Tuesday 20 October 2015

Guest Post: Barbara Nadel on The Conchita Effect

The Conchita Effect 
by Barbara Nadel 

Giving a book talk the other day, a member of the audience asked me why there were so many transsexual characters in my latest Cetin Ikmen novel, ‘Land of the Blind’. The subject of the story is Ikmen’s search for a missing baby whose mother has been murdered. But this is set against a backdrop of the social tension that erupted in the city of Istanbul in the summer of 2013.

The Gezi Park protest was based around a park in the centre of the city that had been slated for demolition. What was going to replace it was a shopping mall. Or should I say, another shopping mall. In the last ten years, shopping malls have mushroomed in Istanbul as well as in the rest of Turkey. Gezi Park is the last sizeable green space in the centre of the city and so to lose that to yet more retail outlets proved too much. People from all sides of the political spectrum joined forces to oppose the development and camped out at Gezi to save the park.

Some of the most vocal protesters came from Istanbul’s sizeable trans community. Loud and proud they stood alongside university students, devout Muslims, artists, medical staff, dancers, etc., etc., etc. Trans life in Istanbul has never been easy but it has always gone on. Cross dressing was popular with the Byzantines for heaven’s sake!

The Gezi protests brought many disparate groups together but I do think that the trans community were a special case mainly because their demands for equality had, by 2013, reached a critical level. In 2008 the nation was shocked by the so called ‘honour killing’ of a man called Ahmet Yildiz by his own father. His ‘crime’ was to be gay in a country where homosexuality is not illegal and where an annual Gay Pride march had taken place, in Istanbul, since 2003. Other victims of abuse began to speak out, including trans people, and Gay Pride 2008 was attended by thousands. In 2009 people felt confident enough to institute the first Trans Pride parade which featured many non-trans supporters. By the time Gezi came around, the trans community were on a roll. They wanted things to change, not just for themselves, but for everyone and that included people with whom they wouldn’t usually associate.

And so it was in 2014 when I wrote ‘Land of the Blind’ and set it against the events surrounding Gezi Park, I knew I had to have a strong trans presence in the book. I already had two: Samsun, Ikmen’s cousin from Albania and Nur, a very tall and sassy ex-soldier. These were joined by their friends and compatriots Pembe Hanim, Madam Edith and Madonna. All protested in the park, set up camp in the park and fought for their right to be in the park. No shrinking violets here, these characters were also imbued, to some extent, with the spirit of Conchita Wurst who, just prior to my beginning this book, had won the Eurovision Song Contest for Austria. Not that delicate little Conchita has a lot in common, physically, with my kick arse trans girls and boys, but her sense of righteous entitlement does.

The time has come for trans communities all over the world. Equality not tomorrow or next year, but now. Bloody right too.

‘Land of the Blind’ reflects this trend and also, I hope, pays tribute to the courage and persistence of trans people everywhere.


Land of the Blind was published on June 4, 2015. Find a copy on Amazon here.

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