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Querying Cartography as a Visual, Rhetorical Device

Even though individual and group LGBT identities are questioned and (re)formed as Turkish queer students “take control of the page” (Sullivan, 1991) to a certain degree through Legato websites and mailing lists, the surrounding cultural/geographical space they live in is still largely unaccepting. Existing and operating in such a cultural and political context, the contexts of higher education as immediate surroundings are no less discouraging toward LGBT students, either (even if some institutions are more liberal than others). Here is a student's view concerning lobbying for a gay student organization:

Establishing a gay student club in the university is not the same as establishing a sports club since students are the ones who will start this group, and therefore, it is not easy to expose oneself (out oneself) in this way. Some of our members are planning to exist under an established club. This is because, to become official, there has to be fifteen members; seven of them have to form the board of directors; and their names must be disclosed and taken to the provost… Even though I am hiding the fact that I am lesbian, I am speaking too freely and democratically right now. But I cannot go talk to the provost because I am not in such a free environment that would get me to go meet him. (Huroglu, 2002)

In the words of this student, the already high stakes of coming out are further complicated by institutional and governmental politics. Such complications put extreme pressures on LGBTQ students and can lead to seemingly self-imposed silence and restriction of one's activities.

In fall 2001, Legato groups started putting together their individual short histories to be published by a magazine. Here is an excerpt from the statement of Legato Bilgi at Bilgi University , Istanbul , which reports the institutional response to the petition for the permission to establish a gay student organization:

Towards the end of 2001, motivated by the encouragement of some of the faculty, the group met the vice provost of the university and informed him of its reasons for wanting to establish a student club. However, the request was not received well at the university board due to the desire to maintain a good relationship with Yüksek Ögretim Kurumu, the Turkish Institution of Higher Education (from now on, IHE). The administration made it explicit that following the official procedure of IHE will make everything harder, but that the activities done without becoming an official student club would not be hindered … At the same time, the provost voiced his concerns about a possible disturbance among the student population in general. Although he tried to be as understanding as possible, he made it adequately known that he was not pleased with our initiative. (Huroglu, 2002)

The Turkish Institution of Higher Education (IHE) is a governmental institution that supervises and inspects Turkish colleges. This institution is known for its conservatism; therefore, it is not surprising that IHE would not like a request such as the one mentioned above. However, at the same time, the power IHE wields also shows that if LGBT student organizations were permitted in colleges some time in the future, that would also mean the endorsement of the situation by the Turkish state, which would be a significant achievement for the Turkish LGBT population overall.

Against this largely unaccepting social backdrop then, what should we make of the limited “liberating” potential of the Internet as displayed in the scope of online and offline networks established by Legato in the span of less than half a decade? Like Sullivan (1991), other scholars are also skeptical about the liberating potential of digital technologies, and they view t he Internet with its international reach as the very embodiment of and a figure for globalized, hierarchical relations of power (Johnson-Eilola, 1997; Gibson, 2001; Selfe & Selfe, 1994; Schiller, 1999; and Jameson, 1993). To further emphasize this, Haraway (1997) calls for an articulation of the social and economic realities the Internet stands for. Due to this highly global, commercialized aspect of the Internet, another call for situated perspectives, a “cognitive cartography,” comes from Fredrick Jameson. Cognitive cartography is “a pedagogical political culture which seeks to endow the individual subject with some new heightened sense of its place in the global system” (Jameson quoted in Dery, 1993, p. 566). Jameson suggests, according to Dery (1993), “a map of the increasingly virtual geography … is crucial for grasping our positioning as individual and collective subjects and regaining a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spatial as well as our social confusion” (p. 566). Likewise, other scholars stress the relevance of social responsibility through the ideological scrutiny of cyberspace (Kolko, 1998; Wakeford, 2000; and Morton, 1995). This connection to what is “outside” the net raises the issue of possible tensions between virtual discursive spaces and the so-called real space (Jones, 1995).

Although mapping Legato in terms of material access and other economic issues is beyond the scope of this article, using Jameson's “cognitive cartography” more literally and limitedly than he might have intended it, the image below maps Legato by superimposing its virtual presence onto the seemingly neutral geographical map of Turkey (thereby embodying Turkish LGBTs' wish to receive recognition of their existence through the permission to establish student networks at Turkish universities). My goal is not only to visualize Legato as a cyborg LGBT association of students with satellite real-life discourse communities scattered across geographical space in Turkey , but also to provide a glimpse of the increasing rhetorical tensions between the Turkish queer organizations and Legato, on the one hand, and the Turkish state and society at large, on the other. As a result of the (re) production of discursive spaces through computer technology, specifically mailing lists, websites, and the Internet Relay Chat (IRC), all of which gave rise to Legato groups across Turkey, this tension concerning the existence and anticipated eventual official recognition of Legato in the institutional space [1] (and legal and social ramifications thereof) is inextricably tied up with the issue of geographical space, too.

