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Erotics of Survival: Queer Experiences of Detention at Sansaryan Inn
Abstract by Enis Demirer On Session II-19  (MENA as Carceral States II)

On Thursday, November 2 at 5:30 pm

2023 Annual Meeting

My paper questions what kinds of practices of survival and solidarity emerged under the circumstances of sexualized police violence that had been arbitrarily targeting queer communities in Istanbul, Turkey on the basis of their gender and sexual identity in a period that extends from the 1970s to the 1990s. The argument of my paper is twofold. First, it argues for focusing on the violent practices of arbitrary detention as those that are generative of various proximities that can ultimately work to destabilize their purpose of regulating and controlling the bodies that they deem to capture and keep under surveillance. In order to pursue this argument, I suggest seeing the sexualized violence of the police as pornographic while contrasting it to the various practices of collective defiance on the part of the queer detainees, which I read as erotic practices borrowing from Audre Lorde. Following from there, my paper also suggests that the experience of perpetual and arbitrary carceral police violence targeting the queer communities of Istanbul in the named period has been formative of emergent modes of queer sociality and solidarity, that became fundamental to the LGBTI+ organizing and culture in Turkey in the following decades. To pursue these arguments I borrow from oral historical accounts as well as from cultural texts. The oral historical component comes from the recorded testimonies of trans women and gay men who had been subjected to perpetual police violence at the once notorious detention center called the Sansaryan Inn in the1970s and 80s. These testimonies have been collected in a 2012 book titled Being Queer in the 80s. They are invaluable for their descriptions of the sexualized practices of police violence under detention, as well as for the hints they provide about the emergent and queer forms of solidarity and survival. To complement them, I borrow from a 1994 film titled The Night, Angel, and our Gang, which recounts the story of queer life in Istanbul in the 1990s as a perpetual game of hide-and-seek with the police. I read examples from the film as powerfully expressive of the erotics of survival I formulate in the paper. Overall, the paper suggests a shift of focus regarding the experience of carceral violence towards the perspective of the violated as it is expressive not (only) of victimization but more importantly of an erotics of survival and regeneration.
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