Shootings, Bombings, and Our Trip to Turkey

I’ve been struggling for words for days and still hardly know where to begin. Last Sunday morning’s news absolutely crushed me. Forty-nine innocent people, peacefully enjoying their lives, murdered. Many more injured. Thousands of loved ones’ lives changed forever. That sinking feeling of “it could have been us.”

They flew the pride flag at half-staff on top of the Space Needle that afternoon. I cried when I saw it.

If you’ve never been to a gay club, here’s what it looks like: You go out with friends. You pay five or ten dollars to get in, rolling your eyes at the idea of spending money for the privilege of buying overpriced drinks. You buy a couple of them anyway. You dance to some Top 40 song – fun and catchy, in spite of the hackneyed lyrics. You talk with your friends. You laugh.  At the end of the night, you go home, chug a glass of water, and still wake up with a bit of a headache.

Whoever you are, whatever your orientation or your presentation, you feel safe. I’m hardly a big partier – the kind of person who never imagined myself enjoying a nightclub – and yet there’s still a feeling of sanctuary there. For many queer people, it’s one of the few places we can be completely comfortable as ourselves.

I haven’t been able to take my mind off it all week. It’s the collision of so many awful trends in the world right now. Mass shootings. Homophobia. Islamophobia. Hate.

At the same time, in a strange way, it made me feel validated in our decision to travel to Turkey. If you’ve been following along, you know we hemmed and hawed about whether we wanted to visit in light of the current unrest and threat of terrorism. Though we were both originally leaning toward shortening our trip in some way, we ultimately decided to continue as planned.

Yes, there is some danger here. Just last week, an attack on a police bus in Istanbul killed eleven people. The U.S. State Department has maintained its travel warnings for the area. Future attacks are likely to target tourist areas. The LGBTQ community is under threat, too, with hardliner groups pledging to do “what is necessary” “to prevent faggots from marching” in this month’s upcoming Istanbul Pride parade.

But the truth is that we’re not perfectly safe at home, either. Hate is not a regional phenomenon. Our lives – whether at home in the Northwest, driving ten thousand miles in a van, or touring the Hagia Sophia – are not without risk.

We could give into fear. We could stay home. We could isolate ourselves. We could see every travel warning as reason to not pursue our dreams. At some point, should the violence escalate, that might even be the rational decision.

Or, we could go on traveling. We could remember that we live in the most peaceful time in world history. We could learn new things about the world. We could work on breaking down prejudices – ours and others’. We could strive to better understand things from other people’s perspectives. We could spread love, respect, and kindness.

We arrived in Cappadocia on Wednesday night. The scenery is beautiful. The history is fascinating. The people are warm and friendly.

Göreme

Göreme

Girls playing in a sprinkler in Derinkuyu

Girls playing in a sprinkler in Derinkuyu

Woman preparing peynirli gözleme (Turkish cheese pancakes)

Woman preparing peynirli gözleme (Turkish cheese pancakes)

Walking around the visitor-friendly town of Göreme – with its gift shop-lined streets and abundance of English speakers – it’s clear that tourism has been decimated here. It should be the busy season, but we’re practically the only people staying in our beautiful hotel. The streets are calm. The restaurants are quiet. Just a few hundred kilometers away is the Syrian border – surely a stark contrast to the peace of this beautiful place.

We know there’s risk. We know there’s turmoil. We’re not oblivious.

But we couldn’t be happier to be here.

Cappadocia-01

16 Comments

  1. Excellent, well written article. Just one thing though – 49 innocent people were killed. The 50th, the terrorist, was sub-human.

  2. I’ve been to many gay bars and cabaret clubs in NY. I even went to GG Barnums in the 80s – what a trip! Trapeze artists flying over your head! It didn’t appear that anyone was worried about safety. I certainly wasn’t.

    Exquisite photos! Turkey has not been on our list but you’re making me re-think that. Stay safe.

    • Me again…I realize how incredibly upbeat my comment might sound. I was just relating to one part of your story. I have no words for the Orlando massacre. I don’t understand the hate, nor do I want to understand it. I’m sad for the loss, for the lives ruined, and for everyone who has to live in fear.

    • Ha, that’s awesome! We loved our time in Turkey and highly recommend a visit.

  3. The first time I was in a gay bar I was closeted. It still felt like terrifying magic. There were dykes and pretty femmes being free. It took me many more years to enter a gay bar as an out woman & it was still terrifying. Until it wasn’t. Until it just felt like a place with my family.

    On Monday I kissed my girlfriend on the street before we parted ways for work. It was still powerful.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences, ZJ. It’s awesome how far things have progressed, yet traveling in Turkey and Eastern Europe is certainly reminding us how much is left to be done around the world.

  4. I hope you guys know how many friends you have outside the LGBTQ community. We feel this pain, too — not as deeply, I’m sure, and I am not attempting to compare it because we can’t possibly understand. But we’re here with you. <3 And I actually think of the gay dance club in my home town as having served an important purpose in my formative years, even though I'm a straight white person with more privilege than I probably recognize. I grew up in a very close-minded place, but the one gay club in town had an underage night once a week, and I went as often as I could in high school. At it, I learned what it meant to allow yourself to be free and not worry what others think. I learned that no label means any one thing. I learned about the incredible compassion and welcoming nature of a community that has long been targeted with hate and intolerance. And I learned what it meant to be scared for your own safety, because it was the only place in town that took a picture of everyone's ID on the way in, so that they would know who had done something if something bad happened. This was before the assault weapons ban expired, and I'm sure was more focused on fights than on gun massacres, but it really hit me what that must be like, to know that even in your one special sanctuary, someone could still come in and hurt you. That has stuck with me to this day, and it always makes me sad when I think about it. The one positive that I hope comes out of this horrific tragedy is for more people to see LGBTQ people as just other human beings, equally deserving of compassion and human rights. It seems like there's some potential movement in that direction, and I hope it sticks.

    I'm super glad you guys decided to go on your trip. You're right that none of us are truly safe anywhere, but more importantly, I applaud you for not letting fear dictate your life.

    Sending big hugs to both you!

    • Thanks for this heartfelt comment, ONL. We absolutely do know how many friends and allies we have. Love your story and the things you learned from those experiences. That’s what it’s all about.

  5. I am still struggling with making sense of what happened last weekend. I can relate to the concern about traveling. Whenever I start to worry about traveling I remember that I’ve lived in both Boston and Colorado Springs which had attacks in recent years. I’m not safe anywhere so might as well try to go out and enjoy life.

    • Thanks for your comment, Julie. On the safety point, I prefer to think of it a little more positively — yes, violence could happen anywhere, but in general, we’re relatively safe everywhere, and we’re lucky to live in the most peaceful time in human history. Regardless, the takeaway is the same!

  6. Another great post. My heart hurts for the victims of this week’s shooting. Unfortunately we are all too numb to the cause of mass shootings. It’s a sad day when 50 deaths fades from the press a mere week out. Your pictures are truly breathtaking, Matt. Do you have some fancy shmancy camera?

    • Thanks, Gundo! I do have some fancy schmancy camera — my cell phone! It’s no DSLR, but it does pretty well and supports our minimalist travel habits. 🙂

  7. I thought of you after reading the news this afternoon. Hope your safe.

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