Boundary-making around a “transgender ghetto” in a neighborhood: a case in Alsancak, Izmir (Turkey)

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This study inquires how a transgender community negotiates and re-identifies its living and working space against the socio-spatial boundaries drawn by urban planning decisions, media images and policing strategies. It develops as a case study in Alsancak, a central-city neighborhood in Izmir, known as "the tolerant city" in Turkey. Alsancak is notorious for housing a transgender community most of whom are sexworkers. In the "sexed city", the sexual codings of the urban spaces and the populations associated with them demonstrate the modern societies´ conflicts and contradictions (Knopp, 1995). This study assumes that social identities and differences are established through constantly negotiated power relations, at which space plays a major role. Identities have spatial dimensions which are "constructed together and constructed through interaction" (Massey, 1994). Urban planning, policing strategies and media images are part of the dominant power relations that draw socio-spatial boundaries around marginalized groups as "others". However, boundary drawing is not only an act of control by the powerful but also an act of resistance by the weak (Pratt, 1999). Through their everyday practices, individuals and communities (here, transgenders) can produce, negotiate, and re-define such socio-spatial boundaries through social interaction, social conflict and social struggles. Despite the prevailing stigmatization, criminalization and policing of transgender people in Turkey, Alsancak neighborhood with its diverse socioeconomic, religious and ethnic groups, and commercial and service uses (with a vivid night-life) appears as a safe space for the transgender community. Transgender community lives and works in the inner streets of the neighborhood, which they call the "transgender ghetto". They experience significant social consequences ranging from discrimination to violence, even in this relative "safe space". Through archival research on urban planning decisions and media images about this transgender ghetto and in-depth interviews with local associations (including a LGBTI association), this study compares the socio-spatial acts of boundary drawing by the powerful and the weak. The findings of the study will be interpreted for developing urban planning decisions for an "inclusive city".
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