 % of total population). Kurdish-oriented men are popular attraction group among some local gay men in big cities, similar to the interest for Latin guys in Western countries. The third less visible ethnicity would be Arabic oriented people, living mostly in the cities along the border of Syria. There are also people named Laz especially concentrated in the 3 cities along the far Eastern Black Sea coastal area of Turkey (near the border of Georgia, former Republic of Soviet Union). The word 'Laz' is used as a regional & cultural definition within Turkey, rather than ethnicity. Istanbul is a city of domestic emigration and houses a total mixture of all these ethnicities from all around Turkey, also including fewer non-Muslim ethnicities such as Greeks, Armenians, Jews who had settled in the city long time ago.
Law and regulations
There is not any law against homosexuality in Turkey since the beginning of the republic period (1923). In fact, there is not any law at all concerning homosexuality. In theory, some general laws can be applied if you make sex in places open to public, but it is never heard of such an incident in real life. The age of consent is 18, which also applies as the age limit to be able to enter bars and clubs selling alcohol. Regardless of the sexual orientation, any sexual intercourse with someone below the age of consent is regarded as pedophilia and it is illegal even if it is done with the approval of the minor partner.
Although there are still some defects with her democracy, Turkey is the most secular and democratic "Muslim country" in the world, closer to the western culture if a comparison needs to be made. New democratic legislations enacted by the parliament in early 2000's have improved this situation further more. Unfortunately, when a new constitutional law was being discussed to punish various discriminations in late 2004, sexual orientation was omitted by the Government members of the national assembly at the last minute. When critics grow, the Minister of Justice of that time stated that the phrase which means "gender discrimination" already taking place in related law would automatically cover "sexual orientation" as well. A similar law (5237/122) was enacted by the parliament in the same year punishing such discriminations, partially as a result of European Union Membership agenda. The first significant implementation of this law was in 2015 against a bath house owner who refused to offer service to a Turkish transgender woman. Also in 2016 an openly gay Turkish referee won a landmark lawsuit against Turkish Football Federation following his dismissal in 2009. Since the beginning of 2010's two of the main stream left-wing opposition parties have been openly supporting LGBT rights and they have even presented few LGBT candidates in local and general elections.
The official numbers of HIV + people in Turkey is still stated by just a few thousands, Istanbul being the leading city, naturally. A total of 6082 people are diagnosed to have Aids/HIV virus by 2013 in whole of Turkey, according to the statistics of the Ministry of Health; and homosexuals hold a very small percentage (around %10) of these official numbers. But the real number should be much bigger than this. Majority of Turkish society is still conservative about certain things and HIV is still regarded as a sexual disease. Less-educated part of the population are not very knowledgeable/careful about safe sex. Consequently the people either do not take any HIV tests or tend to hide themselves, and it is not very possible to obtain accurate numbers. Regardless of the accuracy of these numbers Istanbulgay.Com supports safe sex all over the word.
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