Gay and Lesbian Life in Istanbul

Logo of the gay community.

by Witt Marketing

in Nightlife, Practical Information

If you have not been to Istanbul before, we would suggest you to start with understanding the special gay culture of this city. Being the most crowded city of Turkey, Istanbul is the center of Turkish gay life. Although Turkey is undergoing a rapid change, certain things are still very traditional and peculiar in this country. The gay culture is a good sample of this. Taking immigration from all over the country, Istanbul is a summary of the whole of Turkey.

Turkish Gay and Lesbian Culture

Turkey’s got a traditional bisexual culture taking its root from history. The gay relationships usually happens between real gay men and bisexuals. In this culture bisexuals would never consider themselves as gay — or even bisexual. Indeed they are different then typical gay men. First of all, they do not have sex with each. They look, talk and act like straight men all the way (in fact some of them may be really straight oriented and may be having limited sex with -usually- feminine gay men when they are too horny. They are supposedly top (active is the common word in local culture) but you never know.

This may be hard to understand by western Europeans mainly, but it was probably like this in the Catholic/Latin European countries until 30 years ago or may be still so in some Latin American countries. But of course the preferences vary depending on each person. With the changing culture, western style gay-to-gay relationships are rapidly becoming more widespread but still it is not the mainstream as in the western countries.

Safety and Warnings

According to the statistics, Istanbul is one of safest metropolitans of the world. But there are naturally some risks in the gay world as in many other big cities of the world. Because of the under-developed economy and the wide-gap between the rich and the poor, you can encounter some malicious people in gay life. No need to worry too much though, as long as you know what is happening.

The worst thing that usually happens is thieving. Even this does not usually happen out on the streets or at bars and clubs, but usually if you go somewhere with someone that you do not now anything about. If you don’t carry a lot of valuable things and money on you when you are out for cruising — especially to places like parks — nothing significant should happen.  Do not go with local people (especially with bisexual men) to their places, and prefer public venues such as hamams or saunas instead, if your hotel is not suitable.

Also avoid some tourist-hustlers that usually hang around Taksim and sometimes around Sultanahmet. They just want to take you to some scam bars/clubs to overcharge you. That bill can be up to € 1000, depending how far you follow your basic instincts instead of your logic. There are a few clubs/bars like that, but their hustlers are always around and probably take commission from these clubs. Simply stay away from people that are suddenly too friendly in these neighborhoods.

Istanbul Gay Pride parade in 2009

Istanbul Gay Pride parade in 2009

Gay and Lesbian Activities

The gay activities have become more and more visible over the last 20 years. The number of the gay venues has increased rapidly, especially the last 10 years. The Taksim district of Beyoglu on the European side of Istanbul is the center of almost all major gay venues. In fact, this district is the center of general local night life.

There are many modern or traditional gay clubs, bars, saunas and hamams near the Taksim/Beyoglu area. This neighborhood is also frequented by many (mostly bisexual) rent-boys. Some of these boys can really be as handsome as film-stars indeed. There are also many clubs for transvestites and transsexuals in the Taksim district. Indeed, the gay life of Istanbul is very colorful and vibrant. The first gay and lesbian organization of Turkey is also in Istanbul – Lambda Istanbul.


Despite the caricaturized historical image of Turkish men in the Western countries as dark-skinned men with big moustaches and big bellies, Turks are actually a very European looking and beautiful race. Definitely more white then the Spanish, if not the Italians or the French. Do not be surprised to see even a few blond men with green eyes.

Turkish people have no language or ethnic connection with the Arabs, except the religion and its cultural influence. In fact Turkish people are partly hybrid because, various nations lived together under the Ottoman Empire rule such as Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Kurds, Georgians Armenians, etc. It has been a land of immigration because of its geographical position — the bridge between Asia and Europe.