To locate Legato groups on the map, mouse over the image. L=A Legato Yahoo! Group corresponding to a
university in a nearby city on the map. [2]

This cartography-in-action as a visual is a rhetorical device since it takes issue with received notions of geographical space and who inhabits it. At the beginning of “The Precession of Simulacra,” concerning maps, Jean Baudrillard (1993) says, “The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory—Precession of Simulacra—it is the map that engenders the territory … It is the real, not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of Empire, but our own: The desert of the real itself .” (p. 343). Then, for Baudrillard, due to the lack of a universally accepted origin or reality preceding the map itself, a map no longer represents a territory but re-creates, rather simulates it. This moment of recreation/simulation is inherently rhetorical since its result, a map, and its “authenticity” will always be open to dispute, especially for those who have a stake in it.

In the case of the “background map” of this article, its seeming neutrality and its customary association with a patriarchal, predominantly Muslim, hetero-normative nation that it refers to, could, then, be seen, especially by a Turkish LGBT, as an erasure of its LGBT population. [3] The mouse-over map not only debunks this received notion by revealing and inscribing the existence of LGBT discourse communities and their aspirations beyond the urban enclaves, but also simultaneously creates a new map whose “accuracy” will be questioned by many other nationalistic, conservative, religious, etc., discourse communities existing in Turkey, hence the contending cartographies of rhetoric. Furthermore, this “correspondence model” between mailing lists and schools shown through the map, and expected eventual establishment of student organizations—even if a fair statement of Legato's main goal from its inception—is in itself debatable among its student activists who have conflicting thoughts about going official in the form of student networks in universities, due to the future resultant increase in supervision and direct intervention by school administrations.

In addition, the same cartography is also a visual metaphor for these two interlinked conversations taking place in two discourse communities, the first one academic, the second activist, in two widely divergent geographies, the US and Turkey, respectively: 1) contemporary scholarly discussions (conceptual vs. virtual spaces; virtuality as a transitional vs. a prosthetic, cyborg state); and 2) discussions concerning the existence of Legato (Project) (just a mailing list, or a c ommunication network, or a virtual association, or just an informal student group, or a set of prospective collegiate student organizations, or some other presently indeterminate entity?).

The rhetoric of cyberspace and the Internet in scholarly discussions presents us with two main controversies: 1) the qualifying of cyberspace as either a virtual or a conceptual space with attributions of agency (Kolko, 1998); and 2) its role in human lives as a transitional (Turkle, 2001) or a continuously prosthetic, a cyborg space (Haraway, 1997; Haynes, 1998). Although the cyborg view seems to be in favor recently in academic circles, specific unfolding of these issues in the case of the Turkish LGBTs, as visualized by the map above, reveals coexistence of both controversies in the form of attitudes toward technology and the undeniable realities of exclusion. For instance, most Legato members talk about “getting out of the Internet” during online and offline discussions. This implies an instrumental attitude to the technology and attribution of transitionality to the cyberforums of Legato (hence the name Legato Project). However, the comparatively slower pace of change in social environments of Legato “outside” the Internet also points to the importance of Legato's current hybrid composition as a cyborg association of LGBT students in its present form of survival. At this point, it is hard to predict if the Turkish LGBT rights will follow a trajectory similar to its North American counterpart—even though that seems to be expectation by the Turkish local LGBT organizations and students—but the crucial role of the Internet in the lives of LGBTs in the US (Comstock & Addison, 1997; Alexander, 1997; and Woodland, 1999), despite the history of civil rights and LGBT emancipation movements, already illustrates that the web will always play a significant role for LGBTs, as long as the homophobia in its socially institutionalized form continues to exist.

[1] This recognition Legato members want is much like the acceptance and recognition of queer student networks in some educational institutions in Western Europe and the US .

[2] The first and original version of this map is taken from the World Factbook at

[3] This here is my deliberately “perverse” reading of this map. I am aware that not even on the maps of US, where a sizeable, legally and socially recognized LGBT population exits, well-known “gay capitals”, such as New York and San Francisco, are marked. So, why mark LGBTQ discourse communities on the map of Turkey ? While the perspective I present throughout this article, I believe, amply answers this question, to go with the theme of perverseness, the question that follows, for me, is why not, since there are sundry maps for weather, gardening, etc.? In addition, just because of the digital technology I have access to and can manipulate, I can create such a map, even though it will look questionable to many (like Legato members' creation of Legato and how it looks to the surrounding heterosexist society) and (hopefully) strike a chord in some (like Legato offering hope and direction for many closeted LGBTQs at home). Hence my “perversity” as a (would-be) cartographer.