Interview with Dr. Ezgi Sarıtaş (Andreas Tietze Fellow 2023)

Would you briefly introduce yourself?

I am a research assistant at the Gender Studies Division of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Ankara University. I teach graduate and undergraduate courses on feminist and queer theories, gender and sexuality, gender history of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic.

My doctoral dissertation, later published as a book in Turkish under the title Cinsel Normalliğin Kuruluşu, focused on the strenuous and conflictual process of heteronormativisation during the late Ottoman and early Republican periods. My particular focus is on how the discourses inherited from the early modern period, which made erotic experiences and forms of self-identification intelligible, interacted with emerging and conflicting discourses, resulting in the formation of inconsistent and incoherent subjectivities. Following my doctoral education, I was a postdoctoral fellow of the Gerda Henkel Foundation at the Europe in the Middle East - The Middle East in Europe programme and a visiting scholar at the Centre for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies at Humboldt University in Berlin, where I worked on the translation, negotiation and adaptation of European sexological discourse into Turkish in the early twentieth century. A related but parallel research area of mine is the women's and feminist movements in Turkey.

What are you currently working on?

My current research focuses on several projects. The first is on the discourse of sexual education in the Republican era. From the nineteenth century onwards, physicians from various disciplines, but most notably gynaecologists and neuropsychiatrists, educators, journalists and writers, advocated sexual education and produced various materials on the subject. I am interested in how seemingly contradictory positions on sexuality, gender roles and morality were articulated in defence of sex education and in translating and negotiating European discourses on sexuality and sex education, science and education created space for different actors, including women, to talk about sexuality. A second, broader project is a long-term exploration of the 'subcultures' of the first half of the twentieth century, formed by various networks of people on the fringes of heteronormative sexuality and the modern gender binary. I am particularly interested in how these subcultures were enmeshed in, shaped by, and became a source of critical engagement with nationalism and orientalism for those involved. I have conducted research as part of the Andreas Tietze Memorial Fellowship to contribute to this project. The third project, which I am in the very early stages of, explores medical-legal understandings of the intersexed body.


Why did you apply to the Andreas Tietze Memorial Fellowship?

While working on a book by one of the leading neuropsychiatrists of the first half of the twentieth century, Mazhar Osman, I found photographs of a trans-feminine person from Vienna called Lareine. I wanted to know more about Lareine because I was interested in the history of their escape from the Nazi regime in Austria to Turkey. Scholars have worked on the connections between sexological circles and subcultures of sexual and gender non-conforming people. I am interested in the transnational connections between Europe and Turkey, which involved travel and the circulation of people and concepts. Such connections, I believe, can deepen our understanding of sexual modernity, which was not something passively adopted by the communities of an imagined 'East'. Through Lareine's story, I wanted to learn more about these interconnected journeys and the scientific and subcultural networks that enabled Lareine to escape to Turkey and end up in Mazhar Osman’s office. The Andreas Tietze Memorial Fellowship was a timely opportunity for me to research Lareine’s story in Vienna, where it is reported that they performed in various cafés as part of varieté shows and also appeared in a film.


How did the fellowship contribute to your research?

The fellowship contributed to my research in several ways. Firstly, it enabled me to carry out archival research in several different institutions. I focused on various facets of my existing knowledge of Lareine and their story. Through researching digital newspaper archives, I had already learned about several venues where Lareine performed and the 1933 film Mysterium des Geschlechtes, in which Lareine appears in a stage performance. Access to several onsite archives, such as the Austrian National Library, the Archive of the Künstlerhaus, the Municipal and Provincial Archives of Vienna, the Theatre Museum and the Filmarchiv Austria helped my research enormously.

It has been a fruitful opportunity to be part of the academic community at the Viennese Turkish Studies and the Department of Near Eastern Studies, which supported my research, encouraged open dialogue, and provided constructive feedback and a collaborative spirit. Sharing with them the intricacies of researching a specific person at the margins of mainstream cultural production and social institutions helped me to reflect on my research methods and questions. Moreover, the department’s conducive working atmosphere, with access to the various libraries at the University of Vienna, was instrumental in advancing my research endeavours. To present and participate in the Turkologentag 2023 Vienna allowed me to learn about the latest research in Turkish and Middle Eastern studies and to participate in lively discussions.

In addition to members of the academic community at the University of Vienna, I could meet and collaborate with activists and academics engaged in queer and trans historiography in Vienna, a unique opportunity that provided me with a broader understanding of queer urban life in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Finally, being in Vienna helped me understand and get a feel for the cultural and nightlife scenes and queer urban subcultures Lareine participated in a century ago. The scholarship allowed me to visit and reflect on the places where it all happened.

Do you want to publish or present your research to the academic community? How will it go further?

I have two forthcoming publications in the making, both stemming from my research in Vienna. The first revolves around Lareine’s travel to Turkey and is part of an article I am completing. This article examines the translation and negotiation of European sexological categorisations of gender and sexual nonconformity. My second publication is a more extensive, long-term project centered on the landscape of urban queer and trans subcultural formations in Turkey during the first half of the 20th century. This project intersects with multiple movements, intertwining people, concepts and ideas.