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Contending Cartographies of Rhetoric: Mapping Legato (Project) and the Turkish Queer College Students’ “Coming to Rhetoric” Through the Internet

by Serkan Gorkemli, Purdue University

In spring 1999, while at Purdue University's West Lafayette campus, I received an e-mail from a gay friend of mine in Turkey inviting me to join a Yahoo! group [1] called “Legato Bogaziçi” named after Legato, an acronym meaning “ Lezbiyen Gay Toplulugu” (Turkish for Lesbian and Gay Association), and Bogaziçi University, my alma mater. I had never heard of Legato prior to that time, and I decided to try it out and agreed to be subscribed to Legato mailing lists on Yahoo! Groups. Little did I know then that this would be my first introduction, through the Internet, to the emergent collegiate queer [2] movement in Turkey , despite the great distance between my homeland and my second and present home in West Lafayette , Indiana in the Midwestern United States. Another amazing fact I was not aware of then was the number of other students from all over Turkey, and some like me in places around the world, who were called on to join Legato on Yahoo! Groups through e-mail, word of mouth, friends, rumors, ads in alternative Turkish media, fliers on campuses, etc. The individual calls that had started then in this manner culminated in the establishment of three sets of digital forums constituting Legato on the Internet so far: 1) eighty-three individual Legatos on Yahoo! Groups corresponding to eighty-three universities located in Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus; 2) an additional Yahoo! group called “Ortak Liste” (Turkish for common or shared list) intended to connect everyone on individual school groups through one Yahoo! group with the membership of eight hundred and fifty-seven subscribers as of July 2004; and 3) the Legato website, which serves both as a database of online resources with a membership application interface and as an online youth journal where LGBTQ related articles written by Legato members and LGBTQ news from around the world are featured. [3] In addition to online forums, Legato members also utilize offline spaces such as coffee houses, local LGBTQ organizations, and university campuses in order to converse with each other, watch movies, discuss books on sexuality and human rights, etc., pointing to the existence of a highly hybrid queer student rhetoric straddling online and offline spaces.

This article then will provide an initial mapping of this process of Turkish queer students' “coming to rhetoric” [4] in terms of space and the role of (digital) media in the context of Legato since its inception in the mid 1990s. As I discuss the issue of space and the role of (digital) media as it relates to Turkish queer experience, I examine the creation and channeling of “a new queer epistemology” resulting from “a new sense of space” (both the extension into cyberspace of and emergent new uses of traditional, physical spaces through the use of digital media) from the perspectives of individual and group identity (trans)formations.

Due to my specific connection to Legato, however, my perspective on it is not just an academic's but also that of a “partial, imagining outsider.” Even if I am a member of two Legato's on Yahoo! Groups and have met and been in contact with Legato members who live in Turkey at the moment (I also get to meet them once a year when I travel to Turkey every summer.), I am not living in Turkey at the present. As a result of my specific positioning in the US and the magnitude and nature of Legato for me from my vantage point here, I envision—and here present—it in geographical terms. While this (digital) cartographic perspective helps map Legato in its fascinating hybridity, it will also help illustrate its perpetually “in-the-works” nature so far: a would-be, cyborg organization that exists through the Internet and thus is simultaneously at the core of and the embodiment of the fermenting rhetorical contention between the Turkish queer organizations, which abet Legato's goal of establishing queer student networks in Turkish universities; and the Turkish state and society at large, which deny the existence of queer students thus far (as embodied in most universities' resistance and hesitation towards recognizing and accommodating such students). [5]

Consequently, as well as being descriptively historical, this article will also be performatively argumentative through the possibilities offered by the medium of the hypertext. Using certain visuals in this article, I argue that based on the kind and the scope of outreach Legato has accomplished so far through computers (and further possibilities suggested by such use), it is also transforming the sexual geography of Turkish society, flouting the idea of a gay enclave, through the creation of satellite communities in physical spaces across the nation, paving the way for the formation of a sexual minority, in a way that had not been possible prior to the advent of the Internet in Turkey or in any other part of the world for that matter. By pointing out Legato's experience and characteristic hybridity, I not only provide a different cultural perspective but also suggest directions for further research concerning the use of (digital) media by LGBTQ populations in the US through a historical perspective. Thus, this article is intended to contribute to scholarly approaches towards the queer experience and deployment of media in two different, Turkish and North American, cultural contexts, aiming to offer insights through a preliminary comparative perspective.

[1] Yahoo! Groups are located at Like its e-mail service, Yahoo! Groups are free for those with a computer and an Internet connection. The interface offers these various functions: messages, chat, files, photos, links, database, and polls.

[2] In referring to the movement throughout this article, I use “queer” and “LGBT(Q),” the acronym for lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual (and questioning), interchangeably, since, even though Legato is a predominantly lesbian and gay movement so far, the group still includes persons of other sexual orientations, albeit less in numbers than the two largest and most vocal groups, lesbians and gay men. In addition, I also would like to point out that even though the word “queer” is known and used by most English-speaking Turks, it does not exist in Turkish, yet (therefore, I use “queer” pragmatically here as an umbrella term without making a claim about the existence of “queer politics” in the Turkish context.); however, the words, “gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual,” have entered the Turkish language as Turkish transcriptions, “gay, lezbiyen, biseksuel, and transseksuel,” at different times and have been in use by the speakers of Turkish for some time now.

[3] In addition to these, there are other online forums of Legato, such as Legato Technical list for activist members who attend real-life meetings, Legato Platform list for everyone interested including heterosexuals, Legato Announcements list for announcing events, activities, etc., all established after the initially founded groups mentioned above and thus beyond the focus of this article. In addition, the online forums mentioned in this footnote are all located on Yahoo! Groups, too; however, users call them “lists” since the mailing list is the most used function in the interface (this is also the case with the groups mentioned above; hence my references to them as lists later.).

[4] By “coming to rhetoric,” I mean adopting a new epistemology drawing on individual and group experience rather than received notions about sexuality and gender; finding and learning to wield a new ”language” in expressing and disseminating a particular identity politics based on the new epistemology; connecting with both like-minded and adverse audiences; and establishing and using online and offline forums strategically.

[5] Hence, my rhetorically motivated choice of the word “imagine” in this paragraph. As a supporter of both the Turkish queer cause and the specific cause of Legato as its subset, both of which are yet to come to their anticipated fruition, I attempt to visualize the Turkish queer community's collective wish “to be located on the social map” (i.e. official recognition and accommodation) through the visuals in this article.