Just after midnight there’s a sea of red brake lights on the first Bosphorus bridge in a traffic jam that never seems to end no matter the hour, and a thousand drunk heads pulsate down the pedestrian-only Istiklal Street in Taksım; the heart of Istanbul’s entertainment district.
Peering out from the darkness of storefront windows, acting as passive spectators to this Istanbul life, are a countless population of mannequins. They never talk. They never move. They watch life drift, fly or crumble past. And just like the city that they quietly admire, they too are without a sexual organ. Yet, we can still simply identify ‘her’ by her blouse and ‘him’ by his jacket?
Mr or Mrs? Wallet or purse? How do we describe this city of ours – Istanbul?
Perhaps one of our most phallic discussions is with Amy, a 34 year old meditation coach from Australia who has has been living in Istanbul for the past 4 months.
Amy describes Istanbul as a man saying, “It’s a man’s world here. Big, thick and pulsating with life, Istanbul penetrates everyone who comes here. Full of possibility but often shooting blanks.”
When asked how she is able to express herself with such a writer’s flair she explains that both her parents were well known writers established in Sydney, Australia.
SO, let’s continue with our Shakespearian, and yet quite Freudian, penmanship.
“A mans world, it’s not always the safest or easiest place for women, and yet we love it anyway… Drawn to its bad boy ways. It wines and dines us, showers us with romance and sweet-treats, but often won’t call the next day. But: If you have the patience and fortitude to dig below it’s tough exterior, you find it’s really a big softie inside and has plenty of love to give, and a truly heart-warming side to its personality.”-Amy
From this I imagine Istanbul as something blurred between a masculine tattooed bikie and a corporate suit with slicked-back hair. The real bad boys who know how to play the game when playing the field, which in turn seems to drive the women, well Amy at least, crazy.
I then meet an interesting and quite clever character called Matt, a 41 year old American who teaches corporate presentation training. He is dumbfounded when I meet him muttering ‘huh? What?’ and is convinced I am asking the wrong question because by trying to genderfy Istanbul I am in actual fact misunderstanding the city completely.
He explains, “Asking if Istanbul is male or female is like asking if God is male or female.”
He then continues by directing that men and women exist for sexual reproduction and since God doesn’t sexually reproduce “the more you try to answer the ‘Is God male or female’ question, the further you’ll get from God”, and likewise he says if you ask Istanbul the same question, “the further you’ll get from Istanbul.” Touche Matt. Touche.
His remarks definitely aren’t received as a religious jousting, but rather a remarkable brain teaser that seems to have been cut with scissors and glued onto a rubix cube then shuffled a bit in different directions so the process or ideology can still be understood but the end result, an answer, still out of reach.
Our next voice of reason, Lerzan, is originally from Bursa. The 29 year old director of an award winning theatre company portrays Istanbul as a real woman. She describes her as a pre-menstrual female, “She has periods, you can’t be sure about her mood. Sometimes she gives you everything; luck, hope, peace, but on another day you can find she is someone else completely.”
And as if we have thrown Lerzan and Amy’s views into a bucket and stirred its contents until they are lost within each other, along comes Aliki, merging both genders describing Istanbul as “overtly masculine but with feminine undertones. An ego driven man but in his quieter moments when no one is watching the caring and sweeter side emerges. You just have to be patient and wait for it.”
Aliki, mid 40’s with Greek origin, lives in Istanbul and works in the Business-English teaching world. And just like Amy she discusses the rewards of being patient in this swarming city. She also says the booming male voice is focused on “economic growth and obsession with modernising no matter the cost to the lower ranked communities soon to be forced out.” However, she sees the “feminine quality of nurturing extending forth from the streets of Istanbul with the genuine care shown to her street animals.”
Mary, a 34 year old theatre nurse from Australia, is on holidays for a week and a half. And although her stay is short-lived she has already managed to genderfy our beloved city. Mary says, “Istanbul is definitely a woman because she multitasks. In every pocket of the city there is something happening. She is a busy woman.” She then laughs saying, “the traffic is a multitask in itself!”
Istanbul – our city. Mr or Mrs? Striking jawline or hour glass figure?
We now have some metallic ideas and poetic expressions hinting towards both, plus one that turns its back on the notion completely. But if Istanbul is neither ‘she’ nor ‘he’ purely because it is missing the reproductive organ… then where does that leave my mannequin manifestation?
Written by Sheldon Heyes
How do you describe Istanbul?
“Istanbul is an old woman, in her prime she was the queen of queens, her beauty unparalleled. Now that she has aged, after enduring countless civilisations of invasions and battle, her beauty has faded, but not entirely. Even in her dimmed glory, she attracts millions of immigrants and tourists every year. She still draws you in somehow, promising you material and emotional riches – mirages or realities? You stay to find out – you get stuck in the tresses of her long, luscious, chestnut hair. You stay much longer than you planned and you keep believing she will let you in on her secrets, let you thrive. She just needs time to trust that you are serious about her.”
Have you visited Istanbul recently? Or call Istanbul home? Comment – Istanbul, male or female and why?
You may also enjoy reading “The boys and girls of Baghdad“. A sneak peek into the lives of Istanbul’s Asian side elite.