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Shifts in sexual desire: bans on dancing boys (köçeks) throughout Ottoman modernity (1800s–1920s)

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The main objective of this article is to understand the ways in which the köçek (dancing boys) performance became a source of shame and how the practice was subjected to a number of bans in Ottoman Istanbul. In the literature on the köçek, there is a general trend that argues that the practice was banned because of the fights, quarrels and other disputes related to the köçeks and that the practice disappeared altogether no later than 1856. This is what I call the ‘social disorders argument’ and while I acknowledge that history and examine some evidence of social disorders associated with the dancing boys, I also re-analyse the disorders arising from a powerful homoerotic desire that was so common as to even be normative in certain circles in the Ottoman era. In this article, through historical evidence, I show that there are a number of proscriptions against the köçeks. Through a brief history of the bans from the sixteenth century onwards, I show the ways in which the mentality of the bans changed during the Westernization/modernization period and how shame from homoeroticism became a significant determinant in the bans of the nineteenth century.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Music Department, New York University, New York, USA

Publication date: September 3, 2017

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