STORY: Istanbul/Berlin, 2008-2019 – I don’t have a fond memory of the first time I had sex with another man.
One night in 2008, hornier than ever, I took a chance and propositioned a taxi driver who I regularly called to take me home from work, after I’d noticed him checking out my butt and crotch for the umpteenth time. He was willing, but drove us more than 200 kilometers outside of Istanbul, so that no one either of us knew might witness our liaison. I expected a romantic interlude, but he just wanted to get off. What a letdown!
Afterward, I felt ashamed, and deeply regretted the entire episode. I was no longer sure what I wanted. I tried meeting other men online, but the results were disappointing, A few people responded and agreed to meet for a cup of tea or coffee, but nothing more. I began to think maybe I was no one’s type and there was not a place for me in the gay community. If only I was from the upper class, muscled, or rich, I thought, maybe I’d be more popular.
I decided I’d learn to be alone. At least, that would dissuade people from asking me about my sexual orientation or my private life. I came up with the idea that I’d be asexual. That way, I wouldn’t need to come out to anyone. I would just go without sex for as long as I could.
Six months later, when the global recession of 2008 hit, I got laid off from my job. My spirits were low and I was barely surviving. I’d hoped the European Patent Office in the Hague might hire me and rescue me from my life of abstinence and disappointment in Turkey. Alas, I was rejected for that position.
My life was mostly calm during that period, despite my low-level depression. I had a few job interviews and I got together with my best gay friend from Istanbul here and there. I didn’t deny that I was gay; but avoided doing anything that might call attention to the fact that I was gay, like putting your dirty clothes in a drawer out of sight, even though they stink. That way, I didn’t have to face the truth about myself. Seeing my situation, my best friend suggested I visit a gay club called Tek Yön.
The bar was packed with men—sweaty, hot, big, muscled, and chubby, hairy bears and cubs. I snuck into the crowd. Suddenly, I felt a surge of excitement, as if I was a serpent in the Garden of Eden. The bar was smoky and smelled of beer. But, gradually, having had no interaction with other men in the bar, I began to feel my optimism drain away.
Then, I saw him. He was looking at me, too, and smiling. My heart raced. He was the most handsome and tallest man in the room. He winked at me. I wriggled through the crowd to him. The lights were glimmering around us.
His name was Max. We talked for a long while about many things. Each sentence reverberated in my mind. I was mesmerized by him. After a while, he told me “You’re a good person. You just need to find a path in life where you can meet other good people. In the meantime, don’t worry about having love handles or what others think of you.”
We kept chatting and drinking beer. After a while, he asked, “Do you wanna dance?” Then, as we walked downstairs to the dance floor, he held my hand and smiled at me. We started dancing and, at one point, he stopped and kissed me. It was such a good kiss!
Unfortunately, Max had to go back to Berlin early the next morning, so our time together had to end. I followed him outside to say goodbye. It was a cold and freezing night. He asked for my phone number and I gave it to him. When I got back home, I received a text message from him wishing me “Sweet dreams!”
My best friend came over the next day and, after hearing this story, tossed cold water on what had happened. He predicted that Max would never write to me again.
From then on, I texted Max each year on his birthday, which coincidentally happened to be the same day I had started my first job. I didn’t receive any replies from Max. At the time, the only technology we had for communicating was texting. Then, my phone number changed and there was no longer a way for Max to contact me if he’d wanted until I sent him a birthday card the following year.
Was I hurt because he didn’t remain in contact? Not really. He was still the man who had shown me a path to finding contentment. Meeting him had let me know there were good people in the world who make it worth living. My spirits improved. I still had to deal with all the challenges of life, but he’d given me hope and, perhaps, some optimism.
After meeting him, everything changed. I became more willing to reach out to others, take a chance, and meet other men. I had sex regularly and even dated one man for seven years, which lasted until 2017.
I continued sending Max a text message every year on his birthday. Last year, I decided to attach a recent photo of myself with my message. Then, a response arrived:
“Is this you? Are you ok?” replied Max.
“It’s me and I’m fine,” I said.
We started chatting and texting each other. There was no romance nor any hints of sexual possibility. Yet, I was happy to have reconnected with him.
He’d met a man and was now involved with him. I was really happy for Max. After some time, I bought an airplane ticket to Berlin to see him. I knew that it would not involve a rekindling of the momentary passion that had possessed us years ago, but I looked forward to seeing him again anyway.
On my first night in Berlin, I had several sexual encounters in a small Woof Bar dark room. The following morning, when I was supposed to meet Max, I was exhausted and running late. A little bit of advice: when you are meeting Germans, there is no greater sin than to arrive late! So, I ran down the hotel’s old circular wooden stairs, reached the front door, and held my breath. Fortunately, Max was there and gave me a hearty embrace.
I could not stop smiling. It felt like 10 years hadn’t actually passed. He became my tour guide, taking me around the gay district and providing details about the city’s history. This was my first time in Berlin and I felt like a local. We took a long walk in Victoria Park and, from its peak, got a view of the recommissioned Templehof Airport, which I’d always wanted to visit. He asked if I’d like to go there. Of course, I said yes, so he picked me up and took me there in his big German car.
It was such a nice trip. As a tour guide, Max was the kindest person I’d ever met. In the airport, with fifteen other tourists, a guide showed us around and described the Nazi madness, airstrikes, and so on. It felt really sad. I learned that “undesirables,” including journalists and politicians, had been incarcerated at a concentration camp within the airport. That was a powerful moment for me, coming from a country that didn’t take part in World War II. In Turkey, we never felt the direct impact of the insanity of that war.
We walked by the Spree and had a nice dinner. On my final night in town, we met again, this time with some of my friends, and lost ourselves in the marginal bars of that beautiful city.
As Max and I said goodbye at the end of our time together, he gave me a big smile and I felt the last of the scars I had created in my tiny little heart melt away.