Since the early 2000s, an increasing number of lgbt+ and queer Iranians have sought asylum through the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Turkey. As recent queer and feminist scholarship has demonstrated, a “gay enough” litmus test often determines whether asylum seekers will be recognized as having a credible fear of persecution. To unhcr officers conducting asylum interviews, a claimant’s gender nonconformity functions as a proxy for credibility. Self-identified bears, with their masculine gender expression, cannot pass this litmus test and thus are expected to confess an indifference to religion, or areligiosity. Arguing that expectations of gender nonconformity and areligiosity make the application process an asylum of translation for self-identified bear claimants from Iran, this article examines the discursive labyrinth asylum seekers must navigate to become legible and advances a novel conception of the twinned process of confession and translocation that asylum-seeking has become in countries of transit like Turkey.
Migrant Sexualities, Queer Travelers: Iranian Bears and the Asylum of Translation in Turkey
emrah yildiz (he/his/him) is a sociocultural anthropologist and assistant professor of anthropology and mena studies at Northwestern University. His research lies at the intersections of anthropology of pilgrimage and saint visitation in Islam, ethnography of currency and commodity trade under sanctions, borders, and their polities, as well as studies of gender and sexuality in the Middle East. His first book, Iranian Pilgrims in Traffic: Religion, Economy and Polity across Borders (under advance contract with the University of California Press) synthesizes these areas of scholarship to chronicle Iranian pilgrims’ journeys to the Sayyida Zainab shrine in Syria. Yıldız’s dissertation that serves as the basis of this book garnered the 2017 Malcolm H. Kerr Award in the Social Sciences from the Middle East Studies Association. Yıldız is coeditor of the collection “Resistance Everywhere”: The Gezi Protests and Dissident Visions of Turkey (Tadween Publishing, 2014). His articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Cultural Anthropology, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Journal of Cultural Economy, and Toplum ve Bilim.
Emrah Yildiz; Migrant Sexualities, Queer Travelers: Iranian Bears and the Asylum of Translation in Turkey. differences 1 May 2022; 33 (1): 119–147. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-9735484
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