Probably for that reason Turkish men are admired internationally by gay men from various nations including Americans, Europeans, Arabs, as well as Japanese and other nations of far eastern Asia. Especially the new generation boys and young men, who grew up with the pop images of private televisions, are very attractive.
They know what to wear and how to act very well, even if they come from poorer families.
Kurdish oriented Turkish citizens who are comparatively darker form the second largest ethnic group in Turkey (10-15 % of the total population) and are also widely hybrid with Turks.  Kurdish oriented Turkish men are a popular attraction group for some local gay men, probably like the Latin guys in the USA or Western Europe.

There is no law against homosexuality in Turkey since the beginning of the republic period (1923). In fact, there is not any law at all concerning homosexuality. In theory, some general laws can be applied if you have sex in public places, but it has never been heard of such an incident in real life.

The age of consent is 18, which also applies as the age limit to be able to enter bars and clubs selling alcohol. Although there are still some small voids in her democracy, Turkey is the most secular and democratic ‘Muslim country’ in the world, and much more closer to the western culture.

The new democratic laws accepted by the parliament in 2002 and 2003 have improved this situation further more. Unfortunately, when a new law was being accepted to punish various discriminations in late 2004, sexual orientation was omitted by the present government at the last minute. When critics grow, the Minister of Justice said that the phrase that means “discrimination against sexuality” already taking place in the latest regulation would automatically cover “sexual orientation” as well. Even this can be considered as an improvement, when considering the present government is from the most conservative party that ever came to power in Turkey.

Tek Yon (Tek Yön)

Gay people dancing in Istanbul, TurkeyThe clientele is mainly bears and daddies, the roughly-clad and the ‘couldn’t-be-bothered’. The few non-butch are simply ignored. If you’re showing out-of-towners around, this is a safe bet to take them to as it’s usually animated every night of the week. A mezzanine affords the timid to look down on the dancing queens or the stage shows. Its disturbingly anti-female policy however raises the issue of the discriminated minority discriminating (we don‘t approve!).

Address: Cihangir Mh, Sıraselviler Caddesi 63, Beyoğlu
Tel: +90 212 245 16 53

Love Dance Point

Now going on its 9th year, Love simply has the most fun, circus-like atmosphere among this city’s gay venues. And the dynamic Ismael has come back to manage with go-getter newcomer PR Umit Termuçin helping set the pace.

Address: Cumhuriyet Caddesi 349 / 1, Harbiye
Tel: +90 212 296 33 57

XLarge Club in Istanbul, Turkey

XLarge Club in Istanbul

XLarge Istanbul

XLarge probably has the most unique setting of all bars: the former Elhamra movie theatre. This makes the venue not only spacious, but it also provides an authentic touch. Another plus is the extra large bar so you don’t have to fight your way through the crowd to order a drink. XLarge is open on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. The party profile is a nice mix of straight and gay people. To reach the club, walk down on Istiklal Caddesi and find Kallavi Sokak, a small street opposite the St. Antoine Church.

Address: Meşrutiyet Caddesi, Kallavi Sokak No.12, Beyoğlu
Tel: +90 536 687 11 04
Website: xlargeclub on Facebook

Sugar Cafe

This small but nice gay cafe & restaurant is located on a narrow lane on Istiklal Avenue, somewhere opposite of St. Antoine Church. There is a sign-board of the venue with rainbow flag colors at the entrance of the lane (Saka Salim Sokagi)
There is free wireless internet connection in the area. The prices are very reasonable and various foods are available from 13:00 till 22:00 o’clock. Patronized by nice gay men, and there are no hustlers or rent boys usually. 12:00-01:00

Address: Istiklal Caddesi, Saka Salim Cikmazi no: 3/A, Beyoğlu
Tel: +90 212 245 00 96

Bigudi Club

Istanbul’s first exclusively lesbian bar where lipstick chic is the order of the evening. We don’t accept their door policy of no admittance to non-lesbians but do we dare argue at this point in Turkey’s murky and convoluted sexual politics? Recently moved to a terrace space.

Address: İstiklal Cad., Mis Sokak. No:5 Teras Kat. (the gold plate on the top floor), Beyoğlu.
Tel: +90 535 509 09 22

(Photo source)

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Luciano August 28, 2010 at 8:42 am



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