Queer Histories, Queer Bodies: The Work of IRN Middle East

Committed to the mission of the International Resource Network, IRN Middle East aims to foster communication and collaboration among researchers, activists, artists, and teachers working on sexualities in the Middle East and its diaspora. This fall has been particularly busy for us. Since June 2011, we have been working on our fi rst major project, Turkey’s Queer Lives Archive: LGBTQ Oral Histories. In the heavily phobic social and political atmosphere of Turkey, the violence and human rights off enses targeting the LGBTQ people as well as their rich experiences often go undocumented. The role of LGBTQ studies in Turkish academia has also been highly limited, and so far, no large scale study on the community has been done. Conducted in collaboration with professors Arzu Öztürkmen and Koray Durak from Boğaziçi University’s Department of History, this project will document the lives and eveyday experiences of LGBTQ people, and build an oral history archive. With this project, we aim to create awareness about LGBTQ studies that is still very marginal in the Turkish academia, facilitate research and advocacy by providing the necessary data and expertise for academics, independent researchers, students, and activists working in the fi eld. In the long run, we aim to expand the project to cover other countries in the region.

Turkey’s Queer Lives Archive: LGBTQ Oral Histories will be supported by our second major project, Transnational Peer Review Network. The project aims to foster the production of empirically grounded and theoretically informed scholarship on Middle Eastern sexualities by providing pro bono peer reviewing and editing services to students, scholars and independent researchers working on related subjects. Through this network, we will also facilitate communication and collaboration among researchers. Selected works will be featured on the IRN website and publications.

On 11 November 2011 in Istanbul, IRN Middle East hosted Haneen Maikey, the director of the queer activist group alQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society. In her lecture “Queer Politics & the Palestinian Struggle: Ten Years of Activism,” co-organized with the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Maikey presented the queer struggle in Palestine within the broader historical and political context in which the movement developed, and the current discourse of homonationalism and pinkwashing in Israel from the perspective of marginalized Palestinian queers. From the 12th to 13th November, we organized a capacity building workshop for LGBTQ activists in Turkey. Conducted by the international award-winning director Jale Karabekir in Istanbul, the workshop utilized the techniques of the theatre of the oppressed to explore performance and the body in theatrical and everyday contexts, to analyze the multiple forms of oppression in the society and within the LGBTQ community, and to develop new strategies for activism. With the highly positive feedback we received from the participants, we are planning to organize similar events in other countries in the region.

After the successful antinormanybody exhibition (23 June -10 August 2011) curated by Barrak Alzaid at Kleio projects in New York that featured experimental video and portraiture by Monira Al Qadiri, Marwa Arsanios,Negar Behbahani, Mirak Jamal, Raed Yassin, Fatima Al Qadiri and Lyndsy Welgos exploring gender, sexuality, and the body in the Middle East, our work in the fi eld of the arts continues with the documentary Yırtık! [Good Girls Don’t Kiss and Tell] by Melisa Üneri. Co-sponsored by the IRN Midde East, Yirtik! explores the meanings of virginty across sexualities in Turkey. The project won The Best Pitching and Best Discovery Awards at the 2011 Balkan Documentary Center Festival, and participated in the 55th DOK Leipzig, International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film.

We would like to thank our regional board, the IRN staff , and the CLAGS community for their support of our activities.