AccueilCultureCORONAVIRUS. Let's change the subject, let's talk about sexuality among the Kurds

CORONAVIRUS. Let’s change the subject, let’s talk about sexuality among the Kurds

(La version française de cet article est ici) In these days like no other, where the coronavirus has imprisoned us in our homes and each passing day brings new rules to respect, we thought we would change the subject to talk about sexuality among the Kurds.
It has been a while since I wanted to write about one of the Kurdish taboos: sexuality, especially that of women. Particularly after discussion with Diako Yazdani – the director of the documentary “All the lives of Kojin” which explores the impossibility of being homosexual in South Kurdistan – and Ercan (Jan) Aktaş – a gay Kurdish-Turkish defender of LGBT+ rights, journalist and conscientious objector.
Listening to Diako and Ercan criticize Kurdish society for its « rejection » of homosexuality, I had the impression that they did not realize that even « classic » sexuality was taboo among the Kurds. So, I decided to make a point as a Kurdish woman who has suffered from her identity as a woman and what sexuality meant for her.
I was born into a large family of Kurdish peasants in a mountainous region of Bakur (North Kurdistan). Since I was a child, I have come up against the injustice linked to inequality between men and women. Even when it came to speaking, women / girls could not use certain words, such as « lo » to hail a man / boy. I realized this when I was 7-8 years old: I had shouted at two boys who were a few years older than me and with whom I kept animals in the middle of wheat fields. I hailed them to show them the nest of chicks I had discovered. They had looked at each other, smiling, without saying anything, but the message had got through. Subsequently, I saw that the girls never challenged the boys in this way and that, if this was the case, it was because the girl wanted to break this rule in a game of verbal seduction with the guy hwo she loves…
One of the many injustices I suffered because of my gender, which I did not choose, was the taboo regarding sexuality in girls / women. They couldn’t talk about romantic relationships, or even the period they had. For the record, when I first got my period, at 12 – 13 years old, I didn’t know what to do and what it meant. Neither my mother nor my older sister, who was 7 years older than me, ever told me about it. I was anxious, thinking that I was bleeding because 2 days previously a boy had kicked me in the tailbone during a fight between children… So, I secretly took a piece of cloth from a bundle of clothes and used it as a sanitary towel.
The next day, I dared to tell my mother about it, reminding her that it was after the kick to the tailbone. She said « show it » but then said nothing about what I should do etc. Two days later, she asked me if I was still bleeding. I lied, saying no. Subsequently, it was mission impossible to wash, dry and hide this piece of cloth that I used as a sanitary towel. One day, I had the idea to hide it in the hollow of one of the trunks that we had erected to make an enclosure around our little garden. During the summer, I found it with traces of slugs that had walked on it, and during the winter it was frozen…
One evening I had my period, without realizing it. When I got up from the cushion where I was sitting, I saw a huge bloodstain. My parents were there too. My mother said to my father « Come on, we’re going to H.’s » and they left in a hurry, so that I could remove this stain had to remain invisible …
Pretty soon, traditional Kurdish society made me understand that because of my female genital organ I was worth less than nothing. It traumatized me for life. I hated my woman’s body that I had not chosen. I despised the role given to women: getting married, having children, looking after the home. I wanted to be everything except such a woman. I embarked on work reserved for men: cutting wood, digging the earth, mowing wheat … And when I received comments like, « You work like a man », I replied that these were tasks that “you could achieve with your hands and not a penis !”.
And what about the sexuality « properly » speaking ?
With us, once pubescent, the girls could not go out freely to go to the neighbours, unless the neighbours were aunts or uncles, and we had aunts and uncles thanks to our grandparents who had almost 10 children ! The virginity of girls until marriage was (and still is today) an absolute rule not to be waived so as not to « dirty the honor » of the family, while boys can jump on anything that moves without causing any problem to anyone. If, unfortunately, a girl transgressed this prohibition, she was married to a widower or a man with a disability because she had lost her « worth » by losing her virginity. In some cases, she might be killed in an honor crime by her own family to “wash away the family’s lost honor” or commit suicide because of the shame she feels.
One day, talking about the preparations for the wedding of one of my brothers, I said jokingly to my father that I was going to run away with a boy to escape the chores of marriage, and that this boy would not be a cousin, nor even a Kurd, but a gypsy or a black person because these two categories of people had a negative image due to racism among Kurds. Knowing my rebellious and provocative side, my father just smiled and said that he would take care of the preparations for my wedding himself and that I didn’t have to worry about that.
Another day, while chatting with a girlfriend – whose wedding night had turned into a nightmare because she hadn’t bled because of her overly elastic hymen – I told her that I was ashamed girls were obliged to remain virgins until marriage but that the boys did not have to observe these kinds of rules, before adding that I was going to tear my hymen myself so as not to leave the first man I would have in my life strutting around saying that I had remained a virgin for him. It was a fate that nature had reserved for me and he did not have to take pride or satisfaction from it.
Marriage is also highly regulated for girls. We don’t marry « anyone ». It has to be someone from the community, maybe a cousin. But the boys can go out and get married to Martians, if they like, because they have no « honor » to protect. It is up to women to take care of it, as for everything else, as far as domestic life is concerned… and this, among all Kurds: Muslims, Yezidis, Alevis.
The « ideal » age for girls to marry girls was 18 – 25. Beyond this limit, you were an old girl, good for the scrapyard. Today, this limit has been slightly increased for girls in higher education, but that does not prevent families from pushing them to get engaged, preferably with a relative, and to marry as soon as possible to have children before the reproductive biological clock stops.
As I rejected all the rules imposed on me because of my gender, my mother complained regularly, saying that people were going to blame her by saying that she had not been able to raise me as it should.
Me, a woman, a Kurd, an exile, I have overcome all these prohibitions (even if I did not finally tear my hymen myself, or marry a gypsy or a black person, not yet!). I was beaten, traumatized, but I never gave up. I had a « free » sex life without being married. I managed to (de) constructed  myself, against all odds, including my family. It took me years to accept who I am, but I finally got there. I consider myself to be a rather free woman and words and humor are invaluable for me in staying alive, despite my multiple injuries. Hopefully this testimony will help other Kurdish girls / women to stop feeling guilty for not entering the moulds that were made for them.
To all Kurdish girls / women who did not live their sexuality freely
To my children
To my loves of the past-present-future
Keça Bênav (The Unnamed (bênav) Girl (keç))